LEWISBURG — A student's first week in a new school is usually devoted to settling in and adapting to unfamiliar classrooms, classmates, instructors and expectations.

For first-year students arriving on the campus of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, part of orientation week is absorbing the portion of the institution's mission statement that indicates "WVSOM is dedicated to serve, first and foremost, the state of West Virginia and the health care needs of its residents."

That's why some 265 WVSOM students, plus faculty and staff, will gather at the alumni building bright and early Saturday morning and be dispersed in teams across approximately 13 sites throughout the Greenbrier Valley to lend assistance not just with the usual community projects but also with the ongoing flood relief effort.

It's all part of the "WVSOM Cares" event, held annually in conjunction with a United Way community service project established to encourage volunteerism and boost awareness of needs.

Capping off orientation week, the "WVSOM Cares" effort usually finds a few more than 100 students volunteering, performing such tasks as painting schools, landscaping playgrounds and helping out at the animal shelter, according to a press release issued by the medical school.

The unusually high response to the call for volunteers this year arises from the depth of the need for assistance with flood relief, noted WVSOM director of marketing and public relations Amy F. Goetz. In Rainelle, for example, groups of five or six students will tackle such tasks as needs assessments, cleanup and determining how WVSOM representatives can best use their unique skills and training to help out — as they have already done by offering OMT (osteopathic manipulative treatment) to other volunteers, including National Guard personnel.

In addition to serving the public, the volunteers will also gain valuable team-building experience, something they will need as they go forward in medical school and beyond, Goetz said.

The new students have gone through a lot of competition just to earn a coveted slot in the medical school, Goetz pointed out. "But once they're here, they need to work together," she said. "They can learn from each other."

WVSOM's assistance in the recovery from the horrific June 23 flood that surged through Greenbrier and other West Virginia counties actually began just a few days after the storm, when student volunteers went into the affected communities to provide hands-on assistance. Goetz said the students were out helping those communities every day during the week following the disaster and have continued to self-organize and volunteer each weekend since.

Student Government Association President Ethan Stephens was one of those early volunteers, and he explained the importance of WVSOM students' involvement in local communities.

"WVSOM is a great community, and we feel a big connection to the communities in Greenbrier County and around West Virginia," he said. "We will be rotating and living in these rural areas. We are all people, and we need to help each other in time of need."

Goetz noted that the medical school community has also been involved in flood recovery in other ways. The Robert C. Byrd Clinic donated tetanus shots to flood survivors and volunteers, and 200 pairs of "very fine rubber boots" were donated by a person affiliated with the school, she said.

"We are committed to recovery; we are committed to the long haul," Goetz said. "We care about the community."

• • •

This year's “WVSOM Cares” sites include the Child and Youth Advocacy Center, Alderson Hospitality House, United Way of Greenbrier Valley (City National Bank), St. James Episcopal Church, Monroe Health Center in Union, Eastern Greenbrier Middle School, Greenbrier Episcopal School, High Rocks Educational Corporation, Montwell Park, Muddy Creek Mountain-Payne/Bowes Build, Lewisburg United Methodist Church, Mt. Tabor Baptist Church and West Virginia VOAD, as well as such flood-affected communities as White Sulphur Springs and Rainelle.

— Email: talvey@register-herald.com

React to this story: