‘Tis the season to be thankful for what you have and to reflect on what you can do to give back.
Giving is at the forefront of JMU GIVE, the local chapter of Growth International Volunteer Excursions. GIVE’s mission is to inspire growth, empower global citizens and ignite sustainable change worldwide. And Dukes have been more than happy to answer the call.
“In our chapter, we look into how to facilitate growth within our organization’s general body and in our programs and opportunities, recognizing there’s always room to improve or grow in all we do,” said Andy Luong, head volunteer coordinator. “We emphasize being global citizens first and working in the best interest of our international community.”
With more than 300 members, JMU is the largest chapter of GIVE International. What makes GIVE so successful here is the rich culture of Harrisonburg and Dukes’ desire to expand their horizons.
“Harrisonburg is a really unique area, and not a lot of people know that. Not only is it home to some of the most passionate, empowered students, but it is a hub for diversity in the Valley,” said Sidney Jackson, club president. “We get caught up in being a student and oftentimes forget that someday we will have to break out of our shells to thrive in the real world. Taking students out of that and exposing them to different cultures, languages, beliefs and backgrounds provides more valuable life skills than any classroom could.”
Volunteer opportunities are available throughout the week, and many “Givers,” as club members are called, find time between classes to get out into the community.
“To me, volunteering is working together as an ensemble to create a beautiful project, which is why students devote their free time to the community,” second-year student Ava Kelly said. “The city of Harrisonburg and our earth give us so much, it is rewarding to show that we are thankful back,” Kelly said.
JMU GIVE casts a wide net over Harrisonburg with their different programs. During the warmer months, Givers flock to the Jubilee Climate Farm to help create a sustainable, eco-friendly goods for those in need. In nearby Elkton, members volunteer at the food bank and thrift store. Multiple local elementary schools in the area have ties to the club, from Spotswood Elementary’s enrichment learning program, Camp Wonder, to the maintenance of Keister Elementary’s nature trail.
“We try our best to dip our toes into all different aspects of volunteering,” Jackson said.
Kelly took advantage of GIVE International’s volunteering opportunities by fundraising to be able to participate in a service trip over the summer.
“When I was in Thailand, I learned that it is such a privilege to be a stranger invited into a community to volunteer for them. I have a greater appreciation for the local community members in Harrisonburg who allow our club to volunteer for them and provide us with education,” she said.
As the colder months encroach on the Valley, homeless individuals face additional challenges. In response, JMU GIVE is doing what it can.
“Last year, we started a new program, Loads of Love, to utilize our student volunteers and provide a laundry service to guests at Open Doors [a low-barrier shelter that operates during the colder seasons]. Our hope was that the unhoused population would have weekly access to the service to ensure that they have clean clothes to keep warm as the winter season approaches,” Luong said.
Each semester, the chapter grows in members and outreach opportunities.
“The biggest way to be an active global citizen is to start making change locally,” Jackson said.