Ellen Masters — A Volunteer for Life

Ellen Masters, director of Career Education and Vocational Reflection at Hampden-Sydney College since 2013, has volunteered as long as she can remember.

“My mom delivered Meals on Wheels,” Masters says. “I would go along with her, and I remember saying — I want to do this one day.”

Growing up in Roanoke, Masters had numerous opportunities to volunteer. Her older sister was a Candy Striper at a local hospital, and Masters wanted to be one too. “They told me I wasn’t old enough,” she says. “They said I could volunteer at the nursing home, so that’s what I did.”

After graduating from high school, Masters enrolled at Longwood University where she earned a Fine Arts degree in Visual and Performing Arts in 1997 and Master of Science in Counselor Education in 2002.

“I came to Longwood and never left,” Masters says with a smile.

Masters worked for Longwood for 16 years, most recently as associate director of the Academic and Career Advising Center. Masters naturally gravitated to Longwood’s Volunteer Service Learning Office. While there she became a volunteer for the Big Brother/Big Sister program.

“When I was in high school, I was too busy with sports and band to do the Big Brother program,” she says. “Now I had a chance. They matched me up with a little boy, and it was a great experience.”

For Masters, helping students find volunteer opportunities was more fun than work. “When I worked at the Volunteer Service office, I would go out to different agencies to find out the needs, then I came back to the campus with them.”

Matching needs with student volunteers was another joy of the job. “One student who came in to volunteer was a majorette in high school,” she says. “The YMCA had been looking for a baton teacher for weeks. I matched them up.”

While in the Volunteer Service Office, Masters initiated the Operation Turkey Project.

“When I took the kids from Big Sister/Big Brother home, I would see the living conditions,” she says. “I started thinking — what can we do to help?”

The answer was a student volunteer project. Under Masters’ guidance, student groups adopted families and assembled special Thanksgiving baskets for them. “I remember telling students to bring the items to my office, but there was so much I had to line it up down the hallways,” Masters recalls. “When I delivered the baskets, many families were in tears.”

Before long Masters’ enthusiasm for volunteering spilled over into the community. “I wanted to volunteer for everything,” she says with a laugh.

Masters went to the initial meeting to get Meals on Wheels (MOW) on the road. Thinking back to MOW deliveries with her mom, Masters says, “I helped Meals on Wheels take off. After that I really started to invest in the community.”

Masters also volunteered with the Stars Under the Stars program that premiered in 1998 as a Leadership Farmville project and brings the community together at the Crute Stage for outdoor movies.

Masters, who was also serving on the Farmville Chamber Board, was asked to chair the Leadership Farmville program. “I learned so much when I went through Leadership Farmville myself, and I love the community project component,” Masters says.

“Volunteering has made my life so full.
It’s made my time in Farmville really special —
It’s why I love living here.”
Ellen Masters

Masters had also served on the Habitat for Humanity Board. When the Farmville Chapter decided to hold a Women’s Build, Masters was the logical choice to chair it. “That was one of the favorite things I’ve done,” she says. “That was definitely a team effort!”

The Heart of Virginia (HOV) Festival was also on Masters’ volunteer radar — but for a slightly different reason. “I felt guilty for not using my art degree, so volunteering for the HOV Art Show was my contribution to the arts,” she says with a smile.

Masters will be leaving Farmville in May to start a new life in Oregon with her fiancé Rob Postel. While sad to leave a community that has been such a big part of her life, Masters is encouraged by the strong spirit for volunteering that has evolved during her time here.

“Leadership Farmville held a Volunteer Fair in January that was open to the entire community,” she says with a note of pride. Each agency — groups like the SPCA, Farmville Fire Department and United Way — set up tables that circled the entire Fireman Sports Arena.

“I was super pleased at the turn-out,” she says.

“Volunteering has made my life so full,” Masters concludes. “It’s made my time in Farmville really special — it’s why I love living here.”

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