Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

W&L Makes Community Service Honor Roll

Washington and Lee University has been named once again to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction.

This is the third consecutive year that the University has been recognized for its community service.

The honor roll, launched in 2006 and sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), annually highlights the role colleges and universities play in solving community problems and in placing students on a lifelong path of civic engagement, by recognizing institutions that achieve meaningful, measureable outcomes in the communities they serve.

According to data compiled by Washington and Lee’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness, 1,482 W&L students engaged in 54,619 documented hours of community service during the academic year that ended in June 2012.

Those figures included 299 who were engaged in academic service-learning programs. The number of W&L students who performed at least 20 hours of any kind of community service per academic term was 342.

Washington and Lee’s entry to CNCS this year focused on three programs that illustrate the University’s commitment to service:

Washington and Lee School of Law Community Legal Practice Center: Since 2003, it has provided free legal services to low-income residents in the Rockbridge area. The clinic is staffed year-round by a full-time faculty member and a full-time legal assistant, as well as by 10 to 12 third-year law students during the academic year, and by four rising third-year law students during the summer. The University provides all funding for the clinic.

From its inception, the center has served 462 clients on 571 legal matters in its mission to improve access to legal services for low-income citizens of Rockbridge County. To that end, the clinic works closely with the local Legal Aid office to ensure that the broadest base of potential clients is served. While the center provides a wide range of civil legal services, it gives priority to the elderly and to clients who are victims of domestic violence. Areas of focus include family law, guardianship, end-of-life planning and general elder law, landlord-tenant law, and a large variety of general civil litigation and advice-only matters. The clinic also provides legal support to a number of small, low-asset, not-for-profit entities. In 2011-12, 15 students engaged in 6,210 hours of service.

Volunteer Venture Pre-Orientation Service Program: The one-week, pre-orientation program for incoming W&L students introduces them to the contributing factor of poverty in Lexington and five other cities within three hours of campus. Led by upper-class students, the program impacts nearly one fourth of incoming new students, as well as the hundreds of residents in the cities they serve. Participants become a part of these communities for a week, living, learning and working with the individuals they serve in free clinics, housing construction, summer programs and soup kitchens.

The direct service experience is supplemented by poverty-related speakers from the University’s faculty and the local communities served. Consistent with the W&L mission to cultivate a readiness to sacrifice on behalf of others, Volunteer Venture aims to create an environment where new students get to know each other, are introduced to issues related to poverty, and are connected with upper-class students who can provide information on ways to get involved in service on campus and in the Rockbridge community.

Many who participate find it to be a springboard for community service in college, as well as a motivation to focus on poverty studies in their academic life. The experience also helps them become more aware of what they can do to serve in the Rockbridge area and how they can grow in their understanding of issues that impact their neighbors both near and far. In 2011-12, 134 students engaged in 3,680 service hours.

Student-to-Student Mentoring: It matches trained W&L students, called “Bigs,” with elementary and middle-school students in the community, “Littles,” to build supportive, lasting relationships through regular interaction. Bigs mentor Littles, who may have unstable home lives, and offer them friendship and support, as well as advice about the importance of education.

While the benefits to Littles are great, Bigs gain experience and fulfillment, as well as leadership development, from their service. The program is organized and run by W&L students. All potential Bigs are interviewed by the executive team and undergo background and reference checks before being assigned to Littles. Bigs also take part in an orientation that highlights the mission and purposes of the program, ideas for outings, and reporting protocols for any sensitive information the Littles might disclose, such as abuse allegations.

To ensure consistency in matches, the program requires some form of weekly communication between pairs, including one hour of face-to-face contact per week while the University is in session. The pairs gather monthly as a community, and the leadership team meets monthly with Bigs to discuss best practices, solve problems and brainstorm on activities. During 2011-12, 36 W&L students provided about 1,000 hours of service through the program.

For 2012, 110 colleges and universities were named to the Honor Roll with Distinction. Washington and Lee is one of four institutions from Virginia to be so honored. Emory & Henry College, James Madison University and Virginia Commonwealth University are the others.

College students make a significant contribution to their communities through volunteering and service, according to the most recent Volunteering and Civic Life in America report. In 2012, 3.1 million college students dedicated more than 118 million hours of service across the country—a contribution valued at $2.5 billion.

The Corporation for National and Community Service is a federal agency that engages more than 5 million Americans in service through its Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and Learn and Serve America programs. It leads President Barack Obama’s national call-to-service initiative, United We Serve. For more information, visit NationalService.gov.