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.

Katie Mitchell: Considering the Context

OCE Profile Series
By Daniela Sainz ‘15 | Nov 6, 2013

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Katie Mitchell’s service extends both on-campus and beyond. She is dedicated to improving the welfare of animals looking for a home in addition to improving the general welfare of students through her volunteer work. Although she is passionate about all of the causes she works towards, she has a special spot in her heart for the Heritage Humane Society, which works to find permanent homes for stray cats and dogs.

Office of Community Engagement: How are you involved in community engagement at William & Mary?

Katie Mitchell: It all started before freshman year, when I went on the inaugural 7 Generations pre-orientation trip, volunteering at a sustainable farm in Lynchburg. Freshman year I was a Sharpe scholar, and helped design teaching tools for local elementary school special education programs. Sophomore year I joined Circle K International, and I’m now Executive Vice President.

CKI has at least two large-scale service projects each year—a food-packaging event in the Fall, and Strike Out ALS! in the Spring—as well as many other wonderful service opportunities. I am very active with our large-scale projects and dabble in organizations such as Campus Kitchens, but my main focus is volunteering at Heritage Humane Society, which I do approximately 10 hours a week. I am also an active member of the William & Mary branch of Active Minds, a mental health advocacy organization.

OCE: How has this work contributed to community needs?

KM: Circle K International is an amazing organization that offers so many ways to help the community, and I am honored to help run the behind-the-scenes work to support our members. The two issues I am currently most passionate about are animal welfare and mental health. Volunteering at Heritage Humane Society has been an amazing experience; the shelter is extremely well-maintained and organized, and this is largely due to the amazing staff and the dedicated team of volunteers. Recently I have been helping out mostly with negotiating adoptions, and it is a truly rewarding feeling to see these amazing, loving animals go to a forever home.

My work on Mental Health is mainly through Active Minds, and we work very hard to decrease the stigma of mental illnesses on campus, and provide access to resources to students. Last year we had our first Debunking the Myths panel discussion, where students and faculty shared their experiences with mental illness and information about the resources available on campus. We also do lots of smaller campaigns such as tabling and handing out motivational and educational materials. As a relatively new club, our presence is still growing, but I can already notice a snowball effect as members feel more comfortable discussing mental health, which encourages their friends and family to feel more comfortable discussing it as well.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean for you?

KM: To me, active citizenship means always considering the context in which your actions are occurring. It means not making jokes that stigmatize mental illness or disability or marginalize any group of people. It means pointing out problematic aspects of media, even if it is also media that you enjoy. It means being aware of political issues and taking a stand for issues that matter to you. It means always being open-minded, empathetic, and humble enough to really listen to those with different life circumstances and needs, and adjusting your actions accordingly. It means always being willing to help.

OCE: How has your experience working in the community affected your educational career at William & Mary?

KM: I am still trying to figure out what I want to do after college (which is coming up much sooner than I want to consider!), but my community engagement work has definitely helped me to come up with some ideas of potential paths to take. Working at Heritage Humane Society has really fueled my passion for working with and understanding animals, and I have considered pursuing graduate school to research animal communication or the human-animal bond.

These days it looks like that might not be the path that I follow, but it is still a topic that fascinates me and has led me to take some really interesting psychology and linguistics classes. Now I’m thinking more about how I enjoy the leadership and logistical aspects of planning service events and Circle K meetings, and I’m considering pursuing a career in non-profit management, particularly non-profits focusing on animal welfare or mental health.

OCE: How do you plan to use what you’ve learned as an engaged citizen beyond William & Mary?

KM: I know that wherever I end up, I will not feel fulfilled if I am not engaging with my community, nor do I think I can simply stop being an active citizen. As a friend of mine eloquently put it, I’ve now “tuned into the background noise of my life,” and it’s almost impossible to tune it back out. I’ll always notice the inequalities and injustices that surround me now, and I just hope that I will have the strength to not give up on the fight. Luckily, I have so many amazing, service-minded friends, and I know we will always give each other strength.

OCE: What is the most memorable or striking moment you experienced during your engagement work?

KM: Two years ago I attended Relay for Life with several other Circle K members. The remembrance ceremony and silent lap hit me incredibly hard. One of the speakers had just read the poem, “The Dash”, which talks about making the years in the “dash” between your birth and your death count. During that silent lap, this was all I could think about. About how I want to make the most of my dash, about how amazed I am by the courage of those who struggle with cancer and other chronic conditions, about how many people one life can touch, and about how lucky I am—about how so many people don’t have the same opportunities to make the most of their “dash” as I do, and how unfair that is. I want to make the most of my life and touch as many lives as I can, and I want to help empower others to reach that same goal.

