May graduate Danielle Visone (’14, Psychology; ’16, Master of Social Work) has achieved recognition that no other FGCU student has ever matched. She has received the Excellence in Civic Engagement Award given by the Service-Learning Department twice: first as an undergraduate, when she completed more than 500 hours of service; and again as a graduate student, when she tallied 200 hours. Visone wrote the following essay about what service means to her as part of an application for the award.
Service has been a part of my DNA for as long as I can remember. What started off as volunteer opportunities and ways to give back to my community became a lifelong career as I am working to finish my master’s in social work, a degree that focuses on helping and empowering others. Service is my hobby, my job and my passion.
When you’re a graduate student, life takes over and you often don’t have much free time outside of class, an internship, papers and group projects. Having a passion for service makes it easy to make service a part of your life, a part of your purpose. Choosing an agency to work with was a no-brainer for me. I followed my heart and searched for one that would need my services the most. For me, this place was Valerie’s House, a nonprofit organization in Fort Myers that provides open-ended peer support groups and activities for children to heal after a significant loss.
When I became involved with Valerie’s House it was nothing but an idea in the mind of founder Angela Melvin, who saw a void in this community that needed to be filled. Meeting her while volunteering together at the Hope Hospice Children’s Grief Camp, Rainbow Trails, was an act of fate. We shared our stories with each other about loss and growing up without a parent. Angela told me about her vision for Valerie’s House, and I shared with her how I had grown up in a program just like the one she was envisioning when I lived in West Palm Beach. It was right then that I knew I needed to get involved, and I have been ever since.
My participation in Valerie’s House has been an exciting journey for me. I initially became involved as a founding committee member, helping to shape the ideas and vision for the program. At monthly meetings I offered insight from my professional studies in social work as well as from my experience being in a similar program as a child who suffered through grief. Volunteering alongside Angela has proven to be an amazing gift. I have learned the trials and tribulations of applying to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, fundraising for startup funds, marketing on social media, asking for donations of supplies and furniture, recruiting more volunteers and, of course, finding families for their services.
Beyond being a founding committee member, I began running the agency’s social media. I worked to update Facebook and Instagram information about this new agency to help recruit families in need of services and volunteers who might want to get involved. With this responsibility, I was able to answer messages and inquiries to Valerie’s House from families and supporters who wanted more information. I became a representative of the agency, and I felt so proud to be a volunteer.
As the vision grew, the community support grew and things began falling into place. A number of families came forward wanting services, volunteers like me were available to help any way we could, and a house was donated rent free for two years. With that, a vision from a year prior was becoming a reality, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it.
Most recently, my involvement has been as a children’s group facilitator, which has been my favorite role thus far. Having a background in social work, and wanting to specialize in grief support, volunteering with this group has been my dream. I have been able to plan the sessions for not only my group but the older groups as well, and lead the children in the activities twice a month. My interactions with the children warms my heart as I can see the progress they are making, and the feelings they are overcoming as they return week after week to Valerie’s House and begin opening up about their loss.
My purpose with this agency does not end here, nor would I want it to. Service is about giving it your all, meeting the needs of the agency and putting others before you. As a result of my consistent dedication, hard work and expertise, I have been offered a full-time job directing the Valerie’s House programs —something I had always dreamed of doing since overcoming my own grief as a child. To have a job lined up after graduation is due to nothing more than my volunteer service to this agency. The need is great in this community — about 3,000 children every year suffer the loss of a parent or sibling, and no facility like Valerie’s House is available between Southwest Florida and Tampa. Simply advocating to everyone I know, and asking them to spread the word as well, has done wonders for this program and for the search for families in need.
As part of its mission, Florida Gulf Coast University encourages students to nurture community partnerships, value public service and embrace civic responsibility. I have personally set forth the same goals for myself as I continue to volunteer and serve Valerie’s House. With a heart for service — “to bring minds awake and give back more than we take,” as FGCU’s TV commercial says — anything is possible when you have a purpose. That is The FGCU Effect, and I am so grateful to be a part of it.