March is Student Appreciation Month at WGU. The Night Owl community is full of amazing students, alumni, and prospective students dedicated to jobs, families, volunteer work, hobbies—and, on top of it all, furthering their education. This month, we’re sharing a few stories of spectacular Night Owls who are contributing to their communities.
For WGU Indiana student Michelle Pratt, life is all about giving back.
Michelle—a graduate of WGU’s bachelor’s degree in nursing program now enrolled in the MSN—Leadership and Management program through WGU Indiana—is a mother of a daughter with special needs, a minister’s wife, a full-time nursing supervisor (and recent Manager of the Year) at a home-infusion company … and if that’s not enough, a volunteer many times over.
"I juggle pretty good, I guess," Michelle says of her ability to balance it all. "I have a wonderful husband who does it right alongside me."
What Michelle and her husband do alongside each other is, well, a lot. The church where her husband works is a major force for voluntarism in her small town, South Whitley, Indiana, and Michelle is at the helm of much of the work they do.
"Our congregation is pretty small, but we have a big reputation in town," she said.
For starters, Michelle helps run the church’s Day of Hope, held the Saturday before the start of the school year for the last three years. Volunteers round up grants from businesses and organizations which they then use to fill the needs of the town’s many low-income students—from backpacks and school supplies to free haircuts to nutritious breakfasts, lunches, and after-school snacks.
A typical Day of Hope sees about 160 backpacks handed out and about 200 children served with meals, haircuts if they need them, and other services. In a town of only about 1,800, in a school district where more than 10% of students receive some kind of assistance for meals and other needs, the Day of Hope makes a big impact.
In addition to Day of Hope, Michelle helps run the church’s "Tabitha’s Closet," a year-round organization that helps low-income families get household item and teams up with the local food bank to supply food.
And as a working healthcare professional with a WGU nursing education, she is able to provide special support and expertise to the organization’s work with single teen moms and moms-to-be. She works with these young women to make sure they have what they need for their babies—from car seats and cribs to diapers—as well as teaching them critical information about child care and nutrition.
In fact, it was partially this desire to give back that led to Michelle getting into healthcare in the first place.
"Our passion is for the town that we live in, and after studying the town it just kind of grew from there that healthcare was one of the areas that was lacking," she said. "I have always wanted to complete my degree and do more with it. I have a daughter who has special needs, and her care had begun to be more and more involved. In a way, I went back to school for her so I could learn how to take care of her but also be able to advance in my career and use that to reach out to my community."
She has found that the things she’s learned in her WGU nursing programs have played a key part in her volunteer work. In fact, she was able to make the work of assessing her town’s healthcare needs part of her BSN coursework.
"Going through the BSN program, a lot of the research that had to be done, I was able to use that research and do it on the town that I live in," she said. "That research then helped me in the volunteer work that I’m doing to then improve in those things that we’re doing in our town, helped me gather statistics. That was extremely helpful."
And, of course, a degree program that allows her to work on her schedule without sacrificing faculty support is critical to being able to fit voluntarism alongside being a busy working mom.
"The thing that I love the most is the flexibility of the program and having the mentor phone calls and reminders," she said. "Just being able to study at your own pace and do some of the work at your own pace and yet have that support of a mentor—it has been awesome."