 

Abbitt Woodall: Extending Investment in Service Beyond College

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

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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.

 

Sahnun Mohammud: Giving a Voice to the Situation in Somalia

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

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Sahnun Mohammud is a Junior at the college who has been heavily influenced by the civil war that has been occurring in his native Somalia for over 20 years. Partially inspired by his mother, who runs a Non-Government Organization in Somalia, Sahnun decided to lead an initiative on campus to raise student awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Somalia. Students for Somalia is an organization that raises awareness about the humanitarian crises and raises funds for development projects in Somalia. Here we explore how Sahnun helped create the student organization and some of the challenged that he has had to overcome to bring it into fruition.

Office of Community Engagement: How are you involved in community engagement at William & Mary?

Sahnun Mohammud: I give a voice to the situation in Somalia – I educate the campus community on the humanitarian struggle that has been happening for the past two decades in Somalia. We campaign for topics to be addressed and for guest speakers to come to our campus. We work on several projects, primarily projects that focus on development in Somalia. We raised over $6,000 in collaboration with Purdue University for an Internally Displaced People Camp to be built. It’s currently in the process of being approved for construction, but the process will begin in the next few months.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean for you?

SM: Active citizenship means someone who recognizes that they are a part of a society, and they strive to better that society outside of themselves.

OCE: How has your experience working in the community affected your educational career at William & Mary?

SM: It has made me develop fantastic leadership and social/interpersonal skills. They are very different skills from the ones that you learn within a classroom setting. It definitely made me more well-rounded.

OCE: How do you plan to use what you’ve learned as an engaged citizen beyond William & Mary?

SM: I plan to start a business. I have the leadership, organizational, and interpersonal skills from my experiences with Students for Somalia. I plan to be in a similar situation when trying to organize people in the future. I would like to think I will be well prepared to organize people and organize them well.

OCE: What is the most memorable or striking moment you experienced during your engagement work?

SM: The first meeting we ever held for Students for Somalia consisted of a small group of people that had a vision, but not sure how to implement it. After the meeting was over, we had created a place to meet, and we had a trajectory in mind. We got down to it. We weren’t sure about a lot of things but the whole organization had been conceptualized.

 

Patrick Belcher: You Can Drastically Alter the Course of Someone’s Life

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

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Mr. Patrick Belcher, Executive Director of the American Red Cross in Yorktown, Virginia is a community partner that came to the Red Cross with close to 20 years of professional sales experience as his background. While being involved in sales was interesting and engaging work, it did not compare to being able to utilize the skills he acquired to make an impact in the community today. In his words, fundraising is a kind of sales but it differs in that when you are asking for money, you are helping so much more than just the person selling the product. He spoke of his other role: that of being a father to his eight-year old son, and how he takes great pride in being able to share how he helped changed someone else’s life at the end of the day. Here we take a closer look at exactly how Mr. Belcher’s work is helping to change lives in the community, and how students at the College can get involved as well.

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

Patrick Belcher: I am affiliated with the Red Cross, and as an organization we have two mandates that we strive to achieve. The first is to be the second responders to any disaster. The second is to serve armed forces families that are in need, to provide a sense of community between soldiers and their families. We provide about 80% of the blood used in hospitals in Hampton Roads. A lot of people don’t know that roughly every two seconds, someone needs blood. There is always a high demand for blood, but because it has a short shelf life, more donations are always needed and appreciated.

OCE: What role do W&M students play at the Red Cross?

PB: The students help organize and run extremely successful blood drives. Current President Meg Weichers is working on ways to expand community disaster education. There are various fundraising efforts as well, but the club itself wants to do much, much more.

There are so many great talents on this campus, and we want to capture as much of those talents as we can. We may or may not have a fierce winter this year, and there are a lot of things to be thought of. W&M does a great job of giving back to the community. The [Campus] Rec community does first-aid and CPR training for the W&M community at a very low cost.

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

PB: There is nothing like the ability to understand the fact that donating a pint of blood saves three lives. William and Mary students are super motivated. Whether it’s about corporate philanthropy or building connections, the Red Cross provides so many skills that fill out the details of your resume. There are many things that you can be aware of at Red Cross. Even projects that don’t directly impact the immediate community can make a difference, such as organizing a card signing to wish soldiers well during the holidays.

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

PB: The Red Cross is an international organization. Being associated with it gives you access to worldwide information. In every community, we can see mirror images of ourselves. The tragedies that happen gives us a story, and they tell us how we need to prepare for a future disaster. We can know and share stories: for example, a lot of people in the Jersey shore probably never thought they would have to worry about their lives changing so suddenly. Now, disaster emergency plans are priorities of most families along the East coast of America.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean for you?

