When the elementary school student she was tutoring via Zoom appeared on the screen, Meghan McLees ’23 sensed something was wrong. So, she quickly switched gears, replacing the scholarly lesson she’d planned for the day with an educational game.
“We just did that the whole time, and we talked about his day,” she said of the session with a student from Stafford Junction, a nonprofit dedicated to helping families struggling with poverty. “He was having a hard time at school.”
The call was just a small part of the volunteer work she completed as a University of Mary Washington student, but it created a career path for McLees, who enrolled in a master’s program for school counseling at the University of Maryland after graduating from UMW in May. Now, in addition to a chosen profession, her penchant for giving her time to others has earned her something else – the 2023 Outstanding Young Adult Volunteer Award from the Virginia governor’s office.
“Meghan is a great role model with a wonderful combination of passion for making the world a better place and organizational skills,” Center for Community Engagement Director Sarah Dewees said in her nomination letter for the award, bestowed on McLees at a ceremony last night.
Growing up in Chesterfield, Virginia, McLees was immersed in volunteerism. She’d lend her efforts to her mother’s American Heart Association events – taking pictures and handing out flyers – and the functions her father put on for the Army.
So the civically engaged culture she found at Mary Washington was a bonus, she said, and she set out to fit service into her schedule. A psychology major with a contemplative studies minor, she joined UMW’s Community Outreach and Resources (COAR), logging more than 100 hours last year alone.
For Stafford Junction, she recruited volunteers, provided transportation and poured herself into the afterschool Brain Builders initiative, bringing in her own lesson plans, along with whiteboards and worksheets. Along the way, Dewees said, McLees discovered a love for helping children who are low income, have language barriers or just need support.
“I’m not just interested in working with students,” said McLees, who persevered through the pandemic, meeting with community partners to figure out how to offer virtual tutoring. “I’m interested in working with students in their own environment.”
At UMW, she entertained children while their parents did chores at Fredericksburg’s Brisben Center for people experiencing homelessness, worked at the local food bank and led student volunteers weeding gardens, picking up litter and doing projects for the SPCA.
She also joined three Alternative Service Break trips, traveling to different states to repair and build homes with Habitat for Humanity. There, too, McLees became a leader, managing student volunteer work, balancing budgets and creating a fundraising project called “FUNd Fair,” a carnival-like activity held on Mary Washington’s Campus Walk.
She hopes her passion for volunteerism – and the statewide award she received for her efforts last night – will be contagious.
“Hopefully more people start volunteering,” McLees said. “There’s so much more than just mentoring people and building houses. Everyone can find their own thing.”