Abbitt Woodall: Extending Investment in Service Beyond College

OCE Community Profile Series
By Daniela Sainz ’15 | October 2013

Abbitt Woodall for blog

Mr. Abbitt Woodall demonstrates how a personal investment of service towards the community should follow every William & Mary student long past their formal education years. A graduate of the class of 2002, Mr.Woodall was a dedicated member of Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-ed service fraternity and one of the largest community service organizations at William & Mary. He is now the executive director of the non-profit organization where he volunteered for three of his years at the College, Housing Partnerships, Inc. HPI is a regional non-profit that provides house maintenance and repair services to low-income housing within the Williamsburg community. Here we spend some time gaining a more holistic perspective on how Mr. Woodall’s experience with service has strengthened since his time at William & Mary.

Office of Community Engagement: Tell us about your role in the community.

Abitt Woodall: I am the Executive Director of Housing Partnerships, Inc., which is a local & regional nonprofit for low-income homeowners within our community. We have a broader community view of what exactly that entails. We repair and replace housing. Clients come directly to us or are routed through social services and other non-profits. Actually, one of our most common routers is hospital discharges. Nor are we limited to repair and replacement services, we also can do accessibility projects. For example, we install walk-in ramps and special home entrances for handicapped clients.

OCE: What role do William & Mary students play at HPI?

AW: William & Mary students are our largest pool of volunteer labor. We leverage the dollars we have at our disposal by using as much free labor as possible – this helps us save the resources we need to pay for the services we provide. At HPI, we are a partnership of community members and volunteers. Since our founding in 1985, some things are different: we now have a contractor and certification to conduct our services, to name a few. Despite the new complexities of the site, we have adopted well with the times. Students have always been a big part of the project, from the very beginning.

OCE: What benefits does your organization derive from working with William & Mary students?

AW: Students help us out by being such fantastic volunteers: they aid primarily in the actual construction of housing projects. There are more and more technical responsibilities involved in the volunteer opportunities; fraternities usually come out for a day and do yard clean ups. Additionally, we ask students to help us take old roofs off of houses. Then our contractor will come and puts the new roofs on. Occasionally HPI will have mission trips from other universities that come over spring break: they will generally tackle bigger projects because they will spend more time with us. We demolished an entire house with a student group once!

OCE: How do you see the students benefiting from their work?

AW: This kind of work is geared towards benefitting a part of the community that the students don’t usually get to see. Some people who live in Williamsburg don’t have indoor plumbing, and many students are unaware of that. Student involvement in our projects helps them create a better awareness of our community and its needs and services. They get to witness first-hand how the American dream of homeownership is still difficult for a lot of people to achieve. Additionally, they learn some basic handiwork skills like how to replace a rotten bath, or a floor, or a window. Today’s younger generation have a lot less handiwork skills. The older generation has much more of a fix-it-yourself mentality.

OCE: How does your organization help educate student volunteers about community needs?

AW: At W&M, students sort of live in a bubble. You don’t have to go very far to find parts of the community that look a lot different from colonial Williamsburg. There are homes a mile-and-a-half away that have no indoor plumbing, where people make $12,000 a year. A lot of them work for the college, for Colonial Williamsburg, even. Unfortunately, Aramark (the company that employs dining services) does not give its employees any pensions, so a lot of members of the community live in very dire conditions. I have worked on houses of people I have known from when I was a student at the college; they worked in dining services during that time. I fixed problems in their house for them. It’s so nice to be able to give back to some of the people who really brightened my day when I was an undergraduate.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean to you?

AW: To me, active citizenship means being a participant, being engaged. We all have a part in the community in which we live. It is not enough to live on the sidelines. We need to be more engaged and involved in implementing strategies to make this community a community in which we all want to live.

 

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About Melody Porter

Hello blogosphere! While I am a relative newcomer to you, I am a long-time fan of human connection. I used to say that my major in college (above my actual political science & religion double major) was in friendships. Conversations over long meals or late nights on dorm hallway floors have been transformative in my life, and it only makes sense to me to dip my toe into new ways of opening up conversation here. Some details about my life and role at W&M: I have worked at William and Mary since August 2008, and am Associate Director in the Office of Community Engagement. I spend my time fostering student leadership in the broad areas of alternative breaks and local anti-poverty initiatives. Doing so lets me fulfill what I understand my calling to be about: working for social justice in the world, and equipping others to do so with skill, sensitivity and great love. And my pre-W&M life... I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Religion from Emory University in 1995. After graduating, I decided to get further into the world of community development and service. I served as a long-term volunteer for three years, beginning a job development program in Philadelphia and working with preschool children in Johannesburg, South Africa. I came back to Emory to earn a Master of Divinity from the Candler School of Theology in 2001, with a focus in religious education. I spent a frenetic and exciting year working four jobs - from TA'ing a preaching class with Tom Long, to catering barbecue, to managing a nonprofit family literacy program with immigrant and refugee families. I went on from there to be Associate Minister at First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia, working in areas of social justice and community development, and directing an after school program that served more than 100 high school students. Finally, it was one more stop at Emory - where I served for three years as director of Volunteer Emory, a student-led department for community service. Through all of my professional and volunteer experiences, and life in general, I have seen how connected and interdependent people and communities are everywhere I believe in the power of mutual service to transform lives and create social change. I also love cheese fries.

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