Students connect to community through service

Kristin Lillie volunteering

UW-L student Kristin Lillie volunteers in an Emerson Elementary School classroom. She manages a 17-credit load, sports and a heavy volunteer schedule.

Volunteer fair Feb. 7 connects students to local volunteer opportunities

A good week is when UW-L senior Kristin Lillie can squeeze in volunteering every single day. Around town you’ll find her playing Bingo at Bethany On Cass or having a heart-to-heart with a kid in an elementary school hallway.

In fact, at the start of each semester, Lillie plans her class schedule around her volunteer work. She tries to keep mornings open because that’s when students at Emerson Elementary School are learning reading and math. She’ll pop into Norma Arneson’s second grade classroom if she has a spare hour between classes and track or cross country practice.

“I’ll go read a book or, maybe if a kid has had a rough day, I’ll take a walk down the hall and have conversation with the child,” she says.

She serves about nine different organizations over the course of a year, typically volunteering five to 10 hours a week.

Many students such as Lillie find volunteer opportunities in the La Crosse community. Helping students connect with those opportunities is the aim of a volunteer fair Thursday, Feb. 7, at Valhalla, Cartwright Center-Gunning Addition. The UW-L Leadership and Involvement Center event will connect students interested in volunteering with organizations around La Crosse that are in need of volunteers.

Lillie said sometimes the volunteer opportunities find her and sometimes she finds them. She was interested in volunteering for an elementary school after her high school role model and friend, Shaun Wild, a second grade teacher at Spring Brook Elementary School in Naperville, Ill., died last year.

“I wanted to do something to live out his legacy and touch the lives of children and that is why I contacted a second grade teacher at a local elementary school to help in the classroom,” she says.

Arneson says she’s grateful for the help — and genuine dedication Lillie shows.

“She is just really a wonderful young woman,” says Arneson. “She truly has a spirit of community service in heart. She offers more to students than I could do in a day because there is just one me.”

Lillie’s favorite job is working at a muscular dystrophy summer camp where she’s volunteered to work with the same camper over six years. Now her camper is a high school freshman, and the two are less like a camper and counselor, and more like friends, says Lillie.

“With all these volunteer experiences, I grow so close to the people I’m helping,” she says.

The experiences also take her out of her comfort zone. Lillie had 15 hours of training to become a hospice care volunteer last summer at St. Mary’s Ozaukee Hospital in Mequon, Wis. Volunteer opportunities also help prepare her on her career path in therapeutic recreation. This is the eighth semester she has volunteered with UW-L’s Physical Activity Mentoring Program.

She believes that finding happiness is about dedicating yourself to a cause greater than you. She knows her efforts will not always receive a formal “thank you,” but that’s not always necessary either.

“Just a smile makes you know you made a difference,” she says.

If you go —

What: Volunteer Fair
When: 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7
Where: Valhalla, Cartwright Center –Gunning Addition
Admissions: free and open to all students
Details: Organizations will set up booths in Valhalla where students can learn more about the organization and decide if they are interested in volunteering with them. A number of different organizations will be present looking for volunteers interested in childcare, health care, animals, elderly assistance, and miscellaneous assistance.

Why volunteer?

Volunteering is a great way for students to get a feel for the type of work they may or may not be interested in pursuing after graduation. Likewise, volunteering builds a students’ resumes, increases work experience, fulfills volunteering requirements, often has flexible hours, introduces students to potential connections, and, above all, helps others in need. – Krystina Hoey, Leadership and Involvement Center student employee

About the Leadership and Involvement Center

The Leadership and Involvement Center serves as a bridge between students and the La Crosse community. The goal is to encourage students to involve themselves on and off campus while leading their peers to do the same.

Lillie says if students can’t commit to regular volunteer work, there are plenty of events around the community — walk-runs or other one-time events that require less commitment.

“I encourage all students to give their time for someone else at least once a semester,” she says. ““When you do, you feel good about yourself and helping others and you’ll want to volunteer more.”