Students in Professor Alessandra Von Burg’s first-year seminar ‘Citizenship at WFU and the Local Community’ have put their lessons into action throughout their first semester at Wake Forest. Led by three students – Brooks Mauldin, Scott Notz, and Chris Ouida – the class raised $1,540 for the Winston-Lake YMCA and its Water Safety Program.
The purpose of Von Burg’s class is to introduce first-year students to civic engagement and have them start to think about their roles as members of different communities.
“This class has been taught previously with pre-arranged community partners, but this year, it’s a little different because of COVID-19,” explained Von Burg, as Associate Professor in the Department of Communication. “Instead of a set community partner, this year we made the decision to respond to what’s happening in the community throughout the semester by hearing from multiple different organizations.”
Due to the seminar’s new format, various community organizations came and spoke to Von Burg’s First-Year Seminar students about various needs and programs that had begun since the COVID-19 pandemic began. This included Terry Matthews, Associate Director of Community Development and Volunteerism at the Winston-Lake YMCA.
With school closures in place because of COVID-19, the YMCA launched its E-Learning Academy in the Spring of 2020 to serve children of essential workers. When the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School system announced that it would conduct virtual learning for the start of the 2020-21 school year, The E-learning Academy continued for the fall semester, open to children throughout the community.
“With parents going back to work, but schools still teaching virtually, the community needed a safe place for children to come and receive the educational component of their day,” explained Matthews. “The YMCA has opened its doors to both meet a community need and make sure children have a safe place to do that during this time.”
One of the highlights of the program for several students at the Winston-Lake YMCA is the fact that they get to use the pool every Friday. Before they jump in the water for the first time, each student has to participate in the ‘Safety Around Water Program’. Once that was done, what became a quick realization was that several students needed additional water safety training in the form of swim lessons, which came at an additional cost to families.
“Due to COVID-19 funding was cut across the board, including for the Water Safety Training and swimming program,” said Matthews. With that in mind, the Winston-Lake YMCA prioritized its Water-Safety Program but was left to find alternative funding to help provide additional resources for its students. “When Dr. Von Burg allowed us the opportunity to come and speak, we didn’t know what was going to come of it, so we just went and spoke about our programs and mentioned the cost associated with providing this life-saving skill to 40 of our students but not expecting anything in return.”
After hearing what Matthews and her team were doing with its E-learning Academy, the importance of the Water Safety Program, and the need for swim lessons; Mauldin, Notz, and Oudia decided to fundraise for the program in an effort to provide free lessons for those students at the Winston-Lake YMCA. They reached out to family, friends, and fellow students to raise money for the cause.
Their efforts will allow 40 Winston-Salem children to participate in both the YMCA’s “Safety Around Water Program” and to receive 12 swim lessons each.
The YMCA’s Water Safety program helps ensure that children are equipped with the knowledge to prevent water-related accidents and drownings. The YMCA is in a unique position to provide children from different backgrounds water safety education and swim lessons. By participating in the program, the goal is for children to not fear water, and be confident enough to remain safe around it.
“These students – Brooks, Scott, and Chris – are making a difference in the lives of these children,” explained Matthews. “The fact that those young men not only listened to the issue we were facing, but took the initiative and went a step further by giving their time and energy to our cause is awesome. We are so appreciative of what they have done, and what we’re able to provide to the community in return.”
-Written by Zariyah Cope (’23)
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