The YMCA at Virginia Tech has been serving the community as a nonprofit organization for 126 years. In 1986, the YMCA began Student Programs as a response to the nascent student volunteer movement. Since then, they have been uniquely successful at transforming the energy and enthusiasm of college students into committed and thoughtful community service. From their humble beginnings, they have grown to providing more than 8,000 hours of community service to the New River Valley of Virginia each year. This year they offer 15 programs, all coordinated by student leaders, which will directly serve the region.
The model for the program consists of recruiting student leaders from the Virginia Tech community and preparing them to coordinate and manage a corps of volunteers to serve in each program area.
These programs fall into several general categories. They support the public schools through tutoring in six local elementary schools, one middle school and the town high school, staffing school nurses offices in two of these elementary schools, after-school programs for children at three low-income housing complexes, mentoring in two 4-H sites and sponsoring a Buddy Program for developmentally challenged students. Additionally, they send their volunteers to six regional HeadStart sites.
The program’s commitment to the broader community is felt through Project Home Repair, a community garden and their "Community Pets" program, which sends volunteers and their pets into local nursing homes. The Alternative Spring Breaks divert students from the typical bacchanalia of spring into a positive week of work and sharing at four sites: Appalachia, inner-city Washington, D.C., a Native American reservation and an international site.
In addition to working with student volunteers, YMCA Student Programs also offers all these opportunities to students who participate in Virginia Tech’s Service-Learning Program. In the previous academic year, 63 students received class credit in courses designed by their professors to integrate the community into the classroom.
Much of the strength of the YMCA Student Programs lies in the outstanding work of the student Program Leaders. These young people commit on the average five to 10 hours a week as volunteer leaders. They undergo an intensive training program through the Y, and are then responsible for coordinating all aspects of their individual programs. They learn the skills, values and qualities necessary for leadership development and program management. They gain an opportunity to ground their academic work in real-life experience. Many of the program leaders have gone on to AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, teaching, and many other people and society friendly occupations.
In April 1999, YMCA Student Programs was selected by the YMCA of the USA to participate in a national pilot project designed to promote civic engagement among young adults aged 18-29. As a pilot Young Adult Civic Connector Center, they have been able to expand their training, support, and community service/leadership opportunities to young adults who are not necessarily Virginia Tech students. They are focusing on involving young adults into every aspect of community, government, and political life by partnering with various organizations from the nonprofit, for-profit, and government sectors.