VCU’s Year-Round Sweet 16
Community service leave encourages volunteer efforts
University Public Affairs
It could be called VCU’s hidden benefit. New employees are often excited to find out about pay, vacation time and health care benefits. But they may be less familiar with the university’s community service leave benefit.
Each year, 12-month faculty members and staff are eligible to take 16 hours of School Assistance and Volunteer Service Leave, allowing them to receive pay while helping at their child’s school or volunteering for some worthwhile causes in the community.
Many eligible VCU employees have used their leave, offering thousands of hours of volunteer service in a variety of settings. In 2012, for example, 1,327 employees used community service leave, providing 13,964 hours of volunteer time.
“This shows the ‘heart’ that we have at VCU that already more than 1,300 people are using these hours to contribute to projects they are passionate about,” said Cathy Howard, Ph.D. vice-provost, VCU Division of Community Engagement. “Thirteen-hundred! That’s bigger than many college campuses and businesses. It’s something to celebrate.”
While the numbers are impressive, members of the VCU Council for Community Engagement would like to see participation grow. And they’ve come up with a clever way to remind employees about the leave. With the VCU community now turning its focus on “March Madness” and the NCAA basketball tournament, the council is reminding employees to use their “sweet 16” hours of community service leave each year.
“We are really eager to get the word out so that VCU can make an even greater impact in the community,” Howard said. “Number one, we want to make sure people know that they have community service leave. Number two, we want to make them aware of how they can work with their supervisor to use it. And number three, we want to make sure that people are aware of the range of volunteering opportunities available to use that leave.”
Howard said the division identifies and promotes volunteer opportunities throughout the year as part of its VCU Caring to Act Calendar.
“The calendar helps the university play a big role in the community by connecting VCU students, faculty and staff with worthwhile community service opportunities,” Howard said. “And it offers units within the university a great opportunity to talk about teamwork and community service.”
Virginia launched School Assistance and Volunteer Service Leave to allow state employees (with or without children) to take paid leave each calendar year to meet with public or private school officials about their children, to attend school functions in which their children are participating, to perform school-approved volunteer work in a public school or to participate in volunteer community service organizations. The original eight hours of community service leave available each year was expanded to 16 hours in 2009. The hours don’t carry over at the end of the calendar year.
At VCU, the process for requesting and using the leave is straightforward.
“First, you want to contact Virginia Commonwealth University Human Resources to see if the volunteer opportunity is eligible under this type of leave,” said Kawana Pace-Harding, director of employee relations and human resources compliance. “If it is, then the employee would need to seek approval from their supervisor prior to taking that time off.”
Pace-Harding said the university encourages supervisors to approve employee School Assistance and Volunteer Service Leave requests whenever possible.
Also, employees don’t need to take a full eight-hour day off at a time. Requests can be for smaller blocks of time.
“It can be for four hours or two hours – whatever amount of time is needed up to the 16-hour maximum,” Pace-Harding said.
Need some ideas for how to use School Assistance and Volunteer Service Leave? Here are some examples of how employees are currently using their “sweet 16” hours to make a difference in the community.
Thom Mattauch, VCU helpIT Center Manager: Heroes on the Water
Thom Mattauch of VCU Technology Services has volunteered with Heroes On The Water, which provides a therapeutic outlet to wounded veterans by taking them out on the water for a day of kayak fishing. Photo provided by Thom Mattauch.
For the past five or six years, Thom Mattauch, VCU helpIT Center manager in Technology Services, has volunteered with Heroes On The Water, which provides a therapeutic outlet to wounded veterans by taking them out on the water for a day of kayak fishing.
“To see a group of wounded warriors show up at the boat launch in various stages of disability and get into kayaks for a day of fishing was humbling,” Mattauch said. “Knowing that these men and women dedicated their lives to defend my freedom made it a no brainer to dedicate my time to giving back in any way I can and merging my love for kayak fishing with my desire to give back to them made this the organization I wanted to align with.”
In addition to spending time with vets on the water, Mattauch also works to raise money and boost awareness for the organization by working booths at boat and outdoor shows and organizing fishing tournament fundraisers.
Mattauch said it’s easy to use the leave and more important than ever as many groups lose government funding.
