Being a kid isn’t always easy. Just ask Lynsey Gallagher, a senior public relations major, and Sarah Workman, a first-year pharmacy studentboth at West Virginia University. For the past few years, the sorority sistersknown for their big hearts and a love for childrenhave been volunteering at The Shack Neighborhood House in Pursglove. Gallagher and Workman, along with 30-35 other WVU students, have worked tirelessly as mentors each semester. Most of the students are education majors who are looking to gain experience working with youth. Others just volunteer to make a difference in a childs life.
With support from the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties, The Shack provides children from Morgantown and surrounding communities a safe place where they can learn and play after school. Each year, the agency enrolls nearly 100 studentsmany from low-income homesfrom Cass Elementary in Osage and Westwood Middle School in Morgantown. Just a few miles away from the Downtown Campus, it is easy to spot The Shack. The agency is housed in a bright blue building along Route 7 West (Route 19 North). On a typical weekday afternoon, you can find a large group of kids reading and coloring books inside a classroom while others play outside on swings and a jungle gym.
Gallagher and Workman first got involved a few years ago as part of their sorority’s philanthropy. Members of Alpha Xi Delta would spend one to two hours a week participating in an after-school program called”Character Counts”teaching children core values like respect, honesty and the Golden Rule.”I think it is important for children to receive guidance not only from their parents but from young adults,”Workman said.”Children often need many mentors to guide them through the difficult paths of life. The Shack is a nice outlet for many children who may not have a good home life.”
Through their volunteer work at The Shack and other United Way agencies, the WVU students say they hope to give back to the community, which faithfully supports the University.”When I saw the children learning the values we were teaching them, I felt that we accomplished something by imparting them with a value that they could apply in every day experiences,”Workman said.
The kids arent the only ones who benefit from the partnership. WVU students learn to appreciate the little things in life that most people take for granted, Gallagher said.”The Shack made you thankful for everything that you have been given. I learned how important it was to show these children affection. A hug, a smile or even something as simple as a piggyback ride was more than most of them experienced at home.
The Shack&how you can help The Shack offers a wide variety of services to low-income families. Besides after-school activities, it also sponsors theRags to RugsandEven Startprograms.Rags to Rugsallows adult participants to recycle old fabrics into hand-woven rugs and wall hangings using looms whileEven Startis a collaboration of Head Start and ESL (English as a Second Language). Other programs include tutoring, recreational activities for teens, field trips and swimming lessons, emergency supplies for low-income families, home repair/work camps and joint community service projects.
In order for these programs to survive, they require thousands of dollars and volunteer hours. For decades, the Presbytery of West Virginia has been a major financial contributor, but in recent years, it has been forced to scale back its funding. That, coupled with rising insurance costs, has forced The Shack to start looking for alternative sources of private funding. Right now, the agency has enough reserve money to last through the year, but its financial future is uncertain after 2004. At WVU , faculty, staff and students are given a unique opportunity to lend a helping hand through the United Way annual fund-raising campaign Sept. 15-Oct. 31. They can pledge money to The Shack or any one of the local United Ways 28 health and human service agencies in Monongalia and Preston Counties. Contributions that are not designated for specific agencies are allocated to the agencies according to the recommendations of a 45-member CitizensReview committee. WVU students are also encouraged to volunteer and organize campus fundraisers.
“I think the United Way plays an important role in every community,”Workman said.”Here in Morgantown, we have many people who are in need. Just one dollar can provide a meal or help a person have a place to stay.”To learn how to become a volunteer at The Shack, call 304-599-5466.
For information about the United Way and WVU , go to http://www.wvu.edu/unitedway/information.htm .