PB: To me, active citizenship means understanding that one person can make a difference. The Red Cross provides all kinds of these opportunities. Donating one pint of blood saves three lives. Even skills learned from first aid and CPR courses can drastically change the course of someone’s life. A friend of mine was once at a barbecue when a baby girl suddenly began having a seizure – there were twelve people there and he was the only one who knew how to react and he did so immediately. How many people can say that they drastically altered the course of someone’s life?

 

Lauren Hong: Supporting Community

OCE Community Profile Series
By Daniela Sainz ‘15 | Nov 6, 2013

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Over the summer, Lauren Hong, Class of 2014, dedicated her time to assisting the Campus Kitchen at W&M. As an intern, she helped deliver weekly meals to local food-insecure families. Her experience was made possible with funding from a Community Engagement Frant that helped her support herself throughout the summer. Her work over the summer was multifaceted – including cooking and planning aspects as well as the opportunity to run some programs for children and families. Lauren emphasizes that Campus Kitchen is an organization that is dedicated to more than just donating meals.

Office of Community Engagement: How are you involved in community engagement at William & Mary?

Lauren Hong: When I was in high school, the mentality towards service was very different. While in college, I learned more about why we do the things we do and ways to effectively reach out to the community in order to get a better understanding of what they think are successful programs. I truly understand what it means to be a volunteer and be engaged within the community.

OCE: How has this work contributed to community needs?

LH: Over the summer, we provided about 150 meals a week. The number of volunteers have been dwindling since the beginning of the semester, but we still have quite a dedicated team working with us. We exclusively use fresh vegetables and raw meat from the farmer’s market to create healthy meals that are delivered to food-insecure neighborhoods twice a week.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean for you?

LH: To me, active citizenship means not just taking your position in the community for granted. Everyone has a way to positively impact the community. We all have the responsibility to educate ourselves, meet with others, and engage in the community. We need to think of the issues we see and the issues we don’t see. We can’t afford to sit around, we need to prioritize being engaged in community.

OCE: How has your experience working in the community affected your educational career at William & Mary?

LH: I’m a senior, and am figuring out what I want to do after college. I think I would like to work in underserved communities – possibly in a medical sense or doing non-profit work. I will be applying to Teach for America and hope to be able to continue with my service work with a full-time job after graduation.

OCE: How do you plan to use what you have learned as an engaged citizen beyond William & Mary?

LH: I plan to use what I’ve learned to continue being engaged in the community. I would like to build my career off of service work. I plan on volunteering for organizations, and have lifelong partnerships that I hope to keep.

OCE: What is the most memorable or striking moment you experienced during your engagement work?

LH: It happened over the summer – when we were getting to know the kids [in the communities we brought meals to], they began to recognize us and became extremely excited to see us. The work is difficult sometimes and it’s easy to become discouraged, but it is the little moments like this that help to break down the walls between the students and the community. These moments help us show the community members that benefit from the program that we love their kids and families, and that we want to support them in any way that we can.

 

Dwight Weingarten: Taking a Direct Role

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OCE Community Profile Series
By Daniela Sainz | November 6, 2013

Dwight Weingarten is a senior who plans to take the lessons that he learned from his volunteer opportunities at the college and apply them directly to his career aspirations for the future. After spending some time understanding the motivations behind his fealty to Project Phoenix, a tutoring and mentoring program, it is easy to see how the College is a community that fosters a passion for service beyond formal educational settings. Dwight’s experience volunteering for Project Phoenix developed and strengthened his desire to teach after graduation. Here, we explore how Dwight’s passion for teaching was cultivated and how he plans to broaden his horizons in the future.

Office of Community Engagement: How are you involved in community engagement at William & Mary?

Dwight Weingarten: I am involved with Project Phoenix, a tutoring and mentoring program involving three middle schools within the Williamsburg area. I am a tutor coordinator, so my main responsibility is sponsoring the tutoring. Project Phoenix has been around since 1992, so the program has been in place for about 20 years. We tutor in every subject, including: foreign languages, science, math, etc.

OCE: How has this work contributed to community needs?

DW: So many kids need that extra push to succeed; it’s a unique opportunity to get support from someone outside of their school. Having high-achieving students who attend William & Mary mentoring them is a fantastic opportunity; the college students can relate to their pupils through similar past experiences.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean for you?

DW: To me, active citizenship means that you have to take a direct role in what you commit yourself to. You are not “doing what you are supposed to,” you have to really become personally invested in improving the community. Active citizenship is the realization that I have lived a life of good fortune, and that I have an obligation to help out in the community in whatever way I can.

OCE: How has your experience working in the community affected your educational career at William & Mary?

