Volunteers today, leaders tomorrow

Service-learning at JMU helps students find their purpose.

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SUMMARY: Students take an untraditional approach to spring break by embarking on service trips led by The Community Engagement and Volunteer Center.


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The Community Engagement and Volunteer Center at JMU connects students and faculty members with community-based projects and experiences. Through CEVC, participants are able to find their people, shift their perspectives, ignite their passions and discover their true purpose. 

Josh Shulruff, former assistant director for Student Leadership and Co-Curricular Programs at CEVC, said getting involved is a great way to burst the “JMU bubble.”

“Incoming first-years and transfer students can sign up for Dukes Making a Difference, a Pre-Weeks of Welcome experience,” Shulruff said. “It’s a way to get oriented to the Harrisonburg-Rockingham community while meeting other service-minded, new Dukes.”

Alternative Break participants volunteer at Camp Easterseals UCP
Alternative Break participants volunteer at Camp Easterseals UCP.

For those who are ready for a more immersive service experience, there are Community Engaged Learning courses in which professors integrate service into their syllabi.

Shulruff got his start with CEVC after his wife took a faculty position at JMU. “We moved from Chicago, where I’d been the director of a national service-year organization. My wife met Steve Grande, who was CEVC’s director, and told him, ‘I think my husband would be perfect for this — are you hiring?’ They were, and I applied, fell in love with the office and all of the amazing people it attracts.”

Ada Reed and Adiba Khaydari are student leaders in the Alternative Break Program, which offers opportunities during university breaks to work alongside community leaders to help address pressing social issues. 

Alternative Break leaders are responsible for pre-trip preparation, including budgeting and communication with their local connections. During the trip, the leaders volunteer with the rest of the crew and facilitate student reflections throughout. 

Students volunteer as counselors at Camp Royall run by the Autism Society of North Carolina.
Students volunteer as counselors at Camp Royall run by the Autism Society of North Carolina.

Khaydari’s trip took her to Montego Bay, Jamaica, where she and her group volunteered for the Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill. CUMI’s mission is “to reach out and advocate for the homeless and other mentally ill persons in Montego Bay, and within the limits of the resources available, attempt to improve their level of physical and mental health as well as their basic quality of life.”

Khaydari and her group mainly worked with schizophrenic clients, spending their days playing Monopoly and participating in light exercises such as dancing the “Cupid Shuffle.”

As a group leader, she said the experience taught her valuable lessons on leadership. “It’s important to spend time learning from different cultures, especially if your goal is to help them. … This expanded worldview enabled me to connect with individuals from different backgrounds and effectively communicate across cultural boundaries.” 

To make a meaningful impact, you don’t need to go far from home. Reed and her group traveled to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to assist with trail maintenance. Not only did they get to enjoy the outdoors, they also engaged in daily team building with their crew of volunteers.

Dukes assisted with trail maintenance on the Alternative Break trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Dukes assisted with trail maintenance on the Alternative Break trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“My experience taught me to trust who I’m working with and to go with the flow … even when everything didn’t go as we had planned in our heads. It worked out so well, and we ended up having such a great experience,” Reed said.

Reed hopes to take what she’s learned from her time in the park and apply it closer to home. “We felt so encouraged by the staff we worked with in the Smokies and hope to continue our volunteering back in our Harrisonburg community,” she said.

For those who can participate, Alternative Breaks offer invaluable experiences that extend their impact far beyond the JMU community.

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by Jane McConville (’24) and Lilly Johns

Published: Thursday, June 27, 2024

Last Updated: Friday, July 12, 2024

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