Early Saturday morning, a group of University of Mary Washington students gathered on Ball Circle. Wearing masks and social distancing, they came together on that crisp fall day to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, completing outdoor service projects for Into the Streets. The autumn tradition is hosted by UMW’s COAR (Community Outreach and Resources), whose mission is to provide structural support for community engagement, volunteerism and service.
“At a time when we are all unable to do many of the things that give us joy, satisfaction and focus,” said Leslie Martin, faculty director of UMW’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), “volunteering reminds us that we are all still connected and able to work together for the betterment of our shared community.”
The Center, which opened last fall, helps build bridges – and strengthen existing ones – between Mary Washington and organizations in the greater Fredericksburg area. Several of CCE’s community partners are navigating budget cuts and layoffs as a result of the pandemic, Martin said, so “our community needs us now more than ever.”
While this year’s event was scaled down, with nearly 30 students participating, UMW’s commitment to community service and engagement is as strong as ever, said President Troy Paino, who recorded a video to welcome and thank volunteers for their service. “It’s a fundamentally important part of what Mary Washington is all about,” he said.
Three groups set out from campus to weed, plant, mulch and pick up trash for Tree Fredericksburg and Friends of the Rappahannock. The outdoor sites were within walking distance of the University, and students could easily spread out and socially distance.
“Our goal was to engage with the community and do it responsibly, by following UMW’s MMDC (monitor, mask, distance and clean) guidelines,” said junior Carleigh Rahn, a COAR leader.
Junior Quinn Lipetz led a group of students that collected over 100 pounds of trash from trails near the Rappahannock River. The “hard working, cooperative and enthusiastic” team made the experience “rewarding and fun,” said Lipetz, who is majoring in economics and conservation biology, a new program at Mary Washington.
A three-year veteran of the Into the Streets project, senior Paige Beidelman spent the morning spreading mulch for Tree Fredericksburg. She was a little nervous about social distancing, she said, “but as usual, UMW students did an amazing job of keeping everyone’s safety in mind.”
Even with a smaller group, Rahn said, the spirit of the event – and its focus on service and connection – remains unchanged.
“The pandemic has challenged our community in ways unimaginable,” she said. “It’s our job to do whatever we can to bring that community together again.”