Aurora University students speak out and give back
BY WENDY ALTSCHULER For Sun-Times Media
Aurora University (AU), a four-year, non-profit, independent, liberal arts university, has a long-standing tradition of implementing service and volunteer programs as part of the education ethos. Students working toward bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees will be able to pad their resumes, but what’s more, they’ll be able to walk away with life-changing, enriching and meaningful experiences.
“I believe acts of random kindness, no matter how small, can make the world a better place,” said Linda Boehm, a freshman marketing major at Aurora University. “We are all human and we all fall down but it’s a lot easier to get up when you have a helping hand.”
Students can be involved in various university programs such as: Aurora University Animal Rights Organization, Aurora University Eco Club, Aurora University Human Rights Organization or Veterans and Military Service Association, to name a few.
“In the last four years, AU has given me so much that I want to represent them and give back,” said Rafael Armenta, a senior math major at Aurora University.
A fantastic resource for students at AU, and the nucleus of the university’s service, leadership studies and campus ministries, is the Wackerlin Center for Faith and Action, which aims to provide the backdrop for students to find value in their lives and careers through “serving, leading and believing.” Volunteer opportunities abound, which allow students to be involved in the community, make solid friendships with peers and help others in the process.
“I am constantly amazed at the dedication and service of my fellow students and I am proud of our (volunteer) efforts; we’re constantly working as a team and creating loads of fun along the way,” said Kayle Rieger, a senior art major at Aurora University.
Recently, a partnership was made between AU and Fox Valley United Way: Volunteer Fox Valley. Community members and AU students, supported by the Wackerlin Center for Faith and Action, are able to find volunteer opportunities online that are matched to their specific interests, goals and abilities.
“The Wackerlin Center’s commitment to learning through serving is at the heart of this collaboration with the Fox Valley United Way,” said Ted Parge, executive vice president of Aurora University. “Our participation in Volunteer Fox Valley is a wonderful way to advance our mission of offering students experiences in the areas of volunteerism, leadership and putting their faith into action.”
An example of service learning that students are currently involved in is the Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge. There are 19 AU students and one AU faculty member working toward eradicating substandard poverty housing.
“There has been a growing interest amongst students at AU to go out and serve others,” said Kris Johnson, director of student leadership at Aurora University. “This progression closely aligns with the mission statement of AU, which is to be ‘an inclusive community dedicated to the transformative power of learning’ and we are most often transformed when we serve.”
This spring break mission trip, said Johnson, is designed to give students a more global perspective of their world and teach them that their skills and talents are needed. Volunteering builds a sense of community and a connection to something bigger; it helps students see the world as a more sundry place.
“My greatest hope is that students will continue to volunteer and plug themselves into making this world better and I am so excited that they have chosen to give back instead of kick back during their spring break,” Johnson said. “They actually paid to go on this trip and together they are putting in roughly 540 hours in rehabbing a house for Habitat for Humanity.”
Nicole Peters, a senior art major at AU, understands personally the struggles that lower income families go through to own a home, which makes the volunteer opportunity through Habitat for Humanity all the more meaningful.
“As a student of AU, I am grateful to be apart of a school that stands by their mission while providing students with the opportunity to gain more than an education in the classroom, but also through experience in the community,” Peters said. “Being able to give back to the world and help others is my calling in life and it feels good to be apart of a group of kind-hearted people that are also willing to do the same.”
“It’s amazing how inspiration and appreciation can come from a hammer, a nail and a group of 20 strangers,” said Yadira Valerio, a junior elementary education major at Aurora University.
AU encourages and motivates students to make a commitment to improve their communities. The added benefit, of course, is that students discover, grow and develop valuable skills, cultivating a strong sense of self and empowerment.
“This opportunity provides the chance to connect and build relationships with like minded servant leaders from AU as we give of our time to create positive change for those in need,” said Cody Fuerst, a senior psychology major at Aurora University. “As we learn the basics of home improvement, we learn the difference it makes for those in need of a quality and affordable home. Being of service to others in a way that is engaging, fun and educational is inspiring.”
Emily Kearns, a freshman health science major at AU said, “Being a part of this group and going on this trip to help build a house for those in need has made me realize that we should never take what we have for granted. Building this home for a grateful family has taught me that even the smallest act of kindness can do great things.”