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President’s Corner: Monarchs Are Making a Difference From Lambert’s Point to Jamaica

It's spring break, and Narketta Sparkman-Key is accompanying 11 students in Jamaica. But they're not there to take it easy.

Sparkman-Key, an associate professor of counseling and human services, is supervising her sixth consecutive alternative spring break to help pregnant teens in Jamaica. It's just one of numerous service projects our students and faculty members are taking up to enrich lives and improve communities locally and worldwide.

In Jamaica, the students - who come from the Darden College of Education & Professional Studies as well as other colleges - will spend four days engaging in self-esteem workshops and activities with the teens. Our students also will benefit from lectures by faculty from the University of the West Indies about such topics as building success across socioeconomic levels.

One week can make a significant difference for the pregnant girls, says Sparkman-Key, who also is Old Dominion's director of faculty diversity and retention. "When we come in, their heads are hanging low," she says. "They don't want to speak. They're very ashamed. By the end of the week, they've gotten rid of the shame. They're engaging in serious conversation. 'Do you think I can become a doctor?' Their dreams are bigger."

Some other alternative spring break destinations this week are Donegal, Ireland - where students are partnering with a local community center to offer health screenings to residents - and the Black Mountains in North Carolina - where students are volunteering at a community garden, food bank and veterans shelter.

Of course, community service at ODU does not begin and end with spring break. Here's a sampling of other projects occurring throughout the year:

Through mid-April, accounting students are providing free tax help to local residents whose family incomes are below $60,000 from 1 to 6 p.m. on Fridays in Room 1041 of Constant Hall on 49th Street.

On April 16, Health Sciences faculty and students working in our IHEAR (Interprofessional Health Education and Research) project will administer free health-care screenings at the Oceanfront library in Virginia Beach from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. They will provide assessments in physical and mental health, dental, speech, vision and other areas. (Add Norfolk fair when Rutledge provides info.)

On April 17, our Colleges Against Cancer group will sponsor its annual Relay for Life event. Students will walk around the Student Recreation Center throughout the evening to benefit the American Cancer Society.

Many of our service projects seek to benefit neighborhoods near the campus. In the St. Paul's community, faculty and students from the Darden College developed and led an 8-week literacy program last summer for more than 300 children at the Hunton YMCA.

Members of the College of Arts & Letters also have been active in the St. Paul's area, studying the impact of relocation on seniors, filming a documentary and sharing stories of residents in performance. In Lambert's Point, students in the College of Sciences are planting flowers and picking up trash.

Our international efforts also don't end after spring break. Last year, students in our Engineers Without Borders chapter visited a town in Guatemala to develop a plan to improve water distribution to its residents. They're now halfway finished with the design and plan to return to the village in June to move the project forward.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?" Across the University, our goal is to never stop asking that question or searching for new and creative answers.

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