Duty. Honor. Leadership. Loyalty. Brotherhood. Service. Sacrifice. Ut Prosim. The core values found on Virginia Tech’s Pylons are also the core values of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets — and there is one cadet organization that goes above and beyond in representing them. 

Cadet Jenner Johnson started Cadets for a Cause in the fall of 2021 with the intent of giving back to the New River Valley.

“For 150 years, the New River Valley has done a good job supporting the VT Corps of Cadets and being a really integral part of the success of the organization,” said Johnson, a senior majoring in political science and history. “Each semester, the members of the organization come up with their own ideas for how to give back to the community.”

Cadets for a Cause began with Johnson and one other student, but it has grown to include 30 members.

In the past year, its members have worked with nonprofits such as Sleep in Heavenly Peace —a bed-building program for children in need — the Giving Tree Food Pantry, and the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund — a nonprofit that provides scholarships for children of soldiers killed in combat.

“What we do this semester is all dependent on what the people within the organization want to do,” Johnson said. “The mission of the organization is very open and ambiguous, and the purpose of that is to give the cadets the opportunity to do what they want — to find their own cause.”

This year, Johnson is passing the role of commanding officer to Cadet William Connolly, a junior majoring in aerospace engineering.

“The way the organization was structured when I first started it, it’s not meant for me to be the head honcho or sole backbone of the organization for any amount of time,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, when I come back for other alumni events in 10 or 20 years, the organization is still around, and if not, that’s OK with me because we still positively impacted a lot of people.”

Connolly has big plans to continue growing the organization and giving back to the local community. He intends to continue working with the nonprofits with which its members have formed connections, but there is one fundraising event that he hopes to implement — or re-implement — for the corps.

“It’s a tradition that they used to have back in the ‘50s or ‘60s,” Connolly said. “The freshmen would bid money on a certain cadre, and they’d get to pie them in the face with whipped cream.”

The funds from this event would go to local organizations as well as increase awareness of Cadets for a Cause and build corps morale.

“A lot of what this year’s going to be is community outreach and connecting with more organizations in the New River Valley and seeing where we can fit in, what we can do for them, and what we can do for the school,” Connolly said.

In addition to giving back to the community and promoting the corps’ value of service, the organization provides an opportunity for cadets to grow and develop their leadership skills.

“A lot of the cadets, after they’re done with the military, are probably going to go into the nonprofit or the private sector to work for a business, so giving cadets a little bit of an introduction to that style of leadership is also the purpose of the organization” Johnson said. “Obviously, we want to give back to the community and help the local population in any way that we can, but at the same time, we want to give cadets the opportunity to practice managerial and organizational leadership.”

At the heart of the organization is a desire to connect cadets with the opportunity to give back to the community, but involvement isn’t limited to cadets. Greek organizations interested in philanthropy projects, student organizations interested in co-organizing events, or even students who are just interested in helping others are encouraged to reach out and get connected.

“There are a lot of cadets with a heart for service and have a genuine care for the people in the New River Valley,” Johnson said. “We want to connect, we want to give back, and we want to embody that family aspect that Virginia Tech and the surrounding area really is.”

Written by Savannah Webb, a senior and an intern for Virginia Tech Communications and Marketing

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