Harrisonburg, Va., April 10, 2012-
Comprised of athletes from around the world, the James Madison women's golf team is culturally diverse, but this week had the opportunity to work with a new group of individuals. The team volunteered with the Harrisonburg and Rockingham Thermal Shelter (HARTS) ministry that serves the homeless population of the Harrisonburg and Rockingham areas by providing them with shelter and food during the winter months.
HARTS began in June 2007 when a group of community members recognized the need for a homeless shelter during the winter months in addition to the ones supported by the Salvation Army and other organizations because maximum capacity was often reached. After identifying a model that the group of individuals chose to follow in the creation of this shelter, a non-profit organization was developed, complete with a Board of Directors and churches that volunteered to host the program.
The first round of the HARTS program ran from December 2007 through March 2008. Three night managers were hired to monitor the residents during the evening hours and the 13 host churches and six partner congregations have maintained the program for the past five years.
Assistant women's golf coach Lisa Gooden coordinated the opportunity to participate with volunteers from the Temple, Beth El in Harrisonburg, which is one of the host churches for HARTS. Gooden met Gail, one of the coordinators from the Temple, while in New Jersey. "When Lisa found out about what Gail does, she figured it would be a good opportunity for us to reach out and help as a team," explained Maria Legaspi, a freshman golfer from the Philippines.
The golf team visited The Mosque two evenings this week to assist with the setting up, cooking and serving of dinner for the residents. Sophomore Ginger Mak enjoyed the opportunity to serve food to the residents. "Most of them are nice people who happen to be stuck in an unfortunate situation," Mak said. Legaspi added that the best part of the evening was seeing the residents smiling and laughing, even in the midst of their different situations.
When serving food and interacting with the residents, the athletes were able to learn about their lives and their interests. "I met a guy who had talent in drawing," senior Nicole Sakamoto shared. "He showed us all of his drawings and he told us it was all from his memory, which is really impressive." After talking with the residents, the athletes played cards with them as a relaxing way to end the evening.
"I enjoy community service because I get to learn from other people and learn to appreciate more everything that I have," said senior Valentina Sanmiguel. In addition to learning from the residents of the HARTS program, the athletes were also able to grow closer together as a team through this opportunity. "I enjoy doing activities with my team because it brings us closer together and it is something we can do together, outside of golf," said Sakamoto. The athletes were clear that the chance to make a difference in the lives of the residents was a learning experience and something they would like to continue with in the future.
"They were very nice people and it made me realize how fortunate I am for everything I have," added Sakamoto. "You need to have that wake-up call once in a while."
More information about HARTS can be found at http://www.hartsshelter.org/.