As the holiday season approaches, we are reminded of the importance of giving back, even if it is in small ways. One way to give back is to donate to a charity that helps make someone else’s holidays great through the Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign (CVC).

CVC is an annual workplace giving campaign during which state employees raise and donate money to one or more of approximately 1,000 participating charities in their communities and across the commonwealth. Charities range from health and human services to animal welfare, from environmental conservation to medical research, and everything in between. There is a charity for everyone.

No one wants to be outside during winter weather, even during the day, but some members of the New River Valley community are struggling just to find a warm place to sleep. One program, To Our House, shelters and feeds 14 guests during the coldest winter months. They’re given cots to sleep on, warm meals to eat, and are connected to resources in the area that can help them stabilize their living situations.

Carol Johnson, program coordinator, said despite not getting much publicity, the shelter is making a tremendous impact in the lives of its guests.

“Our greatest success is that we have a guest that stayed with us a few years ago that’s now the only other staff person besides myself,” said Johnson. “This program really made a difference in his life and took him from being literally homeless to having housing and now actually working for the organization.”

That man is Melvin Robertson. Five years ago, when Robertson, a Roanoke native and veteran, found himself homeless, To Our House took him in.

Robertson was able to stay for five weeks before being placed in a Christiansburg boarding house. He then got a job working for New River Community Action, but he’ll never forget what To Our House did for him. He spends a couple nights a week every winter at the shelter, supporting the residents.

“I was in the program myself about five years ago and that’s when I decided I needed to start giving back,” said Robertson in describing his current role. “So, what I do is I stay with the guests overnight to assist them in whatever they need.”

He said supporting homeless people is about more than just shelter; you have to help them link up with community resources and encourage them to build the self-confidence needed to get back on their feet.

“When you’re homeless, people think that you’re a bad person, but it’s not like that,” said Robertson. “So, we try to encourage the guests and say, ‘You can make it. Don’t worry about what people think about you. As long as you have confidence in yourself, you can make it. Don’t give up.’ That’s the key: Don’t give up.”

To Our House also partners with the Montgomery County Christmas Store, a new charity to CVC, which gives Christmas gifts and other necessities to families in need. The store is organized like a department store and eligible shoppers can come to pick out anything they need. Volunteers at the Christmas Store say being able to shop there can change someone’s life.

“I go around hosting the people to help them shop and most of the time I end up crying with them,” said Terri Lynn Howard, a volunteer. “Some of them just stand there and go, ‘I’ve never had anything new. My child has never had a new winter coat. Really? I can have a new bike for my child?’ I get goosebumps talking about it. It’s really amazing.”

This year’s campaign will run until Dec. 13 with a goal of $390,000. Since 2010, Virginia Tech employees have donated more than $2.8 million to local charities in the New River Valley and across the Commonwealth of Virginia.

No donation is too small. Even $5 donated can make a difference in someone’s life. Employees can donate through an online payroll deduction, choosing either a one-time deduction or a 24-pay period deduction. Donations should be made through the CVC website. Cash and checks are also acceptable. Pledge cards are available for those who do not have online access.

CVC is administered by the Division of Human Resources and led by a steering team made up of university department representatives. Questions or assistance should be directed to department representatives. More information can be found on the CVC website.

- Written by Ariadne Manikas, Class of 2020

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