Cathey Sadowski: Doing What We Can

by Jessica Edington

Cathey Sadowski is a board member with FISH, Inc, a local organization that provides food, clothing, and transportation to community members in need. She took some time to speak with the Office of Community Engagement about her work with FISH, the community, and William & Mary volunteers.

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

Cathey: FISH has helped persons in need in the Williamsburg area with food, clothing and transportation to medical appointments since 1975. It is the oldest of such organizations in the area and is supported entirely by contributions from the community, both financial and in-kind. FISH was founded on the philosophy of “neighbor helping neighbor” so we have no paid staff, take no tax money, nor do we seek grants from outside the Williamsburg community.

During 2013, FISH provided food equivalent to 158,220 meals; 10,287 outfits of clothing; and housewares to 568 homes. Overall, our volunteers served 5,051 requests for assistance, an increase of 6% over requests in 2012 (when requests were 14% higher than in 2011). Unfortunately, 2014 service numbers indicate that FISH is needed more than ever this year.

OCE: What role do William & Mary students play at FISH? What benefits does your organization derive from working with William & Mary students?

Cathey: William & Mary students are generous donors of both food and clothing to FISH. Many campus organizations and athletic teams sponsor food and clothing drives, significantly enhancing the services FISH can provide clients. Student support of the annual W&M Costume Sale before Halloween is important to the FISH budget. Direct volunteering at FISH is not feasible for most students, but there have been occasions when W&M students have given of their time in the FISH facility; the regular volunteers, most of whom are retired, always enjoy the young presence.

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

Cathey: Through their efforts to help community members in need, students can gain awareness of the difficulties faced by many individuals and families, including some who work for the College in lower-paid positions.

OCE: How do you see the community benefiting from your work and the work of William & Mary students?

Cathey: There is less hunger in Williamsburg and more persons have useful clothing because students help FISH. The community may not know that students are important contributors to this effort, but FISH is pleased to pass the word whenever possible.

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

Cathey: FISH is happy to work with the Office of Community Engagement to help W&M students understand the way FISH serves the community – and the ways in which that support is limited to short-term assistance.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean to you?

Cathey: Active citizenship means giving time, talent and monetary support to helping members of the community, as well as the world, with basic human needs.  Food, clothing and transportation, are only a few of those basic needs; we are not able to solve systemic injustices; and, we can only help the persons of our local community. But in this case, active citizenship means doing what we can with what we have to share.

Beyond Bricks: A William And Mary Experience

by Jessica Edington

When they told me I could write a blog post, like any good William & Mary student, I did my research. There were no guidelines, just “write whatever you want!” with a mutual unspoken understanding that “whatever you want” meant “whatever you want that has something to do with either W&M or community service or both. Don’t write about your love for making pickles or your opinion on bad drivers.”

So I went and read some of the lovely posts written by other W&M bloggers. And as I read, I noticed something: almost every one of the bloggers was writing about experiences outside the classroom. That’s interesting, I thought, that W&M chooses to feature experiences outside of class when so much of what we do here is take classes. This person is interning in Washington, DC, this person is studying abroad, that person is working with Admissions, that person is volunteering… the list goes on.

I thought at first it was because these experiences make the most interesting stories. Everyone knows what it’s like to take classes. But then it occurred to me that I had personally had many of these experiences– the community service, the summer job, the DC internship, the virtual internship, the summer job on campus, studying abroad. And when I did the math, I realized that while I have spent about 20 months on-campus taking classes since I arrived in August 2011, I’ve spent (collectively) 16 months doing all these other things. That’s almost half my time here at W&M.

And I wondered, how many other students have spent almost half of their time at W&M doing other things? From the looks of these blogs, it’s quite a few. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the reason so many of the blogs about W&M experiences aren’t about taking classes because all these other things, the things that too often get lumped as things that “look good on the resume,” are half of the W&M experience. It’s not all about taking classes in old buildings and lounging on the Sunken Gardens on warm spring afternoons and cramming in Swem during finals week and shenanigans with your freshman hall. (Don’t get me wrong, though, it is also a lot about those things.)

When you come to W&M, you’re signing up for a lot more than some of the most rigorous classes in the nation– you’re signing up for an endless buffet of opportunities. They hide in the listserv emails and the bulletin board flyers, the professor’s office hours you keep telling yourself you should go to and the casual conversations with the person next to you in class. They might not always be obvious, but trust me, they’re there.

For me, it was the opportunity to work with people in the Williamsburg community, learning as much from the children I tutored as they (might have) learned from me. It was the opportunity to intern at the Library of Congress. It was the opportunity to go to Iceland, hike to the top of a volcano and work in an organic bakery. It was the opportunity to work on a sustainable farm, to get my hands dirty and find what it was I cared about. It was the opportunity to return to the office where it all started (when I became a Sharpe Scholar as a freshman) as an employee. For so many other students, the opportunities are the same, but what they choose to do with them is different.

As I get ready for my final year at W&M, with all the anxiety about the future that it necessarily brings, I’m reassured by remembering all the opportunities W&M has provided me in the past. I know that these will continue through my senior year and beyond, because after all, W&M doesn’t start and end with the classes I take. It includes all the things I do beyond the bricks, when I wear my W&M sweatshirt with pride and beam when someone recognizes it, shrug when they don’t. The opportunities will be there, if sometimes hiding; it’s just up to me to seek them out and make them my own.