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The Golden Bear heart of service

Biology students donate needed supplies to the local animal shelter.

It’s cold in Beckley. The snow isn’t sticking, but it looks like it might soon. Even so, there’s a sense of warmth as students and employees make their way across campus with their bags and boxes of canned goods. It’s not the coffee in their cups. It’s not the layers of scarves and winter jackets and woolen hats. It’s that glow that comes from feeling like you’re part of something bigger. It’s the heart of service that beats in these Golden Bears.

Giving back has always been a cornerstone of the WVU Tech community. As 2019 winds down and the that community looks to a new decade bursting with possibility, they also mark a banner year in service.

Students, faculty and staff have contributed 4236.25 hours of community service since the beginning of 2019. That’s an estimated economic impact of $89,384.87. A full 68% of that service was accomplished in the fall semester alone, where volunteers contributed 2,900 hours to projects in Beckley and the surrounding area.

Student volunteers climb a ladder to paint during a service project.

Back in January, 234 Golden Bears kicked off the year during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, where they volunteered at nearly 20 sites. It was the highest number of volunteers in Tech’s history of the program.

As spring rolled in and college students all over the country headed to faraway places to enjoy the break, a dozen Golden Bears spent their time in Beckley working with organizations combatting the opioid epidemic in the Mountain State.

Five students were recognized that semester for contributing more than 100 hours of volunteer service during the 2018-2019 academic year. Tech grad Brittan Barley, ’19, was among them, posting 221 hours and earning the honor of Volunteer of the Year.

Then August came with its infusion of new students. Those fresh-faced Golden Bears got to work right away, participating in service projects at 15 locations in Raleigh and Fayette counties.

WVU Tech’s service learning initiatives give students opportunities to connect with the community in ways that show them the value of service, but there’s a ripple effect that carries that drive well beyond the year’s big events.

Student-athletes have taken on team projects, working with Active Southern WV for the Bridge Day 5K, reading to local elementary students, cleaning up at community centers, distributing food at area pantries and more.

A group of WVU Tech students in gold t-shirts paint during the Golden Bears Give Back Day of Service, 2019

The WVU Tech Biology Club regularly visits the local humane society to donate needed items and help out around the shelter. More than 20 student volunteers are also working on a unique community research project with the Piney Creek Watershed Association and the Beckley Sanitary Board.

Christian Student Union members assists the Helping Hands Community Resources Center unload monthly food truck deliveries. The organization serves more than 400 families each month.

Nursing students visit the Raleigh County Commission on Aging monthly to take blood pressure and play Bingo with the center’s clients (there’s even a little line dancing). The Commission was named the 2018-2019 Community Partner of the Year.

And those students with their gifts of food?

Volunteers sort and package food for a local feeding program.

The Student Nursing Association put together 30 Thanksgiving food baskets to distribute to families in surrounding counties.

Chemistry students worked alongside members of the WVU Tech Facilities Management team to donate hundreds of items to One Voice’s Food for Angels program, where elementary students receive after-school and weekend food items. That effort brought in enough ramen noodles, applesauce, granola bars, snack crackers and peanut butter (147 jars) to feed a small army.

The extended Golden Bear family is part of that glow too.

Recent grad Nicole Chadderton, ’19, is serving as an AmeriCorps Vista for a year at WVU Potomac State College in Keyser, where she has been hard at work developing service opportunities in the region.

Lexi Jones, the ten-year-old daughter of staff member Jerika Jones, has taken that spirit of giving to heart. Last month, she put together a flier of local nonprofits in need of donated items. Moved by her story, longtime WVU Tech supporter Shawn Ball helped her put $1,000 worth of goods in the hands of each organization on her list.

WVU Tech mascot Monty greets children at a local school.

But these Golden Bears are just getting warmed up. Community service participation has increased each year as students, faculty and staff become more and more entrenched in their community.

On January 20, 2020, the university plans to host a record number of participants for the MLK Day of Service. Plans are already underway for additional service projects throughout the year, and student organizations are offering more and more ways for students to serve their community in events and outreach.

So, as the snow starts to stick and the last few boxes of food are delivered for the year, the dogs are walked and the local kids hear one last story, these Golden Bears aren’t focused on 2019 and what they’ve accomplished.

They’re looking to 2020 with renewed vigor for helping their communities. They’re glowing at the thought of it, their hearts of service beating out a rhythm of compassion.