NIU students care for Earth, community during annual event

Northern Illinois University sophomore Keira Donnamario (left) and senior Alexis Isely work Saturday in the garden at DeKalb resident Mary Lu Stracker’s home during NIU Cares Day.


DeKALB – Alexis Isely never gets tired of seeing the faces of those she helps on NIU Cares Day.

This year, the Northern Illinois University senior raked leaves and worked in the garden at the home of DeKalb resident Mary Lu Stracker. Isely was one of about 900 students who volunteered Saturday morning at
61 local nonprofits and private residences as part of the 12th annual event, during which students help garden, pick up trash and perform other tasks as needed.

“They’re always so grateful and appreciative,” Isely said. “It’s really nice to help the community, and it gives you a sense of pride in your school. I like to support the community that supports us.”

Stracker was impressed with Isely and her group from Sigma Alpha Iota, an international women’s music fraternity. Stracker said it’s getting harder for her and her husband to keep up with their yard work, so the students really make a difference.

“They do a great job. These kids are excellent, and they’re having a good time,” she said. “It makes me feel good, and I’m happy to get this done. They work together so well, and I hardly have to give them any directions.”

NIU senior Eric Morales washes a resident’s car at Oak Crest Retirement Center during NIU Cares Day. 

Students are grouped into teams and assigned to sites where they volunteer for three hours. Jennifer Van Ewyk, NIU Cares Day coordinator, said many students volunteer with their campus organizations, so it’s a good way for them to earn service hours while benefiting their community.

“Students sometimes forget they have the ability to make a difference, and this shows them that they can give up a few hours of time and really make a difference to someone,” she said.
“It helps them connect with the DeKalb community that they call home for four years.”

Senior Erick Morales washed Oak Crest Retirement Center resident Ann Werhane’s car. He said he’s volunteered at NIU Cares Day before and always enjoys helping people.

“Usually we do a lot of great things. There are a lot of things that need to get done that haven’t been touched,” he said. “The residents are appreciative of our work, and I like when people appreciate my work.”

Werhane was appreciative. She said Morales and his Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers were doing a “wonderful” job.

“They’re being very thorough. It’s good to see young people helping out the old folks,” she said.

NIU College of Business employee Adam Neal was the project site leader at the Kishwaukee Family YMCA. He said he always looks forward to this day, so students understand the value of giving back to their communities.

“It’s important for the students to know that there are needs bigger than themselves,” he said. “They should think about the needs of others, and this helps put things into perspective.”

Delta Gamma members Elizabeth Woywod (left) and Cynthia Beltran shovel mulch at the Kishwaukee Family YMCA during NIU Cares Day. 

Junior Jennifer Calderon was volunteering at the YMCA with NIU Cares Day for the first time. She said that although she was required to be there by her sorority, Delta Gamma, she was enjoying spending time with her friends while helping others.

“It’s nice to be able to actually do something instead of just saying we should be doing something. This is where we live now, and it’s important to care about our temporary home,” she said.

Students weren’t the only volunteers. NIU alumni and staff also participated, including acting President Lisa Freeman. She was picking up trash in a parking lot in downtown DeKalb, and said in a statement that she looks forward to the event every year.

“It is always a joy to see our students learning the value of public service by reaching out to help so many different facets of DeKalb and Sycamore,” Freeman said. “It speaks to the strong bond that NIU shares with the community we call home.”

Story courtesy of the Daily Chronicle