Cold Weather Kits and Continuing to Serve During the Pandemic
After reading about a service opportunity with Richmond Behavioral Health Authority in the 32 with VCU newsletter, Kelly Harrell, Ph.D, MPT, associate professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology in the VCU School of Medicine, used her Community Service Leave to make cold weather kits with her family.
By Jenny Pedraza
“As my husband and I navigate the ups and downs of parenting two young kids, we are constantly driven to make sure they understand the importance of service, kindness and love,” said Kelly Harrell, Ph.D, MPT, associate professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. “We have been doing service projects with them for the past two years, and each time we talk about the ‘why’ and how important it is to serve and help others. I can only hope that these experiences and our examples will stay with them, and they will pass that passion on to others.”
Harrell attended graduate school at the VCU School of Medicine and joined the faculty in January 2020. Just a few months later, COVID-19 upended the spring semester, and Harrell transitioned to working from home. She knew, however, that need doesn’t slow down during a pandemic—it only heightens.
After reading about a service opportunity with Richmond Behavioral Health Authority (RBHA) in the 32 with VCU newsletter, Harrell decided to make use of her Community Service Leave for the first time, while maintaining COVID-19 safety recommendations. RBHA, which provides mental health and substance abuse and prevention services in Richmond, had posted a service opportunity through HandsOn Greater Richmond that involved helping gather winter items for those using RBHA services.
With her children, Knox, 6 and Lily, 4, Harrell organized a Cold Weather Kit drive in her neighborhood. Each kit contained a hat, pair of mittens and pair of socks, along with an encouraging note. Harrell ordered some supplies online and was also able to involve her neighbors by asking them to donate kits or supplies by dropping them off on her front porch.
On Giving Tuesday Dec. 1, Harrell delivered 122 kits to RBHA’s curb-side drop-off.
“I was searching for a way to not only continue an example of service with my family, but also bring my neighborhood together around a common cause—helping others,” Harrell said. “This opportunity was age-appropriate for my kids and was easy to do from home. It’s the perfect example that you can still make a difference in the lives of others during a pandemic.”
Tito Luna, neighborhood outreach director in the VCU Center for Community Engagement and Impact, said VCU Health has a long history and culture of service. The School of Medicine had the highest number of employees use their service leave out of any VCU or VCU Health unit in the 2019-2020 fiscal year – 227 School of Medicine employees used 2,247 hours of Community Service Leave and Enhanced Community Service Leave.
“I have found other faculty, staff and students who are equally passionate about serving this community, and I believe it is a testament to not only VCU employees, but also to the VCU leadership for setting high standards and expectations for service,” Harrell said.
In addition to sixteen hours of Community Service Leave for full-time,12-month state employees, sixteen hours of Enhanced Community Service Leave is available to university and academic professionals so that they may volunteer with sponsored organizations or programs through VCU or VCU Health. For more information, visit Employee Service. To keep up-to-date on the latest volunteer news, subscribe to the 32 with VCU newsletter.