Building leaders: Madison House alumnus helps develop unique new volunteer program

For Garrett Trent, a 2010 graduate of UVA's College of Arts & Sciences, finding volunteer opportunities through Madison House in his first semester was a “huge deal.”  

“Madison House was a great first step for me in figuring out where I wanted to spend my time and energy,” Garrett remembers. “I was able to get outside of the UVA bubble and build connections from an early stage of my college career, and I think that is what compelled me to stay in Charlottesville.”

Currently the Associate Director of Volunteer Engagement with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, Garrett looks for ways to ensure Habitat volunteers have great experiences as they help build housing with zero-interest mortgages for low-income families in the region. Garrett continues to build on the valuable leadership, community-building and engagement skills he learned as a Madison House volunteer, program director and student board member.

Now, Garrett helps Madison House volunteers do the same. With the help of Garrett’s colleagues and Madison House student leaders like fourth-year Housing Improvement Head Program Director Trevor Jordan, and second-year Program Director Tessa Laplante, Habitat launched Madison House's Crew Leader program this semester.

Each week for one year and with the help of trained construction staff, Madison House volunteers in the Crew Leader program will receive in-depth instruction of “every piece of the puzzle in terms of construction,” Garrett says. Volunteers will learn skills like power tool use, installing drywall, hanging siding, and framing walls. In turn, the Crew Leaders will then use that knowledge to guide and lead other Habitat volunteers while working together on build sites.

“It gives students the opportunity to refine both their construction skills and leadership skills,” says Program Director Tessa. “As a Crew Leader, students will use the skills they obtain during training to eventually help other volunteers on a site.”

Head Program Director Trevor agrees that cultivating strong leadership skills are a key component of the new program and partnership. “The leadership skills they learn throughout this program can easily be applied in a variety of 'real world' situations,” Trevor says. “Anything from managing people to giving clear and concise directions.

Garrett says it was that very same potential and passion for leadership that led Habitat to turn to Madison House to pilot the program. “When we reached out to Madison House, we felt like it would be a great launching pad for something new,” Garrett says. “UVA has such a strong culture for leadership and growth, so we felt it was a strong fit for the program.”

Tessa and Trevor say it’s not just leadership and construction skills that volunteers will learn. As Trevor looks toward his graduation this spring, he's reflecting on the experience of serving as a Head Program Director.

“The biggest thing I have learned this far is how to manage conflicts and situations on the spot,” Trevor says. “Being able to deal with unforeseen problems in a calm and efficient manner is a skill that, in my experiences, is necessary as a Head Program Director.”

With two years until her own graduation, Tessa is excited for the future of the new Crew Leader program. “As this program is still in its early stages, it has taught me the importance of thinking ahead,” Tessa says. “Being a leader means having a vision for what’s next, both for myself and for those I'm leading. This is a habit that will stay with me far beyond my time at UVA.”