By JiJi Russell, APUS Wellness Program Manager
The enthusiastic response from APUS faculty to the end-of-year “Service Challenge,” offered insight into the solid culture of service within our ranks. As part of the APUS Wellness Program, the Challenge grew out of a trend within workplace wellness circles that point to the ability for one to connect with his or her purpose as a key ingredient of well-being. Add that to a growing body of research showing the positive impact of selfless service and volunteer work on personal health and well-being, and a challenge was born. While faculty typically account for, at most, 25% of participation levels in our programs, they comprised nearly 50% of Challenge participants during the last quarter of 2016. Among the 30 who participated, three shared their experiences for this article.
Christy Franklin, Associate Professor, STEM, donates her holiday time to the Manna House in Huntsville, Ala. Each Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, Franklin and her husband deliver food to people who cannot easily get out of their homes due to disability. Recipients include military veterans, a further motivation since her father, brothers, and husband all have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The drive to service comes as a pragmatic exercise for Franklin: “I have my little house; I have a job that I love to do; I have a bed to sleep in, food to eat. My kids are grown. Why not give back? How much do you need?” she asked. “It’s the right thing to do. I came from a military family; service is what we do.”
Kimberlee Ratliff, Program Director, Education, revealed that she considers her volunteer service part of her own, personal self-care. “It’s something that’s energizing,” she said. “It feels like I’m contributing. You really learn from those whom you’re helping, too. There are intrinsic rewards.”
Ratliff, a counselor and counselor-educator, also comes from a military family. Her husband retired in 2015, and along with their sons, the family laid wreaths last December for the national Wreaths Across America effort, a long-time APUS charitable cause. She was heartened to see her 8- and 14-year-old sons’ connection and moment of “wow, these [military veterans] have really sacrificed for us,” she said.
Cali Morrison, Director, Alternative Learning, spends an hour weekly during the school year mentoring a K-12 student, and has been matched with several through the “Thrive” program in Bozeman, Mont. since 2001. During that time, she has seen two young women from elementary school all the way through high school graduation.
“With each match, I have learned something new – a skill or simply patience and understanding,” Morrison said. “I look forward to that hour each week!” Last November, she also volunteered at the 2016 Girls for a Chance conference as a presenter on goal setting. She described the conference as an opportunity to engage with young women, help them differentiate between dreams and goals, and set up steps toward achievement. “I am encouraged by the candor, drive, and hope I see in these young women,” she added.
In all, 75 faculty and staff Challenge participants donated more than 100 hours of community service to organizations of their choice in late 2016. As a culminating gesture, three charitable organizations were selected, based on a vote by all participants, to receive a $500 donation from the APUS Wellness Program. Dr. Wally Boston, CEO of APUS parent American Public Education, Inc., also matched these funds in order to provide three $1,000 donations to the Boys and Girls Club of the Eastern Panhandle, Boulder Crest Retreat and Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County, West Va. Hats off to all who gave their time in service to the causes that matter most to them!