James Madison University

The Psychology Service Organization: Where Learning Meets Service

By Deirdre E. Myers

PHOTO: PSO GroupThe Psychology Service Organization (PSO) only became an official organization in the Fall 2012 semester, but it is already off to a running start. Students enrolled in Psychology Peer Advising during Spring 2012 have helped to found the PSO in hopes of reaching a broader group of service-minded Psychology majors to do service work in the Harrisonburg community.

Dr. Evans, the organization’s advisor, explains that many students who study Psychology do so because they have a desire to help others. During his years of supervising Psychology Peer Advising, he decided that with so many service-oriented students in the major, it was time to harness some of that helpful energy to make the JMU and Harrisonburg community a better place. Over the years, the community service that these students completed was tremendous in volume and impact. The PSO provides an opportunity to continue that fine work while allowing Psychology Peer Advising to focus on the academic advising and Department of Psychology service roles that were its origin. 

The aim of the PSO is to match service-oriented students with needs in the Harrisonburg community.  The PSO structures its involvement around the motivational acronym, “i-LAST.” This mantra stands for Involvement with Integrity, Loving Leadership, Altruistic Attitude, Selfless Service, and Transformational Teamwork. The motto was created based on the philosophy that, in order to be a good and effective leader, you must put yourself last after others.

The PSO’s kickoff event last fall was “Day with the Dukes,” where volunteer students served as “buddies” to special Olympians who competed with JMU sports teams in a variety of events. JMU Dining Services paid for a tailgate for the participants, and everyone from the Olympians to the JMU athletes was inspired by the event, but perhaps most importantly, had fun. In 2007, Psychology Peer Advisor and tennis player Jessie Tarr helped to found this event with the help of Dr. Evans. This has been the organization’s most popular event so far, and will be returning again next fall.

The “March Food Fight,” another popular event, was founded in 2004 by Dr. Evans and now-alum Josh Tarr, the first of the Tarr brothers to leave behind a legacy of service at JMU. At the Food Fight, JMU volunteers collect money and non-perishable food items for a local food bank. They split the monetary donations between MercyCorps, which gives 92% of donations directly to those whom it serves, and the International and Blueridge Area Food Bank. Both organizations can translate money from one dollar of donations to about twenty dollars’ worth of food. In past years, the Food Fight has raised about $3,000, and between 2,000 and 2,5000 pounds of food in just one week. The Food Fight will be returning to JMU this spring, headed by the PSO.

The group has also begun some traditions of their own. In January, PSO volunteers went dumpster-diving in Harrisonburg apartment complexes and collected 20 bags of crushed aluminum cans. They donated the cans to Our Community Place, a local community center, so that  OCP could sell them for direct money for more food for the participants. Not only is this a service job, but it also helps the JMU image and is good for the environment.

The service doesn’t stop there, though. The PSO is also planning events with the local Habitat for Humanity, and the SPCA. Lindsey Tanner, one of the members of the PSO exec board, says that it is easy to mobilize students in the major to follow their passion for service, and that the PSO is a great way to organize and utilize that potential.

The Psychology Service Organization is not just a spinoff of the Psychology Peer Advising program. Lindsey Tanner, the PSO’s Service Coordinator, says that as a new separate organization they have quickly learned how to be more structured, and how to make members feel more valued and committed. The PSO tries to create as many events as possible, to give students opportunities to serve in ways that will be most meaningful to them, and even with a busy schedule.

For more information about the Psychology Service Organization contact Dr. Bill Evans (evanswf@jmu.edu).