Just a block South of our beautiful little campus, there is a house dedicated to serving our beautiful little town. From animals to old folks, from the environment to education, and from Grinnell College to the Grinnell community, the ladies who live at 1023 Park Street, or Volunteer House, have come together in the name of service.
For Yesenia Ayala, Nina Galanter, Monica Loza (all ’18), Emily Adam, Monica Knaack, Nele Loecher, Hannah Pham, and Rebecca Wong (all ’17), community service is more than just a resume builder.
“[We wanted] to create a space where there are volunteers from various different organizations where we can live together, exchange our experiences, plan projects together,” Loecher said. The impetus behind applying for a volunteer-based project house was “to become a place on campus where we can direct people who want to volunteer to various organizations and where we can create more buzz for our organizations,” Loecher added.
Each of the ladies in Volunteer House has their own interests and organizations in which they are active. For instance, Loza works with Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA), a statewide endeavor to help families in the community apply for governmental aid.
“We have these events where as a house we volunteer together, even though we each have our own different organizations. It helps us to branch out to different areas of the community that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” Loza said.
MICA also has a program that offers food to those in need. Some of the donations come from the Food Recovery Network, an on-campus group of which Galanter is a part. It recovers unused food from the dining hall and grocery stores around town and distributes it to the community.
Last week Volunteer House sponsored the Community Meal at Davis Elementary School. Almost 60 people attended and extra meals were sent home to those who needed them.
“When we go out there and we distribute food to people and they tell you that with this food they don’t have to choose between paying off the rent [and] buying food,” Wong said, “it’s really meaningful and empowering to hear those things and to know that you are making a difference and to see that firsthand.”
Ayala volunteers for a non-profit organization that mentors Latino families to promote the value of higher education. For her work developing a curriculum that aims to achieve this goal, she was one of 11 chosen among over 1100 nominees with the White House Champion of Change for Young Women Empowering Communities award.
President Obama will present the honor to her next week in Washington, DC.
“[Volunteering] makes a difference when it comes to your whole Grinnell experience. It’s an opportunity to get off campus and really engage in the community,” Ayala said.
Whether the gratitude is on an individual or a national level, the value of the work is the same.
“We have a group that’s ready to work in the community or if any of the organizations need people to step up, we can do that,” Adam said.
She works with the Grinnell Health Corps and was recently in Nicaragua with the Global Brigades, a group that brings medical methodology to developing countries.
Volunteer House itself is comprised of three doubles and two singles, comfortably housing its eight inhabitants and one cat, Atira, who Loecher adopted from Poweshiek Animal League Shelter (PALS). PALS is the group that often brings dogs on campus during finals to help diffuse some of the stress so often peaking that week. Knaack, who also works with PALS, enjoys volunteering at the Mayflower Home, the independent and assisted living homes for the elderly in Grinnell.
Students can expect to see members from the Volunteer House tabling outside the Dining Hall on Wednesdays in the next few weeks to promote service opportunities at Grinnell.
“It’s been more of a supportive role so far,” Wong said of Volunteer House’s presence in the community. “Right now it’s helping other groups set up and letting others know what is out there.”
A complete list of the groups can be found in the Center for Careers, Life, and Service.