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Graduate Student Day of Service Supports Local Community

Graduate students volunteering at A Wider Circle

Sixty new AU School of Public Affairs graduate students and faculty volunteered to spend the day sorting household items and moving furniture at A Wider Circle, a Silver Spring nonprofit that helps families in need furnish their homes, find clothing, and provide other household items, among other services.

“Our students are not just moving into D.C. – they are becoming a part of the community,” said SPA Dean Vicky Wilkins at the event. “I always joke that when you sweat with somebody you really understand their values. An important part of an SPA education is learning to give back in meaningful ways.”  

When she was deciding on where to go to graduate school, Caroline Nickerson, SPA/MPP ’20, attended a talk with Mark Bergel, founder of A Wider Circle and an AU alumnus. The experience left an impression on her.

“Of all the schools I visited, I thought AU put service at the forefront, and that’s why I decided on their Master's in Public Policy program,” said Nickerson, who is from Orlando. “I’ve been anticipating this event for months. I was so excited.”

David Todisco, SPA/MPA ’20, said he volunteered because he thought it would be a great way to get to know his new classmates and do something meaningful.

“I wasn’t sure what we’d be doing, but I was open-minded,” he said. “It seems like they are doing pretty amazing work at A Wider Circle.”

Throughout the day, students unloaded donations at the loading dock, organized toys, strollers and linens. Later, these items would be placed in the showroom where deserving families can select the items they need.

Nichole Braxton, SPA/MPA ’20, who was folding sheets with Dorcas Nzau, SPA/MPA ’20, said she liked how the service day connects with classroom discussions.

“It’s putting action to what we read,” said Braxton. “It’s important to understand there are different ways to be a public servant. Being here gives you that physical form of public service.”

Braxton said it had been a long time since she volunteered, and she enjoyed the opportunity and change of pace.

The service event aligns with SPA’s overarching goals and mission. Among the volunteers were some of SPA’s Return Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), who are exploring an ongoing commitment to service at the nonprofit throughout the year.

Graduate students line up to help at A Wider Circle“This deepens and broadens the relationship with A Wider Circle,” said Jennifer Forney, assistant dean of graduate enrollment. “Our students are walking the talk. Professionally and personally, our students are committed to a higher purpose and, of course, then demonstrate it in their everyday lives.”