By Laura Riley
“I feel like we are actually helping them and giving them an opportunity to have a better life.”
~ Rachel Losselyong ’15
In March 2012, toward the end of their first year at St. Norbert College, eight women decided they wanted to apply for Michels Hall Service Program for their sophomore year. They viewed the residence hall as a wonderful opportunity to not only live with their friends, but to do something good together. We were able to sit down with three of the former residents: Nicole Haupert ’15, Samantha Lensmire ’15, and Rachel Losselyong ’15.
To ensure a good fit, Michels Hall groups are interviewed prior to being partnered with an organization. The women were originally interested in Freedom House. Freedom House serves Brown County area families who find themselves in need of emergency housing. The organization forms step-by-step action plans for each family with end goals of permanent housing, employment, and stability. The women turned out to be a good fit for the organization and were the only suite partnered with Freedom House.
As the Freedom House suite, their primary duties involved providing relief to parents at the Freedom House. The women provided childcare while the parents participated in educational classes. Their volunteer efforts left an impact not only on the Freedom House residents, but on them as well. “We didn’t know what we were getting in to, but we got more out of it than we anticipated,” said Lensmire.
After a wonderful academic year in Michels Hall, the group knew for their junior year they would be splitting up based on housing options. Five of them knew without a doubt that they wanted to continue volunteering with Freedom House.
“It had become a routine and we knew it would feel weird not going. Every time after we volunteered, we felt refreshed. We were ready to do our homework and get things done. Every time we were there we saw the residents working toward a better life and we didn’t want to give that up,” said Lensmire.
One way they could continue their volunteer efforts was through an on-campus theme house. Theme Houses provide groups of students who have common educational endeavors or common co-curricular interests the opportunity to reside together in a living-learning residential environment. They allow students to purposefully define their on-campus living experience and to contribute to the greater campus community in accordance with their goals.
The group decided that whether their “Freedom House” theme house proposal was accepted or not, they would continue volunteering there. “We wanted to continue volunteering with the Freedom House because we are genuinely passionate about it. It would have been hard to leave, especially because we didn’t know who would be taking our place. When we discussed our volunteering with other Michels residents, we were able to share stories about impacting lives. Spending time there has been an eye-opening experience,” said Haupert.
The group’s proposal was accepted and they are currently residing in an on-campus house together. The group pictured (from left to right) includes: Rachel Losselyong, Nicole Haupert, Sara Dorow, Samantha Lensmire, and Meredith Moore. As second-year volunteers at Freedom House, they have been given more responsibilities. They are creating a training manual for future volunteers and are writing lesson plans for the childcare sessions.
“We have gotten to know the families and have a connection with them. Before leaving for the Freedom House, we used to sit and complain about how much homework we had, but going there has changed our perspective. I feel like we are actually helping them and giving them an opportunity to have a better life,” said Losselyong.
Since beginning their volunteer efforts just a year ago, the group has come to see the true impact they can have. If they don’t volunteer, childcare is not provided and the classes for the parents don’t happen. If the classes don’t happen, the families are unable to fulfill the goals of the program. The young women have gotten to know the families and they know the path they have taken to get where they are. They want to impact that path.
It is not surprising that their future plans involve giving back to their community. Haupert plans on attending medical school and wants to work at a children’s hospital. “It would be really cool to be able to impact other peoples’ lives through innovation and new medical procedures. After volunteering at Freedom House, I have a better understanding of where my future patients may come from. I don’t want to just be a doctor, I want to be understanding and gentle…a doctor who supports my patients.”
As future educators, Losselyong and Lensmire both are looking forward to impacting the lives of children every day. “Being at Freedom House has given us experience for becoming teachers. We have a better understanding of where our students may come from and the background they may have,” said Losselyong.
From Michels Hall residents to theme house volunteers, this lasting partnership is not only having an impact on Freedom House and their mission to serve homeless families in Brown County, it is also influencing these young women.