‘If you are thinking about using community service leave but haven't gotten around to it, what are you waiting for? There are so many worthy charities out there that need help,” Mattauch said. “My advice would be to pick a charity that has special meaning to you and if you can’t find one that has special meaning to you, volunteer at a few different charities until you find one that you feel a passion about. There is something really uplifting about helping others. There is something therapeutic about it. Don’t wait any longer, get out there and help out.”
Tricia Bartoo, VCU Police Corporal: State Fair Annual Miniature Horse Show/ Varina Rising Stars 4H Club
VCU Police Cpl. Tricia Bartoo, right, has used her community service leave to help organize and run the State Fair’s Annual Miniature Horse Show. Photo provided by Tricia Bartoo.
For the past five years, VCU Police Cpl. Tricia Bartoo has used her 16 hours of School Assistance and Volunteer Service Leave to help organize and run the State Fair’s Annual Miniature Horse Show.
Bartoo has been able to combine her love for miniature horses, which she has been showing for the past 15 years, with a volunteer opportunity that allows her to manage the show, which raises money for the Varina Rising Stars 4H Club, where she has been an adult leader for the past 11 years.
“For the past three years this club has been the beneficiary of the State Fair of Virginia's Miniature Horse Shows proceeds, which means the kids and parents get to come out to the fair and help set up the obstacles for the exhibitors, help the judge run paperwork back and forth, pass out awards to the winners and help with the operation of the show,” Bartoo said. “I have also served as a mentor for several of the kids, teaching them how to care, train and show their miniature horses. I hope that all of these activities help the kids learn the meaning of hard work, responsibility and achieving goals.”
Bartoo said qualifying faculty and staff who have been thinking about using their leave but haven’t taken action should take the plunge.
“Use it! It is a great opportunity to take a few days off to give back to the community. You can use it for a one-time event or you can use it helping a cause you have years invested in,” Bartoo said. “I look forward to working with my organizations each year, and I hear many people who don't get this type of leave from their employers say how great it is that we have this type of leave.”
Stephanie Kite, program manager, VCU School of Business: Salvation Army Angel Tree Program, school field trips, Cub Scout Pack 2880
Stephanie Kite of the VCU School of Business (center with green sweater) and other volunteers worked at the annual Cub Scout Blue and Gold Banquet on Feb. 26, cooking and serving food to the 150 scouts and guests. Photo provided by Stephanie Kite.
Volunteering in a variety of ways has been the focus for Stephanie Kite, program manager for the Virginia Real Estate Center, Risk and Insurance Studies Center and the Capital Markets Center of the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate Department of the School of Business.
Kite volunteers every year with the Salvation Army Angel Tree program, serves as a chaperone for field trips with her children's schools and volunteers with the Boys Scouts of America - Cub Scout Pack 2880.
“The community service leave is a great way of allowing university employees to stay connected with our communities,” Kite said. “As a working parent, it is important to me to be available to volunteer at the events my children are involved in. It's also important to me to be able to give back and do something that has nothing to do with me and that's why I volunteer with the Salvation Army.”
Kite has used her School Assistance and Volunteer Service Leave since joining VCU 15 years ago and encourages other eligible faculty and staff to do the same.
“Volunteering not only provides a service to the organization but it allows me to look beyond myself and my needs and gives me the opportunity to do something good for others,” Kite said.
Amanda Velez from VCU’s Global Education Office volunteers with the Passport to Education Program, an educational initiative of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the VAHCC Foundation. Velez mentors a middle school student each week and as a Spanish-speaker, she volunteers with the Richmond Public Schools once a semester as a language interpreter for parent-teacher conferences.
Kimberly Separ, director of development and community relations for VCU Libraries, uses her leave to volunteer for Henrico County’s Neighborhood Cleanup days in the spring and fall. Picking up trash and debris and beautifying the neighborhood also gives Separ the opportunity to meet her neighbors.
Muriel Azria-Evans, director of the Child Development Center, uses her hours to volunteer at her daughter’s elementary school, where she works with small groups of children, helps with classwork and art projects and chaperons for field trips. She said volunteering at the school means a great deal to her daughter and her teacher and is a wonderful opportunity to help a local public school, while getting a glimpse at her daughter’s day.
Employees may find additional volunteer opportunities by visiting HandsOn Greater Richmond.
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