University students learn that life is service

Touching lives is purpose of SVU class

BUENA VISTA, Va. — "Learn that Life Is Service" is the motto for Southern Virginia University (SVU), located in the historic Shenandoah Valley at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

With more than 8,000 service hours logged so far this academic year, the approximately 475 Latter-day Saint students currently enrolled at SVU are representing the school by living up to its motto.

Southern Virginia University grew out of a former women's college that was financially troubled and at the brink of closing in 1996. A few LDS businessmen assumed the school's debts in exchange for the right to manage the school.

The businessmen established the new school on values and standards taught by the Church. That fall (1996), 74 students enrolled in a four-year co-educational college. Since then the school has expanded in many areas, from enrollment and majors to qualifying for accreditation with the American Academy for Liberal Education in 2000, and achieving university status in 2001.

Although SVU is not affiliated with or funded by the Church, its administrators are all Church members, as well as most board of trustees. In addition, most of the faculty and staff are LDS. Composition of the student body is more than 99 percent LDS with students coming from nearly every state and several countries.

Historic building is where students study and attend classes.
Historic building is where students study and attend classes. | Photo by Paul Cheney

The service that students at SVU provide to the schools, hospital, libraries and other organizations reflects well on the Church and has softened hearts and opened doors in the community. Students live up to the university's motto by showing what they stand for as Latter-day Saints.

SVU requires two credit hours of service for graduation. The students select from a list of more than 25 established programs. They choose one site at which they will volunteer weekly during the semester to earn one-half credit. Some of the programs include: campus and community beautification projects, Chamber of Commerce, sheriff's office, a juvenile correction center, school support, medical support or SVU support.

Students can also choose their own service projects. Such "choose your own" service projects include: teaching children in the community to play an instrument, play the organ for another church, volunteer for Meals on Wheels, and create a documentary and/or web page to promote a community program.

Students also go the extra mile by participating in service activities through SVU's student government, which sponsored about 1,000 service hours last year. Another 2,400 service hours from students is accumulated through Church-sponsored events.

Southern Virginia University President E. Curtis Fawson.
Southern Virginia University President E. Curtis Fawson. | Photo by Paul Cheney

Service rendered by the students impacts the community surrounding the school. A supervisor at a juvenile correctional facility estimated that the facility saves $13.69 per donated hour.

Volunteers save community and civic organizations thousands of dollars each year and build good relationships. Toby Anderson, SVU director of Student Services, tells of receiving many letters expressing appreciation for service rendered.

There also are countless unrecorded service hours and projects as students pitch in to help fellow beings on the spur of the moment. One neighbor of the university called SVU's President E. Curtis Fawson to thank him and compliment her neighbor students who frequently shoveled snow and helped her in other ways. Community members make many such expressions of appreciation.

"We continue to be impressed with our students and the service they provide, both on campus and in the community. We are so grateful for the parents who entrust their choice sons and daughters to this . . . university," said President Fawson. "The training, talents and testimonies they have gained in their homes add a special spirit to our campus."

Last year, SVU students completed more than 11,600 hours. With the increase in student enrollment this year, the total service hours are expected to increase.

More important than the number of service hours that are recorded, the university expects to strengthen lives of those who incorporate the motto, "Learn that Life Is Service."

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