NIU Cares provides service around DeKalb


Madelaine Vikse

NIU Cares volunteers at the DeKalb County Community Garden lift wooden boards to move them to a different location. (Madelaine Vikse | Northern Star)

By Michael Mollsen, Written Managing Editor

DeKALB – The comforting warmth of the sun helped to fuel the work of the NIU Cares volunteers, but the ear-to-ear smiles are what shined the most during the day of service.

The NIU Cares Day of Service is a campus-wide event that happens in April. The event brings together a group of volunteer students, faculty, staff and alumni to go out and help local community and business projects.

This year in particular included six separate volunteering locations: Kishwaukee YMCA, Elder Care Services, Jefferson Elementary, DeKalb Public Library, Dolce Vita/Northwestern Community Garden and the New Hope Missionary Baptists Church.

Alea Akers, student involvement graduate assistant in higher education and student affairs, who helped in organizing the event said that the day of service is important for the local community.

“This is really an event for us to get to celebrate our connections with the community, obviously, being in DeKalb, we get a lot of support from the local community,” Akers said. “It’s really a way for us to give back and say thank you for all that they have done for us.”

Volunteers during the day of service provided all sorts of help including cleaning up areas, landscaping, painting and reading to children.

Erna Haskovic, a sophomore marketing major, said she volunteered for religious reasons.

“I’m Muslim, and today’s the first day of Eid Mubarak, so I just kind of wanted to do a good deed and volunteer and it’s good for the community,” Haskovic said.

Other volunteers like Madelyn Gluck, a junior medical lab science major, were there for the perks.

“I was like this kind of sounds fun, free shirts and it looks good on my resume so I was like, okay let’s do it.” Gluck said.

Teams of volunteers were led by site leaders who helped to direct the services. Joy Mitchell, director of student conduct, led her team to clear weeds, spread mulch and plant at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church’s garden.

“As an employee and also as an alumni of NIU, I think it is important to volunteer, and also just being in the community that I work in, giving back to the community and also being able to engage with students,” Mitchell said. “That’s important for me.”

Roy Nicholson, a volunteer and member of the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, explained that the church’s garden produces enough to supply their pantry, New Hope Food Pantry, with all sorts of fruits and vegetables including beans, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. With the help of NIU cares, the volunteers were able to make the garden usable again.

“It looks beautiful right now, we can plant and grow whatever we want right now,” Nicholson said. “This is good. This is very good.”

At the DeKalb Public Library, Danielle Casali, an artist/muralist from St. Charles, led volunteers in creating mosaics.

The mosaics were made of repurposed glass, the volunteers cut the pieces and set them with grout to create the multi-colored art works.

“The mosaics are going to be permanently adhered to the back of City Hall within a larger mural design that covers the entire wall,” Casali said. “We’re doing about 25% of the wall in mosaic, about 25% of the wall in paint and that will be spread out over the entire wall as if it’s like a large composition to fill the whole space.”

The Dolce Vita/Northwestern Community Garden was another location that received help at its garden. The garden provides produce to the community including organic berries and vegetables. Volunteer groups put in the work of cleaning the garden, planting and working in the green house.

Lori Brown, the community garden manager, said that the community service aspect of the project is important but so is the outdoor experience.

“The most important thing aside from eating, of course, is for people to get their hands in the dirt,” Brown said.“They just feel such a connection and I honest to goodness, everybody’s mood just levels up, doesn’t it?”

To see more pictures of the event go to the Northern Star website.