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UMW freshman adjust by volunteering

Incoming University of Mary Washington freshman Dakota Peacock of Cleveland joined the school’s new NEST program to get acclimated with the area before the rest of his class moves onto campus. 

On Thursday, the 18-year-old Peacock picked up trash along the bank of the Rappahannock River and learned more about downtown Fredericksburg.

“I wanted to get to know the community I’m joining,” he said. “It seems really close. Especially with the people at Micah, everyone seems to support each other.”

Peacock is among 70 freshmen who moved in a week early to join UMW’s New Experiences for Students Transitioning program, which is aimed at getting the incoming class engaged with the campus and the city. They spent the past week doing volunteer work around the city.

Golda Elderidge, director of leadership at UMW, led the program. He said universities across the country are trying to find creative ways to engage students.

“This gives students an opportunity to bond with each other and ties in the aspects of service and justice of the UMW mission,” he said.

The program divides the students into three groups: leadership, service and social justice. Each group participates in different activities and field trips but comes together for common events such as the river cleanup, which was followed by a cookout at Old Mill Park and tubing down the river.

Peacock was in the service track of the program and met Olivia Malizzi, 18, of McLean, and Carly Kneidinger, 18, of Richmond. Together they worked at the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank packing lunches for children and with Micah Ecumenical Ministries serving dinner to the homeless at Christ Lutheran Church.

Whitney Feldman and Maya Ranade, both 18, met through the NEST program. Feldman joined the social justice track, which visited Richmond during the week and learned about the slavery’s impact on the area.

“Now Fredericksburg is our home,” she said. “It’s nice to clean it up.”

For incoming freshman Aubree Elderidge, Fredericksburg was already home. The 17-year-old Courtland High graduate said she was happy to do something for the community she has known for years.

Golda Elderidge (no relation) said the program also helps students become aware of the service opportunities through campus organizations such as Community Outreach and Resources.

“The city has been very excited for the help,” he said of the community response. “They have been very positive.”

UMW piloted a program last year called Pre-Flight. It was held at Wintergreen and featured a smaller group of students.

Elderidge said after evaluating Pre-Flight, organizers changed the location and focus, and renamed it NEST. They plan to evaluate NEST to determine if more changes are warranted next year.

Maggie Chenault, Lukas Chandler and Abigail Fleming did Pre-Flight together as freshmen and are serving as counselors for NEST this year.

“Most of us are still really good friends,” Chandler said. “We wouldn’t have known each other otherwise.”

Chenault said she hopes the students involved in NEST come away understanding how important it is to get involved with the larger Fredericksburg community.

“They need to get involved and help out,” she said.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976