Volunteering at Madison House

By Rachel Van Tassel

   As the Chapel bell struck twelve, they began to emerge. The first of the eager souls wandered up Rugby Road with sleeping bags over shoulders and flashlights in hand. They set up camp outside Madison House and waited. One by one, the prospective volunteers fumbled in the darkness to the end of the line. By 6 am the line had reached the middle of the Mad Bowl, and by 8 the ones at the end were nearly competing with traffic at the intersection of University and Rugby. At 8:55, Madison House opened its doors and corralled the students through the sign up process. They were signing up for Medical Services, one of Madison House's volunteer programs. These students will assist staff, patients, and families in local medical centers.

Other programs include the adopt-a-grandparent program, which matches students with elderly citizens. Volunteers develop a relationship with and provide companionship for their "grandparent." The Big Sibling program is the same idea, but the student provides a friend and role model for their "little siblings." The Housing Improvement program repairs homes for low-income families in the area. PACT (Providing Action and Care in Transition) runs a food redistribution program at three local homeless shelters. Holiday Sharing volunteers organize a food and gift drive for local needy families. Migrant Aid volunteers teach English to local migrant workers. Athletics volunteers coach local junior sports teams. Alternative Spring Break sends students to repair houses or tutor in impoverished areas. Boosters and Tutoring volunteers work with kids in local elementary schools. Consumer Information Service runs a phone-in service for questions and mediates consumer/merchant disputes. Group Projects volunteers put together projects for other organizations around grounds. Open House Hotline workers run a crisis hotline. The Outreach Corp consists of staff photographers and a newsletter team. Service Alternatives volunteers work at the Ronald McDonald House and with the local Boys and Girls Club.

These programs serve over 13,000 residents in the Charlottesville/Albemarle communities. Over 3000 UVa students volunteer through Madison House. Madison House provides a direct way for students to get involved in helping the community. Some students take advantage of the experience that volunteering offers and use it as career preparation. Medical Services, where students volunteer at a hospital, is very popular resume builder for students wishing to apply to med school. For others, volunteering is a positive outlet from academic life. A Migrant Aid volunteer, for example, would travel to local camp once a week for 2-3 hours to tutor a 24 year old Mexican migrant worker. The "students" (migrant workers) are excited to see their "maestras" (teachers) come every week, and are enthusiastic and ready to learn. Seeing their way of life really makes a student put things in perspective, and it is a very rewarding experience.

Whether the motive to volunteer is a humanitarian effort, the desire to pump up one's resume, or simply a break from the daily grind, Madison House has so many different programs, that it can definitely be defined as having something for everyone.