The food bank needed help getting fresh produce to needy families. A literacy group sought tutors to help adults with reading, writing and basic math. A local high school wanted guest speakers to teach mindfulness and stress management techniques to teenagers.
All of them congregated with more than 100 others in the Digital Auditorium of UMW’s Hurley Convergence Center last Friday for FRED – A Social Good Summit. Together they began a dialogue about how to collaborate more effectively to promote social change in the Fredericksburg area.
The UMW student-planned event gave students and educators from the University of Mary Washington, Germanna Community College and area high schools the opportunity to meet with community partners from local nonprofits and other organizations that serve the public.
Leslie Martin, director of UMW’s new Center for Community Engagement, said that the summit underscored President Troy Paino’s commitment “to have UMW reclaim the civic vision of a public higher education institution. We are leveraging all of our resources – our faculty, staff and students – to make positive impacts in the community.”
In the morning, participants engaged in a “lean coffee retro,” in which they discussed issues that focused on building “a more just and livable community.” The topics included workforce development, affordable housing, voting rights and gerrymandering, food insecurity and more.
Hannah Rothwell ’19, who spent the past year helping plan the summit, said raising awareness about these issues and the resources that are currently available in the area was a central part of the conversation.
“We had one professor who said, ‘I’m a member of this community. I’ve lived and taught here for years, and I spend much of my time downtown. I’m involved in so many different organizations, yet I had no idea these problems and resources existed here in Fredericksburg,” Rothwell said.
After lunch, the event featured a Match for Good session, in which participants presented 23 pitches and made connections with potential collaborators to bring projects to fruition.
The organizations varied in their mission and purpose, as well as in the help they were seeking. The Arts & Cultural Council of the Rappahannock needed assistance with fundraising and creating a social media marketing plan. An immigration law firm was looking for students who could be language translators for their clients. The local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness wanted high school and college-aged volunteers to help create programs for young adults.
Shawn Barnard, a James Monroe High School teacher, came to the summit to network on behalf of Fredericksburg City Public Schools’ International Baccalaureate program, which includes a service learning component. “We feel that we have community stakeholders that are very much in need of our help, and can also offer us great ideas and opportunities.”
Barnard was thrilled to learn about a program pitched by Spotsylvania County Public Schools, in which students can participate in a conference to address behavioral issues in lieu of suspension. “We sometimes have discipline problems, so we are reading a book on restorative justice as a whole school book club. When I heard they were doing restorative justice in the county right next to us, I thought, ‘We need to meet these people.’”
Several of the projects were introduced by Mary Washington faculty members teaching courses in data analysis, abnormal psychology, and instructional design and assessment. Shawn Humphrey, associate professor of economics, is launching a new class this fall, the Social Good Lab. All of these courses will create impactful, hands-on learning experiences in which UMW students can use the skills and expertise they have gained in the classroom to assist local nonprofits and organizations.
Future plans include surveys of community concerns and creating an online platform for Match for Good, as well as generating a Social Good scorecard to see how the Fredericksburg area compares to other localities in Virginia and across the United States. A second Social Good Summit to assess progress will be held next spring.
In the meantime, the summit’s organizers are ecstatic about the success of the inaugural Social Good Summit. “FRED was full of electricity and enthusiasm. The feedback has been spectacular,” Humphrey said. “We left inspired and ready to get to work.”