Staff Reporter 

CIRV program remains strong 42 years later

Volunteering at Lakeland Village changes lives of students, clients


For the past 42 years, Lakeland Village’s College In-Resident Volunteer (CIRV) program has provided college students an alternate style of housing.

Students, after first passing a background check and going through training, volunteer for 15 hours each week with Lakeland Village clients. In exchange, they receive housing, utilities and have the option to eat at the facility’s dining hall. Volunteers live across the street from the main facility, where three buildings are split into two- and one-bedroom apartments. Students typically leave the program with around 2,000 hours in volunteer time to put on their resume.

There are a variety of different career paths taken by students in the program, including many who are pursuing a degree in a medical or social services field. A majority of students in the program attend Eastern Washington University, but nearly every higher education facility in the Spokane area has a student working in the CIRV program.

Leroy Lemaster has been the CIRV program coordinator since the early 1980s, and has seen hundreds of students come through during that time. For many, being a CIRV student is their first step in a higher education career from high school.

“A lot of these younger ones are coming for the first time out of their homes, away from mom and dad,” Lemaster said. “I try to make it a safe experience for them, and a good place to study.”

Tony Bowe, a secondary education major at EWU, heard about the program from a current CIRV student and friend.

“I was immediately drawn to the program, just hearing about the benefits to the students,” he said. “Then the more I read about it, the interaction with the clients, I realized it could be a very unique opportunity to serve the community.”

Jessie Barth, an EWU nursing major, also heard of the program through a friend, and eagerly took the opportunity to help persons with special needs.

“I’m always just drawn to their energy,” she said. “So I knew that it would benefit them for me to be here, because I enjoy it so much. But I knew that it ultimately would be beneficial for me and help mold the person that I am and help me through school.”

Barth and Bowe said they’ve made lifelong friends in their time with the CIRV program.

While the financial savings have been a large benefit to volunteering, the experiences gained by spending time with clients one-on-one, in the gymnasium or in various activities at the facility have made the largest impact. Barth, a first-generation college student, is particularly thankful for the opportunity to acquire work experience while taking college classes that relate to her major.

Several students, Lemaster said, have changed their major based on their experiences at Lakeland Village, often turning to social services, nursing or other related fields.

Students like Barth and Bowe over the years have left an indelible mark on Lemaster, who also retired from coaching tennis at Medical Lake High School last year. Photos of former CIRV students are packed together on a bulletin board in Lemaster’s office. Some include recent photos of newborn children, which prompted the meaningful name attributed to the group of photos: CIRV Grandkids.

Being a regular presence at Lakeland Village, Lemaster smiles when he recalls seeing the children of former CIRV students come to volunteer in the program.

“That’s what it’s about,” he said. “I think what we’re doing is preparing them for their jobs on the outside.”

No advertising money is spent, and news about the program typically spreads via word of mouth. Current volunteers tell their friends about it, and the benefits involved with volunteering, bringing in good-natured students that become a strong group of friends.

The program had humble beginnings in 1970, starting with just 10 women who lived in studio apartments behind one of the current apartment buildings. Fast-forward four decades later, and the CIRV program now boasts 42 students this year, 20 of whom are new. Lakeland Village itself will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2015, with the CIRV program existing for nearly half of that time.

Time spent with the CIRV students is very meaningful to clients, Lemaster said. The benefits from those hours volunteered at the facility leave an important mark in a student’s education, helping them to become more diverse in their thinking. In short, the program is life-changing for students.

“I always tell them when you look in the mirror, smile,” Lemaster said. “Because even when we think we have it rough and tough, we just need to think about the people who live here and smile. We don’t have it as bad as we think we do sometimes.”

James Eik can be reached at


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