“Family” can mean many things, from biological parents, siblings, or foster families to multigenerational households and extended loved ones.
The 2018 Virginia Tech Family of the Year award was presented during the Spring Game to the Perks family of Blacksburg: Dave and Sara Perks, their children Jayme and Evie, and their six nominators, Robyn, Josh, Jordan, Tre, Liz, and Nick — all Virginia Tech students.
The Blacksburg Baptist Church Family Ties program is a college-focused ministry that connects students with local families. When Dave and Sara Perks opened their hearts and home to Cadet Joshua McGuire, of Franklin, Tennessee, a senior majoring in international studies with minors in Chinese and leadership, they got five of his friends as well. This unusual Hokie family has shared adventures, home-cooked meals, and struggles as well as celebrations.
Their nominators said, “Once Josh introduced us to the Perks, it was as if they had loved us since the day we were born. We are a motley crew of seniors now who have been fostered by some of the most genuine and whole-hearted people Blacksburg has to offer.”
Cadet Nicholas Masella, of Port Charlotte, Florida, a senior majoring in political science with a concentration in national security studies, said, “Almost all of our friend group is from out of state, ranging from five hours to 13 hours away from home. Because of this, we don't often get to see our families. We thought it is only appropriate that we nominate our school family for this awesome award. They have not only given so much to us but they also have given so much to their community. The Perks are avid supporters of the Hokies and it is only appropriate that the craziest and best Hokie family should be nominated for this award.”
Dave ’95 and Sara, a “Spokie” (spouse of a Hokie) who works at Virginia Tech in Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies, said the addition of six Virginia Tech students to their family has benefitted them all.
“We learn from them all the time,” the Perks said. “They open up to us, and we enjoy listening to them. It’s a great feeling to know that they trust us, and they feel comfortable around us. We let them steer the relationship and are as involved with them as they want us to be. The opportunity to help or just to listen is a gift, and we feel fortunate that they share it with us.”
“Having them support me throughout my college career has changed what Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, and so many other things mean to me,” said Liz Pittman, of Cazenovia, New York, a senior majoring in civil engineering. “Sara and Dave stepped in to help mentor and lead us in our journeys through college, and I will forever be grateful for that.”
The Perks know that it’s not easy being away from home and that their support comes at a crucial time for the students. Cadet Robyn Schneider, of Riverhead, New York, a senior majoring in international studies, said, “Having the Perks support me during my time at Virginia Tech has meant the world to me. I have always had an issue with self-confidence and truly believing that anyone other than my immediate family could love me. The family my friends and the Perks have built together has helped me learn to trust the goodness in people and has helped me grow as a person, not only emotionally but spiritually.”
There is an additional benefit of this extended family. “Being around this group of students has provided a crystal clear example for our kids of what it can look like to be a college student who works hard, still has a ton of fun, but also maintains the values that their parents instilled in them along the way,” said Dave. “We’re very aware that our experience with them isn’t a result of what they’ve gotten from us, but rather the people they already were when they got here, and that we’re fortunate to have met.”
Last fall the Perks met their students’ parents and now they are planning a joint graduation party at their house. With five of the six students graduating in May, the Perks said, “We’re super proud of every one of them, but the military factor of so many of them being cadets makes it even harder to watch them go. Most alumni have the opportunity to come back to town whenever they want, but with so many in this crew headed off to serve our country, we really have no idea when we’ll be able to get the entire crew together in the same room again.”
Schneider said, “Sara and Dave Perks’ hearts overflow with more compassion than I could ever image. I am so grateful to have them as a part of my life and to call them family. Even upon graduation when I am in the Navy somewhere in the world, I will be keeping in touch with them. And I know that one day when we are all in the same state, the Perks will host our motley crew for another holiday dinner, even if it’s a holiday we need to make up.”
The Virginia Tech Family of the Year award is presented annually by Student Affairs to acknowledge the people who are our students’ biggest supporters — their families.
Written by Sandy Broughton.