To Our House: Making a difference in the NRV

 

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Christiansburg, Va., May 3 – HOME TO A HOME: To Our House is located alongside a number of community organizations on Roanoke Street in Christiansburg.

 

by McKenzie Pavacich, Bria Cook–

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. –   Homelessness is something that is often overlooked but extremely prevalent in the New River Valley. How do those in need of assistance survive the harsh winters faced by the valleys of Appalachia? Where do homeless people go when they are in need of food, clean drinking water, or clothes in an area that seems to be prospering in seemingly all areas of life?

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Christiansburg, Va., May 3 – SEEING AND DOING: New River community action serves the community in a number of different ways.

To Our House is a non-profit organization, tackling the obstacle of assisting the homeless
in the New River Valley.  With the help of local faith communities and local business in the NRV, To Our House is able to provide homeless men with shelter through the winter months, as well as food, support, and help with employment search.

Carol Johnson, Executive Director of the New River Family Shelter and Program Coordinator for To Our House, believes that if it were not for the generosity and genuine care found in the Blacksburg and

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Christiansburg, Va., May 3 – HUMBLED AND GRATEFUL: Carol Johnson, warmed by the generosity of the local communities, is optimistic about the organization’s future.

Christiansburg communities,  “To Our House wouldn’t exist.” Churches throughout Blacksburg and Christiansburg open their doors to the guests of To Our House with hopes of truly making a difference, while organizations within Virginia Tech often donate time, food, or supplies to keep the donations-based program running.

“We have over 50 churches that participate, whether that be housing the guests, which is a host church, or a church can participate as a support church. They provide the food and some evening activities,” Johnson said.

Donations and volunteers are utilized during the winter months in the NRV. To Our House runs a sheltering program from November through March to assist the homeless during some of the most dangerous months to be without shelter.

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Blacksburg, Va., May 3 – EATING OUT FOR A CAUSE : Percentage days were held on April 25, 2017 to benefit To Our House and the New River Community Action

Participation by local businesses adds to the generosity of the Blacksburg and Christiansburg communities. Businesses peppered throughout the NRV hold percentage days, where a percentage of the profit is automatically donated. The ultimate goal To Our House hopes to achieve is creating a larger sense of awareness of homelessness in the NRV community, so that shelters and assistance programs can grow and evolve from a seasonal functioning program to an organization that can provide assistance all year round.

“It’s not that visible. Sporadically you may see someone standing on the street holding up a sign. But typically, it’s almost like camping for some people. It’s not like in the Richmond area or a city where you’ll see someone on every street corner who is in need of assistance. Most of the men we service stay in secluded spots camping until we open up in November,” Johnson said.

With 19.1 percent of individuals living below the poverty level in Southwest Virginia, according to Virginia.gov, there is plenty of room for improvement. With the help of local businesses and influential organizations within the Blacksburg and Christiansburg communities, To Our House hopes to grow and continue to combat homelessness in the New River Valley and beyond.

 

The Big Event: A bridge between Blacksburg, Virginia Tech

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Blacksburg, Va., April 8 — Students give back:  The Big Event is held each April, giving students an opportunity to say “thanks” to the Blacksburg community. Photo: McKenzie Pavacich

by McKenzie Pavacich-

The Big Event is held each year in April, serving as an opportunity for Virginia Tech students to live out Ut Prosim.  The Virginia Tech motto, translating to “that I may serve,” is brought to life on an enormous scale each year, as students trade in their textbooks for tools to give back to the community.

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Blacksburg, Va., April 8– The Big Event: Erin Stenger and her husband, both graduates of Virginia Tech, have signed up to work with the Big Event for 5 years. Photo: McKenzie Pavacich

According to the Big Event’s website, over 8,200 student volunteers completed nearly 1,200 projects across the Blacksburg community.

Although the Big Event is fueled by students, what makes this event truly special is the town of Blacksburg’s perspective and appreciation for the tradition.

“When I was a student I think it was probably the first or second year… It felt really nice to give back to the community,” said Virginia Tech alumna Erin Stenger. “Being on the other side, I can’t tell you how much we appreciate having all of these extra hands to do big projects that would take a whole weekend, done in a few hours.”

The Stengers, both graduates of Virginia Tech who participated in the early years of the Big Event, requested help with basic landscaping tasks. A project that would’ve taken weeks for the couple took just three hours with the help of eight extra hands.

The experience goes well beyond yard work. The Big Event gives students a chance to make connections with members of the Blacksburg community, further strengthening the relationship between the town and university. Often community members will take their volunteers to lunch after the culmination of a project, just to learn more about the students themselves.

Blacksburg embraces many of Virginia Tech’s rich traditions, regardless of the impact it can have on the community at times. The Big Event, however, is a tradition that every member of the Blacksburg community can get behind.

“I think it’s fantastic that it’s still going on, and that it’s gotten bigger. It’s amazing that there’s so many people who are willing to just go and help the community. It’s neat to meet other people and see the culture and service still being cultivated within the university,” Stenger said.

The student-run event has successfully kept the tradition of Ut Prosim alive and relevant in the Blacksburg community for sixteen years, with no signs of slowing down.