Joyce Cheng is a fourth-year in the College of Arts & Sciences majoring in Human Biology with a minor in Global Sustainability. Joyce has been volunteering with the Madison House program Adopt-a-Grandparent (AAGP) since her first semester of college, and she became a program director her second year. The purpose of AAGP is to facilitate the process of building meaningful relationships between students and members of the Charlottesville community who live in assisted living facilities and are especially isolated. Joyce volunteers at The Heritage Inn, which is an assisted living facility with a special building for residents with dementia and Alzheimer's. Every week, she visits and interacts with elderly residents at the Inn. They chat, play games, listen to music, and more!
How did you first get involved?
I was especially interested in joining AAGP when I came to UVA, because my grandparents had always lived with my family while I was growing up, and I had a very close relationship with them. I love conversing with elderly people, as they have such interesting backgrounds, captivating stories to tell, and invaluable wisdom to impart. I wanted to ensure I immersed myself in the greater Charlottesville community during college, not just UVA, so I could expose myself to meaningful outside perspectives in addition to those I encounter from peers and faculty. A significant proportion of us at UVA come from relatively privileged, comfortable backgrounds, and I think it's important to dedicate some time to show appreciation and give back to our society and community in ways that respect the needs of community members.
What has been most rewarding?
I absolutely love being able to see how my volunteering can improve the day of the person I'm visiting. My second year, I volunteered with an elderly man with Alzheimer's who used to be a scientific journalist (I'll call him Mr. B). He was always so delighted to see me, and he would tell me how thankful he was for my visit. He loved talking about birds and fish, opera, books, and art. He often liked to show me a scientific article featuring a fish that was named after him, and it was incredibly rewarding to see how happy he was to be able to share this with me. I remember talking to him about opera and classical music another time, and his younger brother was also there visiting him. His brother told me how glad he was that someone was there to truly converse with Mr. B about his intellectual interests, as the employees in the nursing home are typically too busy to really interact with the residents. I appreciate everything I learn from the people I volunteer with, and I'm glad they appreciate the volunteers as well.
How do you plan to be involved in the community in the future?
Throughout my fourth year, I am continuing to volunteer and serve as a program director for AAGP. I plan to become a physician in the future, and I want to focus on serving my community by listening to patient narratives and taking their backgrounds, cultures, priorities, and knowledge into consideration in my clinical practice. I hope to assist vulnerable populations in most need of better medical care, such as immigrants, the elderly, and those harmed by environmental injustices.
How would you encourage others to get involved?
The best way to expose yourself to the countless service opportunities in the UVA community is to attend the fall or winter activities fair, and the Madison House activities fair. However, if you miss those events, it's always possible to reach out to program directors or presidents of various service organizations to ask if you're still able to get involved. There are programs for nearly anything you could be interested in, so it just requires some proactive searching to find a good fit! The Madison House website is a good resource, and so is atUVA.
What is the greatest class you have taken at UVA?
My favorite class was Environmental Political Theory with Professor Ross Mittiga, who was very engaging, approachable, and passionate about the subject. I encountered new thought-provoking and challenging material regarding environmental science, policy, ethics, intergenerational and distributive justice, animal justice, and activism. I was motivated to adopt a vegetarian diet for environmental and ethical reasons, which I continue to maintain.
What is your favorite UVA tradition?
Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn is one of my favorite traditions! I love how it engages the Charlottesville community, as many people bring their children to UVA for the event. It's also unique because many student organizations (including service programs) are represented -- members often gather in one Lawn room to distribute candy. It's a good way to learn about student organizations and also have a lot of fun dressing up and connecting with community members! The kids (and pets) in costumes are always so adorable!
If you could change one thing to make the world a better place, what would it be?
If I had the power to do literally anything, I would want to stop the existential threat of climate change, which affects everyone in the entire world. Realistically, I do the best I can to engage in advocacy, education, and personal changes around environmental issues. In the future, I'd like to use my career in medicine as a platform for environmental and social justice activism.