Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Students share warm, lasting impacts of holiday season community service

Lily Speredelozzi | Assistant Photo Editor
Hayden Moussa said the programs they support with service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega year-round hone in on the giving season leading up to the holidays through outings like clothing drives.

While junior Hayden Moussa visited a senior citizen they regularly assist just before Thanksgiving, she told Moussa the holiday season can feel particularly lonely, but she’s glad to have them “just a phone call away.”

Through their volunteer work with GW service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, Moussa said they serve with Foggy Bottom West End Village, a nonprofit organization which pairs volunteers with a senior Foggy Bottom resident to provide companionship through completing errands together, talking with them over the phone and visiting them in person to discuss current events and life in general. They said senior citizens can experience an especially isolated holiday season if they’re far away from their families, but acts of service like letter writing or shared quality time can bring them meaningful support.

“That particularly spoke to me,” Moussa said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is significant. This means a lot to me.’ That really reminded me that the work I’m doing, it’s really impacting someone.”

Students said they’re incorporating the holiday spirit into clothing and toy drives, festive activities with D.C. Public School students and workshops for local families as part of their everyday community service through GW-affiliated service organizations and offices this holiday season. Students said setting aside time to serve others during the giving season forges strong connections between them and members of the D.C. community at a time of year when volunteering demand reaches its highest level.

Moussa, a double major in criminal justice and human services and social justice, said the programs they support with APO year-round hone in on the giving season leading up to the holidays through outings like clothing drives to provide clothes and jackets to those in need.

They said APO works with Free Minds, an organization that collects poetry from incarcerated individuals for volunteers to read and leave comments on before sending them back to the poet as a way to foster connection and “encouragement.” Moussa said this service offers positivity and confidence for people isolated from friends and family during the holidays.

“That is also something that especially during the holiday season gives people that confidence to really claim their talents,” they said.

For Moussa, the holiday season is also a time to reflect on the past year and celebrate achievements with the students they tutor through Math Matters, a program that offers math tutoring to middle school students in D.C. They said they’re planning to curate and give a gift basket to one of their students filled with small presents like stress-relief toys to congratulate them on their accomplishments.

Moussa said volunteering during the holidays is especially essential as demand for community service support typically increases. Moussa said the holiday season marks a time when the GW community should get more involved with the off-campus D.C. community through volunteering opportunities.

“Serving is also just a great way to get outside of the Foggy Bottom bubble,” Moussa said. “It’s a good way to meet your neighbors. It’s a good way to interact with communities that you’ve probably never really interacted with before.”

Senior Reed Risinger, the team leader for ArtReach GW – a program that hosts after-school art workshops and art therapy classes for families living in Ward 7 and 8 – said the organization will host a holiday art workshop that will display students’ work throughout the semester. She said the workshop, which will take place in an exhibition space in Southeast from Thursday to Jan. 27, allows children to make holiday crafts and gifts for their family with students’ help.

“It’s a great opportunity for the students to all see their artwork up in the gallery, and they can invite all their families and everyone comes and sees their artwork,” Risinger said.

Risinger – who has volunteered for four years with engageDC, an organization which oversees ArtReach and provides service to partner community organizations – said she manages the workshops and classes, delegating roles to her team and offering feedback to volunteers with the Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service.

“I think that the holidays are an especially important time to connect with the community, and volunteering is a great way to do this,” Risinger said in an email. “The holidays can be a difficult time for a lot of people, so we try to promote family and community connections through our events and workshops that provide a safe space to create and spread joy.”

Junior Vicky Wang said as a student leader for SMARTDC, a program tutoring kindergarten through eighth grade DCPS students in reading and math, her favorite holiday volunteering memory has been organizing a Christmas scavenger hunt for her students over Zoom earlier during the pandemic. She said volunteers handed students a list of Christmas and winter-themed items to collect from their homes before participating in a show-and-tell to reveal their findings.

“I think that really got the students engaging as tutors.” she said. “It’s always just fun to see them playing around with activities like that.”

Wang said she hopes to integrate holiday-themed activities into reading and math lessons, like tutoring sessions where she reads holiday stories, as a student leader at her assigned site – For Love of Children, a nonprofit offering educational services to youth in Southeast. She said sharing festive stories helps students strengthen their creative skills beyond just bringing the holidays into the classroom.

“Working on storytelling and writing skills while also at the same time creativity and brainstorming what are some holiday tales that we can make up and just have fun – I think those activities I would really look forward to doing,” Wang said.

Wang said she prioritizes tutoring as a way to spice up learning during the holidays and foster relationships with the kids she teaches. She said these personal bonds go beyond the classroom – even if she no longer works with a student during a given semester, they always greet her when she walks in the door.

She said donating time during the holiday season can make lasting impressions on volunteers and students alike, creating “joyful” moments and lasting memories for everyone involved.

“I think it’s meaningful to volunteer in general, but during the holidays it can be made even more meaningful,” she said.

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