As part of this past weekend, a “Celebration of Service” event took place Saturday at the McIntire Amphitheater to emphasize Ryan’s commitment as U.Va.’s ninth president to public service and giving back to the local community.
The free public event cast a spotlight on student-run and local non-profit organizations in the Charlottesville area, including Madison House and other contracted independent organizations.
Madison House is a non-profit volunteer organization, which is unaffiliated with the University, located at 170 Rugby Road near the Fralin Museum of Art.
The event took place immediately after the earlier in the morning, in which students and community members ran alongside Ryan and offered free food and refreshments for participants in the race and donation drives for canned goods and shoes to benefit area charities.
“Today is about celebrating both service and community and when it comes to community, the thing that seems incredibly important to me is building bridges,” Ryan said. “I think that U.Va. should be doing all it can to be a good neighbor and a good partner.”
The event was also sponsored in part by the Charlottesville-based Center for Nonprofit Excellence, an organization that aims to provide assistance to local nonprofits through training and executive education programs. The center’s executive director, Cristine Nardi, briefly addressed those in attendance, and Ryan presented a check for $25,000 to Nardi.
“Community organizations are about helping neighbors in need, they’re about getting us up off the couch and out into the community to spend good quality time with each other, and they’re about enriching our lives,” Nardi said. “We believe that nonprofits and community organizations are so important that we want to make sure that they can be the strongest businesses so they can do their best work in the community.”
Additional speakers included Olympian and University alumnus Paul Ereng. Hailing from Kenya, Ereng attended the University on an athletic scholarship, later winning a gold medal in track-and-field at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
“This community built a bridge, a long bridge from Charlottesville all the way to Nairobi, Kenya 30 years ago, and it gave me a chance,” Ereng said. “It brought me up on an athletic scholarship, which turned to become the golden medal that came to U.Va. from the Olympics … that’s the opportunity that we build through these bridges and through education.”
Ereng also presented Ryan with a gift — a blanket from the Maasai, a warrior tribe in Ereng’s native Kenya.
“Today, I have have a blanket from Kenya, from the Maasai tribe, that I would like to give to the president because he’s a warrior,” Ereng said. “But there is something that a warrior does: he protects the weak. And these bridges we’re building and the service we are giving the community is to protect those who are disadvantaged.”
In addition to the complementary food and live music, attendees were able to speak with representatives from the over 50 student and community organizations present, including a number of Madison House affiliates.
Katie Lee, a third-year student in the Commerce School and program director for Madison House’s Cavs in the Classroom program, was encouraged by Ryan’s support for community service at the University.
“We really like how involved he’s been so far and he’s actually really trying to get to know not only the students here and everyone, but also the community,” Lee said. “So I think that his focus will kind of open Madison House up to a lot more students that maybe haven’t heard of it and come try to get them more involved in the community.”
In terms of ways in which the University could better prioritize community service not only on Grounds but within the general community, Peyton Loving, a fourth-year College student and head program director of Madison House’s Big Siblings initiative, agreed that better publicity for local service programs would go a long way in getting students more involved.
“It really doesn’t matter what you’re interested in and what you’re interested in giving back to, because there are so many causes that need help and that need just awareness as well,” Loving said. “If you have a cause that you’re passionate about, there is something here for you.”