DW: I am a History and Education major, and working with Project Phoenix has strengthened my desire to teach. Seeing how strong the program is has made me aware of the greater need for these kinds of programs elsewhere. Every middle school student should have one. Unfortunately, we can only accept about 20 students into the program from each of these schools. The need for the programs is so much greater.

OCE: How do you plan to use what you’ve learned as an engaged citizen beyond William & Mary?

DW: I plan to become certified to teach! I have really enjoyed the mentoring aspect of my responsibility, and the amazing support that we give the students outside the classroom consolidates the 360 degree aspect of working with the students.

OCE: What is the most memorable or striking moment you experienced during your engagement work?

DW: There have been a lot of memorable experiences, but what comes to mind is one of the Saturday programs where the kids got to meet some of the players on William & Mary’s football team. The joy on the kids’ faces was incredible, it was almost as if they were meeting someone in the NFL. Being able to play on the field and listen to these players tell their stories was fantastic, and everyone appreciated it. It was one of the most successful day activities we had ever organized.

 

Nic Martinez: Passing on the spirit of service

OCE Community Profile Series
By Graham Bryant ’13 | July 30, 2013

When you think of the qualities and dedication exemplified by William & Mary’s many active citizen service-learners, the image you conjure is inevitably one of someone like Nic Martinez ’14. As president of the College’s Nu Rho chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-ed service fraternity and one of the largest community service organizations at William & Mary, Martinez helps coordinate the efforts of around 300 service-minded students dedicated to meeting the needs of Williamsburg and beyond. When not working with APO, the government major and economics minor frequently devotes his time to OCE projects and events, passing along his passion for service learning the College’s next generation of engaged scholars. We sat down with Martinez to talk about his experiences and future plans.

Office of Community Engagement: How are you involved in community engagement at William & Mary?

Nic Martinez: Since freshman year I have been on numerous trips with Branch Out Alternative Breaks. They range from going to Nicaragua with Bridges to Community, to driving down to Newport News to work with Habitat for Humanity. This past spring I traveled to Philadelphia to assess homelessness and income inequality. I led the Housing and Healthcare 7 Generations Pre-Orientation trip to the Eastern Shore. Among other things, I have worked locally with the Habitat ReStore and Campus Kitchens. The OCE helps me always stay busy!

OCE: Tell me about your experiences as a 7G co-leader. What were your responsibilities and what trip did you work on? What did you gain from the experience?

NM: One the face of it, the trip was focused on the housing and healthcare situation of migrant workers on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. But throughout the trip, I realized the issues at hand were interchangeable with any other issue. The real learning experience was facilitating human interaction and compassion. I have been on trips in the past as a participant, but by leading a trip, I was able to pass on the spirit of direct action, service learning, and sustainable social reform. I also get to introduce incoming freshmen to the College, which is always awesome.

OCE: Can you tell me about your involvement in APO and briefly discuss what APO does in the community?

NM: This past fall I became the president of Alpha Phi Omega. One of my favorite aspects of APO is the community that we provide for people to feel more comfortable seeking out direct service. Having a network of friends that one can do service with is key to facilitating action. I remember being a freshman and I had no idea where to go to do community service. APO guides members to the OCE and creates the social pathway to find new resources and opportunities.

OCE: How have these roles contributed to community needs?

NM: The OCE and APO alike both have short term goals: helping those in need with direct action. For example, bringing pre-made meals to low-income community members is a short-term solution. Then there is a middle term goal of learning about the problem at hand and really understanding it. It’s important to realize why the problems exist in the first place, while factoring in many different variables. In the long-run, I hope that students will go on to post-graduate work with these problems and goals in mind, thereby raising their social issue awareness.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean for you?

NM: It involves learning about the process of social change. Helping feed others or picking up trash in a campus clean-up project is important. This is the dirty work to social change. It is also very important to know the reasons for excessive littering on campus and how we can alleviate it. Finally, active political and social participation in the future is needed so that we can shape our community and policy in a way that fixes the issues.

OCE: How has your experience working in the community affected your educational career at William & Mary?

NM: I’m government major with a minor in economics. I enjoy pondering the issues that affect our society and the political discourse that goes along with these issues. Understanding the economics behind social issues is also very important to me.

OCE: How do you plan to use what you’ve learned as an engaged citizen beyond William & Mary?

NM: I plan on studying further in public administration or public policy. I will always stay politically active and hope to shape the policy in my community.

OCE: What is the most memorable or striking moment you experienced during your engagement work?

NM: I helped people without permanent housing sell a street newspaper in Philadelphia. For the first time in my life I felt invisible and worthless because people walking by on the streets thought I was homeless too and ignored me. It really helped me see things in a new perspective and change my views about the socioeconomic conditions in urban areas.

Graham Bryant