Becca Black, Class of 2006
By Charlotte Crystal
For Becca Black, Madison House has been a home away from home. It’s been a place where she spends a lot of time thinking about poverty, hunger and homelessness. It’s also been a place where she has done more than think about global problems – she’s joined with other concerned students to look for local solutions.
After serving for two years as the program director of Feed the Need, a food salvage program, Black became head program director of Hoos Against Hunger and Homelessness. Hoos Against Hunger is an umbrella program at Madison House that coordinates student volunteers interested in working with various related initiatives, including tutoring and mentoring programs run in conjunction with the Salvation Army; On our Own, a downtown drop-in center for the homeless; and PACEM, a coordinated effort by local religious organizations to provide shelter for the homeless.
“In Culpeper, the poverty is not seen,” she said of her hometown. “But I’ve had my eyes opened to hunger, homelessness and poverty. I used to think of homelessness as the guy on the street asking for spare change. But the average homeless person is a child or a single mom with children.”
And the problem is not a small one. Charlottesville’s poverty level of 17.8 percent, according to a 2003 Census Bureau estimate, is nearly twice the state average of 9.9 percent.
Taking on added responsibilities during her fourth year, Black spent most of her time making sure that the programs ran smoothly so that the student volunteers had a positive experience and wanted to continue volunteering. But she still tried to spend time with the children living in Salvation Army housing.
“The kids in the shelter love it when you play with them,” she said. “A lot of them are nice kids making the best of what they’ve got.”
When she wasn’t at the Salvation Army or Madison House, Black spent time with her Phi Mu sisters — she served as recording secretary on the sorority’s executive committee — or worked to wrap up her major in religious studies. She liked studying different religious traditions and has particularly enjoyed a course on African-American religious history taught by Valerie Cooper which required the students to observe worship services in at least two different African-American churches.
Having graduated in May, she plans to pursue a career in social work or teaching and hopes to find a position with Teach for America or another government agency.
What will Black miss after walking the Lawn? U.Va. traditions such as dressing up for football games and singing the Good Old Song. The Lighting of the Lawn. She’ll also miss the energy and enthusiasm of her classmates and their willingness to engage with big issues, such as racism and poverty.
She hopes her legacy at Madison House will be sustained by those who come after her. She’s proud of the two-year-old PACEM program. Stronger Hoos Against Hunger and Homelessness programs. Program directors who have enhanced their volunteer management skills under her watch. Closer ties with Madison House’s community partners.
Still, the world’s problems are great, and one person’s ability to make a difference is limited. How does one keep from being discouraged?
“I think every little bit counts,” she said. “Every time you take food to the Salvation Army. Every time you play with the kids, you hope that they will be the ones who can break the cycle of poverty.”
2006 by the Rector and Visitors