JOURNAL: Helping hands around the city

A pillar of the Jesuit philosophy is a commitment to community service. 

Marquette University has a long history of volunteering, including Midnight Run and the MU Backpack Program, and stresses the importance of helping people by teaching a Jesuit education. There are many of organizations on campus to get involved in, but there are also a variety of opportunities outside of campus. 

The Marquette chapter of Habitat for Humanity has been working with Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity for nearly a decade, who greatly appreciates what the students bring to the table. 

Marquette is a big supplier of our volunteers and what’s nice about the Marquette volunteers is they’re young, they’re eager and the kids really like them because they want to be there.”

— Jeri Kavanaugh

“One thing that the students really bring is a social justice focus,” Beth Van Gorp, director of volunteer services at Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity, says. “They’re very interested not just in learning how to do the construction or helping one family, but in really understanding the systems that affect the need for affordable housing.”

Jill Wood, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and president of the Marquette Habitat for Humanity group, explains how she’s constructed houses, volunteered in the ReStores and gone on Collegiate Challenge trips which taught her many important life skills, and the environment helped her understand why people volunteer.

“Many students don’t get the opportunity to help within the community that they live in for college, and it’s just a great feeling knowing that you’re helping your community members,” Wood says. 

Van Gorp explained how Habitat for Humanity is constantly searching for people to help with construction and running the ReStores, where they resell materials for home repairs. The organization also has a goal of 20 new homes and 40 home repairs for 2022.  

Habitat for Humanity is not the only organization that students have volunteered with over the years. Jeri Kavanaugh, volunteer coordinator with Community Advocates, recalls how Marquette students, specifically those in Greek life, have been involved with different organizations.   

Community Advocates include groups like the Milwaukee Women’s Shelter, a shelter for women, children and single parents, as well as Autumn West, an organization that seeks to help adults struggling with mental health issues. Volunteers with Community Advocates participate in a wide range of tasks such as serving food, organizing clothes and working with kids in the children’s program. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and pass a background check, but the organization welcomes new faces. This year they want to recruit more volunteers because numbers have been down due to COVID-19, according to Kavanaugh. 

“I would really like to see us ramp back up to where we were so that we can allow as many volunteers as we want and I would like to keep it COVID free and safe,” Kavanaugh says. “Because of COVID, every time you turn around someone could be out, so we really depend on volunteers in this type of situation.” 

COVID-19 has been an obstacle for many organizations throughout the city. Almost Home Cat Rescue MKE began in early 2021 and they have been doing their best while struggling through the pandemic. Melvina Kleverova Zilliox, co-founder and Marquette alum, has been searching for a space to open a shelter but, for now, the volunteers have been supporting them greatly.  

“We rely a lot on the goodness of people’s hearts to keep us supported, not only with foster families but also stocked with donations and supplies to help support the kitties,” Zilliox says.

The rescue is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that wants to “create a safe haven for all feral, stray and surrendered cats until their forever home is found” as written on their website. They’ve been searching for people who are willing to screen possible adoptive or foster families and plan events for the organization.  

“If there’s any other people out there that have any sort of business skills, we’re building a finance and a fundraising team, and certainly looking for people that have written grant applications in the past, anything like that would always be welcome, too,” Zilliox says.

There are plenty of opportunities throughout the city with a wide range of skills and interests for volunteers. If you can’t find something interesting, don’t be afraid to ask and offer your talents to these organizations. 

“If somebody comes to our website and doesn’t see anywhere they could fit in terms of what we have posted, they can always send us an email with their skills,” Zilliox says.

Students have a variety of chances to get involved and share their skills with these organizations.

This story was written by Izzy Fonfara Drewel. She can be reached at isabella.fonfaradrewel@marquette.edu.