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Sharing the Joy: It’s a win-win situation for Badger Volunteers and community groups

January 18, 2011 By

Talk about Badger spirit. A volunteer program that started small now spreads the enthusiasm and generosity of more than 400 UW–Madison students each semester to schools, community centers, food banks and more.

The Badger Volunteers program, coordinated by the Morgridge Center for Public Service, began in fall 2008 and, during its first semester, involved 40 student volunteers and partnerships with four community organizations. In 2010, the program sent 70 teams — more than 400 students — to 50 community-partner sites.

Starting Tuesday, Jan. 18, students can begin registering online to take part in the program during spring semester. Online registration continues through Friday, Jan. 28.

Badger Volunteers sends students to 12 of Madison’s Schools of Hope, two Boys and Girls clubs, community centers, programs at the YWCA, the Second Harvest Food Bank and many other sites.

Last fall, Madison School and Community Recreation honored the program for its commitment to providing after-school volunteers at several of its 10 sites.

“The students volunteer at the same time, at the same place, and with the same group of volunteers each week, says Megan Miller, program director. “Each team has a student leader who coordinates transportation and provides logistical support. Beyond volunteering, students participate in one reflection session and one educational workshop each semester. The intent is to get students thinking about the broader impact of their service and what it means to the community.”

“[The volunteers] have proven to be an asset to our program, and we hope we’re able to share with them as much as they are sharing with us.”

Dena Duncan, Three Gaits program director

Kat Michalski became a Badger Volunteer because she wanted to gain experience by being more involved in the community beyond the campus. Her top choice for a volunteer assignment was Three Gaits Therapeutic Horsemanship Center near Stoughton, where volunteers work with children and adults with disabilities, helping out during horseback riding classes by walking alongside the riders or leading the horses.

“I’ve been a horse person since I was 6 years old, and I’m also a nursing student, so it was very educational for me to volunteer in their therapeutic riding lessons. Every week I got to see the riders progress,” she says.

Michalski has served as a student leader and mentor, and has helped train the volunteers who had no prior experience about proper horse care. “All the volunteers learned and very quickly became more comfortable around the horses, so that definitely doesn’t limit them,” she says.

“This program is unlike any other that I’ve experienced,” she adds. “I loved being able to work with both the animals and the people.”

Three Gaits has partnered with Badger Volunteers from the beginning, and the center is looking forward to expanding its participation this spring. The volunteers have gained valuable firsthand experience in the benefits that equine-assisted activities and therapy offer to people with disabilities, says Dena Duncan, program director at Three Gaits.

“They are able to see the gains that the riders made throughout the semester and share in the joy of those accomplishments,” she says.

Duncan adds that many of the riders have asked to be paired with Badger Volunteers week after week. “[The volunteers] have proven to be an asset to our program, and we hope we’re able to share with them as much as they are sharing with us,” she says.

Badger Volunteer Shane Zhou says his experience helping the Benedictine Women of Madison with a prairie-restoration project at their Holy Wisdom Monastery was a lot of fun and well worth the effort. He worked on ecological restoration, trail maintenance, invasive-weed control, garden care and harvesting.

“Though I was reassigned to a different location,” he says, “I had an excellent time, and it just goes to show you that you can have fun and enjoy any site with Badger Volunteers.”