Shepherd In Summer

How do we sustain the student-run community service projects during the summer, and why are the service projects important?

Georgia Bernbaum

The Shepherd Program is the interdisciplinary poverty studies department unique to Washington and Lee University. Founded in 1997, it hopes to prepare students to “understand and address the causes and consequences of poverty in a way that respects the dignity of every person” through both rigorous coursework and a variety of service opportunities. These service sites include Project Horizon, Habitat for Humanity and Campus Kitchen.

Campus Kitchen is especially heavily dependent on student volunteers. The mission of Campus Kitchen is to promote nutrition while also addressing the issues of food waste and food insecurity in Rockbridge County.

The initiative usually requires about three hundred student volunteers during the school year to manage the garden, cook and clean the kitchen and complete delivery shifts. However, this number is drastically reduced during the summer, with usually only five full-time student interns. This gap in labor will sometimes be supplemented by retirees and faith-based groups volunteering during the Summer.

Ryan Brink, Campus Kitchen Coordinator, states that the current system is working but admits that he would like to see more students who stay on campus to do research become more involved in preserving student-driven service.

Student-driven service is essential to the university because it serves to eliminate what many call the “W&L Bubble,” which refers to what Marissa Charley, Bonner Program Director, describes as the separation between school and city, when students exclusively have meaningful relationships with those affiliated with W&L.

“I have spent a total of 8 years at two separate residential academic institutions, and at both people discussed the “Bubble,” stated Charley. “To limit ourselves to connecting with only those who inhabit our campus is to do a tremendous disservice to our growth as human beings.”

Fran Elrod, Associate Director of the Shepherd Program also commented on the so-called bubble saying, “truth be told, we all live in our own bubble”. Elrod explained that “what is in that bubble is defined by what we give our attention. Those who intentionally or unintentionally only experience the “W&L bubble” are missing out on a rich and complicated experience”.

Our subconscious or conscious bubble manifests through much more than our relationships but also the language we use. Often students will use the word “townie” to describe shop owners and Dining Hall employees, relegating those with lower income or service professions to townies. This definition of townie spares those families who have lived in Lexington for generations from the seemingly derogatory term because they are wealthy and associated with the school. By performing service, we can dismantle the imaginary boundary between Washington and Lee and Lexington.

Jenny Davidson, Assistant Director of the Shepherd Program, claims that the success of Washington and Lee directly translates into the success of the community and vice versa; we are intertwined.

While Washington and Lee provides Lexington with labor and customers, Lexington provides W&L students with a greater depth of multi-generational and multi-racial interactions. Engaging with the community offers opportunities to learn, grow, and develop civic identity. The “bubble” is easily permeable, but it requires students to actively engage with the outside community.