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Isabella Blecha, a Marymount University freshman majoring in biology, moved onto campus on a Friday and was out volunteering in the community early the next morning. She was one of 230 MU students, faculty, staff, and alumni who participated in the university’s Volunteer Service Day, an annual tradition at the start of the academic year that introduces students to ways they can serve in the local community.
“I did a lot of service in high school,” Isabella explained, “and I wanted to continue volunteering here and see how Marymount does service. This is also a great way to meet new people.” Njoud Abu-Jaber, a sophomore business administration major from Amman Jordan, added, “I’m paying it forward, and it’s very rewarding. Service Day is awesome!”
The Marymount volunteers fanned out to 22 sites across northern Virginia to lend a hand. Isabella was at Arlington Mill High School, an alternative high school for all ages, which had just moved to a new location and needed boxes unpacked. Dr. Barbara Thompson, the principal, was thrilled to have the extra hands. “The Marymount volunteers have really helped us get settled, so that we can focus on our students next week,” she pointed out. “I don’t know how we would have gotten our library set up without them. Having this help really shows that we have community support.” Dr. Thompson also noted that three Marymount students would be interning at Arlington Mill during the fall semester – building on the school’s partnership with the university.
Other organizations served included Alternative Youth House, HOPE in Northern Virginia, Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter, Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services, American Red Cross, L’Arche, Tuckahoe Elementary School, Cherrydale Rehabilitation, and Arlington Science Focus School.
At L’Arche, a home for people with mental and physical challenges, Marymount students did general clean-up – weeding, cleaning siding and windows, mopping, and straightening the pantry. At Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services, some sorted donated clothing and household goods, while others were tasked with assembling a cubicle in the office area.
Father Brian Bashista, Marymount’s chaplain and director of Campus Ministry, is also an architect and was able to lead the cubicle construction. Beth Fitzpatrick, who works for Catholic Charities, noted, “It really showed God’s guiding hand, when Father Bashista was here to step in and take charge!”
At the Youth Apostles Institute, the Marymount volunteers did heavy yard work – trimming bushes, chopping down dead trees, weeding, and hauling debris. Patrick Kelley, a senior who plans to teach special education, volunteered last year and said, “I liked the experience so much, I decided to do it again!” He added, “Being out in nature allows me to think and reflect on my spiritual beliefs.”
Kelly Foster, an alumna who graduated with a degree in paralegal studies in 1990, also pitched in as a volunteer. She explained, “I love Marymount. Since I live in the area, I enjoy coming back on a regular basis and participating in campus activities.”
The Marymount volunteers at Cherrydale Rehabilitation visited with the residents – learning about the Korean War from a veteran and watching television news coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights March on Washington with another resident. Father Bashista pointed out, “The students were able to serve just by visiting and listening to the residents.” He added, “A gentleman came up to me as the MU bus was pulling away with the students to thank us. He could not express how much their visit meant to his mother. This is what the day was all about.”
PHOTO 1 – Father Brian Bashista; Margaret Phan, a forensic psychology graduate student; and Ryan Adamus, a freshman business administration major, assemble an office cubicle at Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services.
PHOTO 2 – Alumna Kelly Foster ʼ90, who earned her degree in Paralegal Studies, and Patrick Kelley, a senior preparing to teach special education, weed and share Marymount stories on the grounds of the Youth Apostles Institute.
PHOTO 3 – Freshman Maggie Campbell, a nursing major, and Marymount President Matthew D. Shank unpack library books at Arlington Mill High School.
PHOTO 4 – Freshman Ashley Swann, a business administration major, cleans a window at L’Arche.
PHOTO 5 – Volunteers at the Youth Apostles Institute pause for prayer and reflection in the Institute’s chapel after completing their yard work.