by Adele Uphaus
MANAGING EDITOR AND CORRESPONDENT
Over her four years at the University of Mary Washington, 2023 graduate Meghan McLees volunteered at so many different Fredericksburg-area organizations that she can’t always remember them all.
There was Downtown Greens, the Thurman Brisben Center, Stafford Junction, the regional Food Bank, Greater Fredericksburg Habitat for Humanity of the Fredericksburg SPCA, plus multiple days of service through UMW’s Community Outreach and Resources club … so many that she logged a total of 108 service hours last year.
“I’ll suddenly remember one and go, ‘Oh wait, I forgot I did that too,’” McLees told the Advance this week.
And not only did she volunteer her own time – she also volunteered to recruit and train other student volunteers.
Last fall, she organized a service morning for 100 new UMW students, and she also trained two students to carry on the tutoring program she created educational materials for at Stafford Junction after she graduated.
In recognition of her service and leadership, staff at UMW’s Center for Community Engagement nominated McLees for Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s statewide volunteerism and community service awards, and she was selected to receive the 2023 Outstanding Young Adult Volunteer award.
McLees and her family traveled to Richmond to accept the award at a ceremony on Nov. 13.
“Meghan is a great role model with a wonderful combination of passion for making the world a better place and organizational skills,” said Sarah Dewees, director of the Center for Community Engagement, in her nomination letter for the award.
Growing up, McLees often tagged along with her mother, who was a passionate volunteer with the American Heart Association.
When she got to college, she thought, “Oh, now I can branch out and find my own thing.”
“I think that’s one of the things people get from volunteering – they can find their passion,” she said.
It was through volunteering as a tutor for Stafford Junction that McLees was able to figure out what she wanted to pursue as a career – elementary school counseling.
There was one particular occasion during the COVID-19 lockdown when she was working with an elementary-school student over Zoom.
“I knew something was bothering him,” McLees said.
She attempted to drag the boy through his reading and math work, but eventually decided that he needed something else from her that day.
“So we just ended up talking about his experience at school, and playing games,” McLees said.
The experience highlighted the fact that children can’t learn when they have emotional needs that aren’t being met and inspired McLees to enroll in a graduate program in K-12 counseling.
But volunteerism doesn’t have to lead to a career, McLees said.
“It can be just a hobby, but still a passion, and still a part of your personality,” she said.
Volunteering also helps you learn about and connect with the broader community that surrounds you, she said.
It can help you find meaning and purpose, which is one of the ways we can cultivate happiness in our lives.
As McLees put it, “It’s nice to know where you’re at.”