The deadly rampage in April on the campus of Virginia Tech left 32 people, and the gunman, dead. Among the victims was freshman Austin Cloyd, who was an active volunteer with the poor. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this fall, Austin's parents have involved other Virginia Tech students in the volunteer program to carry on their daughter's legacy.
Since she was in high school, Austin Cloyd spent her summer vacations working with the Appalachia Service Project. ASP, a faith-based organization, sends teams of volunteers across the Central Appalachia region, [eds: northwest Tennessee, southwest Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia] to repair homes in poor communities.
After Austin was killed, her parents, who are also ASP volunteers, named the group as the recipient of memorial funds donated in their daughter's memory. ASP's Service Executive Director, Susan Crow, says they wanted to make the donation meaningful.
"So, we began to work with the Cloyds about how we want to spend that money because it ended up being close to $100,000 that was donated to the Appalachia Service Project in Austin's name," Crow says. "They loved the idea of other young adults sort of catching the fire, like Austin did, about the opportunity of service to others."
With the help of the university's Department of Service Learning, the Cloyds spread the word about what they wanted to do, and why, and about 60 students signed up. Most of them hadn't known Austin, but liked the idea of doing public service with her parents. They spent two weekends this fall, repairing homes in Jonesville, Virginia. Anna Hodges says her team worked hard and learned a lot.
"The crew I was working with was installing kitchen sinks and cabinets, doing some plumbing," she says. "There was also a bedroom floor that had to be completely redone. It was being leveled and then we were putting the sub floor and the flooring on top of that."
By sawing and hammering alongside the Cloyds, doing the kind of work Austin had a passion for, the Virginia Tech students say they felt they revived her memory. Volunteer Kate Andrukonis adds they also made new friends.
"We were a group of college kids who came from different majors, different backgrounds. None of us really knew each other before this trip," she says. "So to be thrown into a construction project together is really a quick way to know someone. So I made some good friends I wouldn't have met otherwise at school."
For Austin's parents, Renee and Bryan Cloyd, spending time with these young volunteers was an enjoyable yet emotional experience.
"It was a bittersweet, honestly, because it was wonderful to meet these students, yet missing Austin during that time, you know," Renee says,"(but) it was very therapeutic to work together and to be able to say her name. To be able to bring up someone's name who has died in a way that's not always sad is a good thing."
"There were moments during the weekends that were more painful than others," says Bryan Cloyd, Austin's father. "But we were happy to be able to have that time to spend with other college kids who share a lot in common with her [Austin], in terms of their concerns for the humanity at large, their desire to make the world a better place."
Bryan Cloyd is an accounting Professor at Virginia Tech. He says working so closely with young students on this public service project helped him translate what he has always believed in into action.
"The prevailing perspective among business students is, 'Let's go out there, start a career and make some money,'" he says. "Not that those things are wrong or shallow necessarily, but life is about more than that. We were trying to open students' eyes to this broader view of their role in the world. We were trying to get them to think beyond themselves. It's really encouraging to work with those students who do see the big picture. It's a joy to be a part of the awakening of the students who are, sort of, getting that perspective."
The Cloyds are preparing for another event this coming spring. They expect the volunteering trips to grow into a tradition of public service among Virginia Tech students, and hope students from other universities will join them in the future.