By Elizabeth Schaller
This spring, students are dem¬onstrating one of Viterbo’s core values, service, by devoting a part of their class curriculum to conduct¬ing service projects in the La Crosse community. One example of service can be seen in Marlene Fisher and Anita Wood’s Mission Seminar class. The students of this VUSM 300 course are currently working with the La Crosse branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).
The mission seminar class is titled “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” The course is based on the widely acclaimed book of the same name, and thus aims to “explore the issues underlying and resulting from oppression of women,” Wood explained. The students are applying what they are reading about and discussing in class to their work for the YWCA.
The course is focused on women’s studies, but the idea for students to work with the YWCA to complete their required service project was completely the students’, Wood said. After a volunteer from the YWCA spoke to the students and explained the need for supplies and a restructured activity room at the Ruth and Ophelia Houses, the students immediately began brain¬storming ideas to help.
“As college students, we tend to stay in our own little bubbles.” said Lauren Omernik, a junior theatre major and member of the class’s fundraising group. “However, I feel it’s incredibly important to realize how privileged we are to even have the chance to receive a college education. I believe it’s our responsibility to use our position to help others rebuild their lives.”
After a tour of the Ruth and Ophelia Houses, which exist to help transition women coming out of alcohol and other drug abuse rehabilitation programs, as well as transitioning out of justice sanctions, the students began to plan, Wood said.
Students have been divided into three groups and given specific tasks to complete to help the organization. The main projects include cleaning and constructing two activity rooms in the women’s transitional homes and organizing a clothing/essentials drive to pro¬vide donations for the transitional homes.
Fundraising for the class’s project is vital. Students have already had small chili sales and bake sales during basketball games on cam¬pus that have raised funds and are hoping to begin a lollipop sale in the near future. Viterbo students had the chance to participate in an Easter egg hunt planned on Monday, March 25.
“Our goal is to set up the houses with supply closets that can be maintained and stocked after we initially set them up,” said Kristin Leon, a third-year transfer student and student project leader in the class. “The more money we raise, means more items for the supply closets,” she said.
A clothing/essentials drive was held on campus from March 11-15; however, the class will gladly continue to take donations.
Elizabeth Hoskins, a freshman nursing major and co-leader of the student fundraising group, said, “The most important issue we are facing is long term. That is, being able to keep these rooms filled with items for the women that transition in and out of these homes. One [donated] shirt, or a bottle of body wash, or even a paper towel roll can really go a long way.”
There are donation boxes around campus for clothing, hygiene items and household items. After sorting through donations, the students will decide which items still need to be purchased and then create welcome bags for new residents of the houses along with stocking the supply closets.
“Once the YWCA and the women who live in the homes see all the donated items, they will quickly realize that the Viterbo community and the community of La Crosse care and want to see them succeed,” Hoskins said.
The students in this mission seminar class are working hard to better the lives of women in the La Crosse community, but they are also learning and growing as individuals in return.
Leon said, “It is true that in order to pass this class we must fulfill volunteer hours, but we have taken on a very special project that involves more than just bodies moving. It requires one to truly care about the wellbeing of the project. The insight that the class has brought to women’s struggles has given us that extra drive.”
Hoskins agreed: “Many times we as individuals feel we can’t help with large issues, such as homelessness, in our communities, but through class discussions, we are becoming empowered to say ‘yes, we can do something about this.’”
“I believe it’s our responsibility to use our position to help others rebuild their lives.”