Three volunteers guide 11-year-old Jasmine as she rides a brown mare named Pearl. Xara Davies (Col ’20) walks on the horse’s left, offering instructions and placing her arm on Jasmine’s leg to keep her steady. They stroll in a paddock surrounded by green foothills in Crozet, gray dust floating behind Pearl’s clopping hooves. Davies is here each Saturday to volunteer with Charlottesville Area Riding Therapy, which teaches riding skills to individuals with special needs.
“OK—we’re gonna trot,” Davies tells Jasmine. “Hold on with both hands.”
The horse trots, the volunteers run—one in front, one on each side—and Jasmine beams from the saddle. Davies is smiling too. She connected with the riding therapy program in 2016 through Madison House, UVA’s student volunteer center, and is now a program director there. Celebrating its 50th anniversary in the 2019-2020 academic year, Madison House partners with more than 100 local schools, medical facilities and nonprofits, coordinating volunteers while also teaching students about leadership and giving back.
Roughly 3,000 students a year volunteer through Madison House. Nearly 40,000 have participated since the center opened in September 1969, according to Tim Freilich (Col ’93, Law ’99), executive director of Madison House and a volunteer there during his undergrad years. In 2018-19 alone, he estimates, students contributed more than 108,000 hours to local projects, from adopt-a-grandparent programs and teacher’s aide positions to patient-care roles at hospitals and free clinics.