Celebrating MLK Day of Service with Community-Minded Night Owls

Between full-time school, work, and personal responsibilities, Night Owls' schedules can fill up rather quickly. We recognize how busy you are and are impressed with your efforts to stay involved with your communities, making service a priority.

Martin Luther King Day is on the third Monday of January. For some it means a day off from work and school, but for all of us, it provides an opportunity to reflect on the role we play in making our communities a better place. The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service was created to encourage Americans to focus the day around volunteer service, in honor of Dr. King. There are many ways to serve and great organizations to work through, but here are a few ways WGU students are choosing to serve.

Lisa Whitney, B.S. Nursing 
When Lisa’s best friend and fellow nurse of more than 20 years was killed by her spouse in January of 2015, she joined the fight against domestic abuse. Lisa created a scholarship fund to support women coming out of a similar situation, women who desired an education and career to gain their independence. To start the fund, she organized a 5K fund-raising run with help from her daughter and some friends and held their first race on October 3, 2015, in Alma, Michigan. The event was a huge success. Seventy-five runners registered, and 118 actually showed up. Seeing how successful the first event was, Lisa’s daughter and friends suggested that she develop a nonprofit organization, and that is when the B.E. Strong RUN Foundation was formed.

The B.E. Strong RUN Foundation has since hosted two other small fund-raisers, with plans for many more. Through research and a partnership with local women’s aid services, the foundation provides counseling, runs a local shelter, and provides preventative education, support, and counseling for three counties. 65% of the raised proceeds go directly to the scholarship fund, and once it reaches a set amount, it will pay out a yearly scholarship. The remaining proceeds go to women’s aid services and provides food for the shelter, and 5% of the funds go into a college fund for Brenda’s grandson, himself a victim of domestic violence whom she was helping to support. Lisa is also working with the education director of Mid-Michigan Health to put together a seminar on domestic violence with CE credits for nurses.

Kirsten Lapid, B.S. Nursing 
Kirsten decided on a career in nursing and began looking for volunteer opportunities that would give her hospital experience and patient contact. She discovered Mealtime Mates, a program offered through Cedars-Sinai, and hit the ground running. The program was much more than she expected and provided her hands-on interaction with patients and employees as she earned her RN. Volunteers with the Mealtime Mates Program are trained to help patients consume a better diet. They visit the patients for all three meals of the day to set up their meal trays and provide any feeding assistance that is needed. The program not only provides the patients with company, but also prevents many from relying on tube feedings.

“The Mealtime Mates Program is so immersive and provides volunteers a glimpse into the work of all employees on the floor,” Kirsten said. “Education is important and crucial to become a practicing nurse, but volunteering has reminded me of why I got into the profession in the first place. The experience has been very grounding.”

Kirsten says her experience with the Mealtime Mates Program has provided her with deeper empathy and respect for everyone working in the hospital. She began WGU's RN-to-BSN program in August 2015 and plans to become a women’s health nurse practitioner.

Joshua Schwartz, MBA 
While completing his associate’s degree at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, Joshua Schwartz involved himself in extracurricular activities as much as his schedule would allow. He worked with a team to organize a 12-hour Relay for Life night walk to raise money for cancer research on the school’s campus with huge success. In over three months, Joshua and his team raised $28,000 for the American Cancer Society. But he didn’t stop there.

The school’s president noticed, made Joshua her executive assistant, and tasked him with creating an effective green office initiative that would save the school money. The school had already established a climate council in early 2000 to come up with, and implement, sustainable practices. The council made a lot of changes around the school. Solar panels and wind turbines were strategically placed around campus, special parking passes are now given to those with an electric car, and oil used in the culinary arts department is recycled and re-used for electricity.

Joshua looked for successful sustainability examples to help him develop a system for MCCC and worked closely with Harvard’s sustainability office to learn their system. He created a business plan and chaired a green office committee, strategically selecting members based on their experience and positions within the university, including representatives from every college. Establishing a partnership with Office Depot was the next step to becoming a green-friendly school. In July 2014, an email was sent to all departments letting them know any supplies they order through a national office-supply chain must be green approved. After some time, Joshua began pushing the store chain for regular savings reports on each department, and as they began to see how much money was being saved, the chain itself created a brand-new department for their own green initiative.

As a result of the initiative, MCCC saved $20,000 in the first year and is now a two-time recipient of the Climate Leadership Award from Second Nature, a nonprofit organization. The school’s faculty are currently in the process of developing a green classroom.


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