Shepherd Cohorts Give First-Year Students a Taste of Service Two new first-year cohorts, #Hungerfighters and Good Nabors, educate first-year students about the Shepherd Program, introduce them to service learning, help them make friends and set them up for further involvement in the program.
“I appreciate the mentorship aspect of it, being able to provide a little guidance to these first years and help develop the interest they have in volunteering, giving back to the broader community and learning about issues that really perpetuate that cycle of poverty.”
~ Justin Littlejohn ’22, Nabors Service League/Good Nabors
The Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability at Washington and Lee University has introduced two cohorts that offer first-year students a chance to dip a toe in the service-learning waters, meet like-minded students and decide whether to pursue deeper involvement in the community.
Students accepted into the #Hungerfighters cohort volunteer with Campus Kitchen at W&L and spend their first year learning about the causes and consequences of food insecurity, while those selected for the Good Nabors cohort learn about issues surrounding poverty and collaborate with W&L’s Nabors Service League and community partners to address those issues. Although the pandemic has limited community work this year, the cohorts have provided members with a welcome chance to connect both with fellow first-years and upperclassmen.
The cohorts are similar to Shepherd’s Bonner Program, and all three programs have 10-12 open slots per year. Bonner, a national service leadership program founded in 1990, allows student to be fully immersed in service for all four years while Good Nabors and #Hungerfighters membership are W&L specific and intended for the first year only, giving students the option to pursue leadership opportunities with Nabors Service League and Campus Kitchen if they’d like to remain involved.
“First-year students have always been invited to get involved with Campus Kitchen and Nabors Service League at the Student Activities Fair,” said Jenny Davidson, assistant director of the Shepherd Program. “Given the early application deadline for the Bonner Program, we decided to develop more concrete pathways for incoming first years to plug in with other Shepherd community engagement programming at an early stage.”
Students are selected for Bonner, Good Nabors or #Hungerfighters after filling out a single application and participating in interviews. Applications are being accepted now for the Class of 2025 cohorts. Students across all three programs are encouraged to participate in the Volunteer Venture pre-orientation experience.
Hannah Puckett ’23 was a member of the inaugural #Hungerfighters cohort last year. She was introduced to the Shepherd Program through Volunteer Venture, a week-long pre-orientation service trip, and was exposed to the Shepherd mission to understand and address causes and consequences of poverty while upholding the dignity of every person.
“I wasn’t planning on getting as involved in the Shepherd Program as I have, but hearing the Volunteer Venture trip leaders talk about these issues and their passion for addressing them made me want to get involved,” she said.
As a member of #Hungerfighters, Puckett helped stuff bags for the kitchen’s Backpack Program, which provides weekend snacks to schoolchildren who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The Backpack Program serves more than 1,000 local children each week, and that number has grown since the pandemic began. Puckett also worked shifts in the Campus Kitchen and helped deliver food to Magnolia Center, where she served meals and visited with residents.
“It was my favorite hour of the week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and it’s one of the biggest things I miss from last year,” she said. “I built my second semester schedule around that shift just so I could see those people every week and see that community growing.”
This year, Puckett has worked as a Volunteer Venture trip leader and is a kitchen management chair on the Campus Kitchen Leadership Team. She now gets to work with students like Isabel Lourie ’24, who was attracted to the #Hungerfighters cohort in part because of her interest in environmentalism and nutrition.
“I was very interested in the Shepherd Program,” Lourie said, “and #Hungerfighters spoke to me because I was personally interested in environmental sustainability and nutrition, and where that intersects with class.”
Lourie works shifts in the Campus Kitchen and campus garden, in addition to helping with the Backpack Program. She and other members of the cohort have not had a chance to volunteer in the community because of COVID-19, but they do attend bimonthly Zoom meetings where they hear from a guest speaker on a specific topic, such as agricultural food systems or sustainability, then have a group discussion about the topic.
“I think it’s really interesting because it’s expanded the scope of how I thought about food,” said Lourie, who enjoys cooking for friends in Gaines Hall. “I like that we’ve touched on agriculture and sustainability while at the same time figuring out what poverty means and our roles in it. We’re understanding problems but also being presented with potential solutions, and the fact that we are volunteering means that we are actually engaging it all.”
Lourie said her role in #Hungerfighters, along with her part-time job at Blue Sky Bakery, has helped her to meet people and make friends during a challenging first year amid the pandemic. “That’s been really fulfilling because I have been able to talk to people in the community,” she said. She plans to stay involved in Campus Kitchen next year and may even apply for the Campus Kitchen Leadership Team.
While #Hungerfighters is a pipeline to the Campus Kitchen Leadership Team, the Good Nabors cohort is a pipeline to Nabors Service League, a student-run community service organization that facilitates W&L student volunteering in the community. Each year, the NSL sponsors community-wide service days and alternative break trips to places like Birmingham, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia, for service work.
The pandemic has put a lot of in-person work on hold, but the Good Nabors cohort did recently volunteer at Yellow Brick Road Early Learning Center, where members spread mulch, cleaned up beds and trimmed shrubs. They also took a historic Lexington tour, and they meet for regular discussions about service. During these virtual meetings, members talk about articles they’ve read and discuss current affairs. They also hear from guest speakers like Shiri Yadlin ’12, director of Just Homes, a nonprofit that helps faith communities address homelessness in D.C.
Justin Littlejohn ’22, a member of the Nabors Service League Contact Committee, said those virtual meetings have resulted in a lot of productive discussions. For example, one day they discussed connections between COVID-19 and racism, and how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted low-income and minority communities.
Littlejohn, who acknowledged that this has been a difficult year for everyone, has been pleased to see first-year students making connections through the cohort.
“It’s perfectly fine to have a support group in the sense that these are challenging times, and any way you can get that little bit of interaction, you should go for it,” he said.
But the first-year students aren’t the only ones who have benefited from the cohorts. Littlejohn said that working with younger students has been a fulfilling experience for him, as well.
“I appreciate the mentorship aspect of it, being able to provide a little guidance to these first years and help develop the interest they have in volunteering, giving back to the broader community and learning about issues that really perpetuate that cycle of poverty,” he said. “I’ve been grateful to work with the freshmen and watch them grow. Hopefully, as seniors graduate off the Nabors Service League, a couple of the Good Nabors will end up joining it. That would be wonderful not just for the numbers, but also to give me an opportunity to work with them more.”