JMU students are eager learners, and active participants in the community. With Thanksgiving coming up, it is important to recognize Dukes that give back to the Harrisonburg community. Many students embark in college experiences that are filled with more than just classes and schoolwork. We want to recognize the students who dedicate their time to something much bigger than themselves.

Isabel Nappa is a junior social work major. Every Wednesday Isabel volunteers at Skyline Literacy where she is actively helping the Harrisonburg community improve their English. Specifically, Isabel works with immigrants who are new to the area and need assistance learning to language, or passing their citizenship test.

What is the most rewarding part about volunteering with Skyline Literacy?

“I find it really rewarding to see the community progress and get better at English. I’ve formed solid relationships with the adults, and it is amazing to see them come back every week, and see their skills improve because of me. I never knew how much of an asset I could really be.”


Typically, what do you do when you visit Skyline Literacy?

“Once a week, during Wednesday morning classes we teach them certain lessons. Last week, we covered medical care. We taught them how to write a doctors note for their children if they need to miss school. We also taught them how to explain if they’re hurting or have an injury.  Another lesson we recently did was teaching them how to make a family tree and explore their heritage.” 

Favorite memory, or a good story?

“The adults were exhausted and frustrated one day, and struggling with a lesson.  One of the ladies, tapped me on the shoulder and expressed how exhausted she was. I suggested we do a quick and fun activity called ‘Alive, Awake, Alert, Enthusiastic.’ It really helped them. People come up to me and thank me for being such a good teacher.”

How can someone get involved?

“Skyline Literacy is always looking for volunteers. All you have to do is fill out a volunteer form.”

Juliana Bognar & Maria

Juliana Bognar, featured to the left with her Little Sister, is a senior IDLS major who spends her free time volunteering once a week for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Big Brothers Big Sisters is a program that gives students the opportunity to be a “Big” to a “Little” who is a child in the Harrisonburg community. Students can also get involved by planning social events, fundraisers, and by actively seeking donations.

What is the most rewarding part about volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters?

“I love the program because I learn about different perspectives. My little grew up so differently than me. She’s learned a lot and it’s cool to see her actually enjoy spending time with me. She’s been my little for years and it has been great to see her grow.”

Typically, what do you do when you visit Big Brothers Big Sisters?

“Once a week, I will pick up my little from her school and bring her to either the arboretum or I’ll bring her back to my apartment where will play games, bake, or just hang out. Last week we spent the afternoon carving pumpkins.”  

How can someone get involved?

“If you want to apply, there is a link on the website.  Big Brothers Big Sisters is also at Student Org night each semester.”

Favorite memory, or a good story?

“Well, my little is way cooler than me now, so she keeps me hip by teaching me the latest dance moves, trends and songs!” 

Joe Aubry and Joel

Joe Aubry, pictured to the left with his Little Brother, was matched with Joel in April 2017. Joel is a local middle school student. His mother wanted him to have a Big Brother to give him a positive male role model to look up to.

“I see Joel about once a week depending on our schedules and we do all sorts of things together. We’ve done everything from just going to lunch/dinner and talking to spending 3-4 hours playing basketball in the park. Being that he is an older boy in the program, we spend a lot of time just having conversations that wouldn’t really be possible with a younger kid (sports, stuff going on in our lives, politics). To me the most fulfilling part of it is just hanging out with him, I love people and I really enjoy spending time with them. He’s shown me around Harrisonburg in ways I hadn’t seen before and his family is great. I actually found out about BBBS because one of my professors (Rob Alexander) told my class about it and I got interested in checking it out.”

Emily Isola is a Junior Biology and Psychology Major and has been volunteering at Avante nursing home/ senior rehabilitation center for the past three years. Avante is a local site that the JMU chapter of Sigma Kappa has been volunteering at for years now. 

What is the most rewarding part about volunteering with Avante?

“The most rewarding part about volunteering at Avante, for me, is seeing the smiles on the residents faces as we play bingo with them, and especially if they win. Over that past two semesters I have spent a good amount of time talking with some of the residents and they have shared with me that playing bingo with my sorority sisters is always one of the best parts of their week. I think it is very rewarding to be able to make someone else’s day or week better. It means a lot to the residents which makes it mean a lot to me.”

Typically, what do you do when you visit Avante?

“Typically, we play bingo with the residents for an hour, every other Wednesday. We usually volunteer in a group of 10-15 girls, therefore we are able to provide one-on-one assistance to the residents as we play and we are able to have longer, more engaged conversations with them.”

How can someone get involved?

“If someone wants to get involved and find out more about the Harrisonburg Avante they can contact Vickie Landes who is the activities director for the nursing home ( “

Favorite memory, or a good story?

“My favorite memory from volunteering at Avante is hearing about one of the resident’s experience growing up in the U.S during WW2 and then serving in the Vietnam War. It was so fascinating to hear about both wars and how they shaped his life. The things he experienced are things children are taught in school today, but I got to hear his first-hand accounts. The residents all have such interesting life stories and they love when the volunteers show interest and want to hear them.”

Make your James Madison experience more meaningful by getting involved. Visit the Community Service Learning Center, or reach out to some of these dedicated students to learn more! We are thankful for you, Dukes, for giving back.

What are some ways that you give back to the community, Dukes?

One thought on “JMU Serves: Dukes Who Make a Difference

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