VCU captures national honor for community service efforts

VCU School of Dentistry students, faculty and staff volunteer at the Wise County Fairgrounds as p...
VCU School of Dentistry students, faculty and staff volunteer at the Wise County Fairgrounds as part of the Virginia Dental Health Foundation’s Missions of Mercy Project, an initiative to provide dental care for uninsured and underserved populations of rural Virginia.

The Corporation for National and Community Service named Virginia Commonwealth University a finalist for the 2015 General Community Service Presidential Award, recognizing the university as one of the top higher education institutions in the country for its commitment to community engagement.

VCU was named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the ninth consecutive time, but this marked the first time that VCU earned finalist recognition. VCU was one of four finalists in the General Community Service category. The honor, which was announced in September, covers service during the 2013–14 academic year and represents one of the highest acknowledgements a college or university can receive for its community engagement endeavors.

Book Tastings events for elementary school students helped stoke their interest in reading.
Book Tastings events for elementary school students helped stoke their interest in reading.

“In addition to the million-plus hours of service our students provide in the community, we have established community partnerships with activities that engage our students and faculty in ways that are addressing critical needs,” said Catherine Howard, Ph.D., vice provost of the Division of Community Engagement at VCU. “It is through these sustained partnerships that we can begin to see a positive difference in the community.” 

During the 2013–14 year, VCU students completed approximately 1.3 million service hours, which included community-based activities in 182 service-learning courses. Six projects formed the core of VCU’s application for the award, highlighting the university’s robust support for service and the positive impact of its outreach.

Featured projects included:

The RamPantry at VCU provides easy access to healthy food.
The RamPantry at VCU provides easy access to healthy food.
  • The Richmond Health & Wellness Program is an innovative interprofessional collaborative practice and education model developed at VCU in partnership with Dominion Place, an income-based housing provider. The Schools of Nursing, Pharmacy, Medicine and Social Work and the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences continue to provide on-site services to chronically ill, disabled and older low-income adults in congregate housing settings.

  • Since 2000, the VCU School of Dentistry has formed a partnership with the Virginia Dental Association and the Virginia Health Care Foundation to provide dental care for the uninsured and underserved populations of Virginia. The Missions of Mercy partnership project serves disadvantaged populations through two-to-three day events, conducted in settings such as tents, open shelters or large rooms in public buildings. In 2013–14, more than 400 pre-dental, dental and dental hygiene students, residents, faculty and staff volunteered more than 6,000 hours of service to provide more than 3,100 people with an estimated $3 million in free dental care.

  • The RamPantry at VCU, which opened in early 2014, stocks healthy food, such as fresh produce, milk, bread, pasta and canned goods, along with hygiene supplies, that some students, faculty and staff struggle to afford. During the 2013–14 year, 141 students volunteered at the pantry in a wide range of roles.

  • VCU AmeriCorps and America Reads provided literacy support services to Richmond Public Schools and increased school capacity through volunteer recruitment. A highlight was the Book Tastings events at three area elementary schools that featured food tastings, read-alouds and language arts activity stations to inspire students to get excited about reading. In 2013–14, VCU members contributed 510 hours of service to Book Tasting activities.

  • For more than a decade, School of Business faculty and students have partnered with Metrocash, a volunteer income tax assistant program of the United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg, to volunteer as tax filers. In 2013–14, 19 VCU service-learning students logged more than 500 volunteer hours assisting in tax preparation through the program.

  • With help from a grant from Ford Motor Company, VCU students led the development of GreenRideRVA, a free trolley program that helped to transport residents living in food desert areas of Richmond to healthy and affordable sources of food.

GreenRideRVA offered free transportation to residents in food desert areas of Richmond.
GreenRideRVA offered free transportation to residents in food desert areas of Richmond.

Community service activities at VCU include academic service-learning, co-curricular student volunteer activities, as well as federal community-based work-study and community-based internships, among other efforts. Community service includes both direct service to citizens and indirect service.

“Congratulations to the VCU community for this honor,” said Tessa McKenzie, research coordinator for the Division of Community Engagement. “All of the university made these service opportunities and this recognition possible. Of course, the real winners here are the students that engaged in these service experiences with our community partners.”

The Division of Community Engagement recently collected service hours for AY 14–15 with a count totaling 1.4 million service hours and 192 service-learning courses offered. For more information on community engagement and service hours, visit the Community Engagement Dashboards: www.community.vcu.edu/community-indicators--data-/community-engagement-dashboard/student-service-/.

 

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