Students partner with Orion Group Home youth

April 28, 2016
Students working with Orion youth
Students working with Orion youth

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Seven freshman students at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and five youth from Orion Family Services Group Home in Platteville planted more than 200 trees and spread mulch at Wyalusing State Park in Wyalusing, Wisconsin, on April 23, as a collaborative community service project.

The UW-Platteville students are members of UW-Platteville’s Criminal Justice Living Learning Community, which was designed to enhance intellectual and personal development for first-year criminal justice and forensic investigation students. UW-Platteville faculty members who led the project included Dr. Amy Nemmetz, assistant professor of criminal justice, and Matt Michaels, adjunct professor of criminal justice.

UW-Platteville students who participated in the service project included: Ashton Nelson, Haley Schwister, Bret Reuter, Emily Grunewald, Alex Royse, Nicholas Drott and Liz Donovan.

The Orion Family Services Group Home in Platteville offers troubled adolescents a caring, supportive living environment and treatment programs based on behavior management and accountability, combined with counseling.

The purpose of the project was two-fold. First, it gave the participants an opportunity to give back to the community by making improvements at the state park. Second, it gave the UW-Platteville students an opportunity to talk about college with the youth from the Orion Group Home.

“The Criminal Justice Living Learning Community students were excited to provide advice to help the juveniles plan for post high school education, including advice about staying ahead of academic deadlines, selecting friend groups wisely and getting involved in clubs and organizations,” said Nemmetz.

The day began with a presentation from Chad Breuer, property supervisor at Wyalusing State Park and former sheriff’s deputy, about his career path. Following, the students divided into groups to jump into the tasks for the day: digging holes, setting the trees, adding mulch and watering. The students then ended the day by coming together for lunch in the early afternoon. 

“I thought this would be a great way for the juveniles to talk with freshman criminal justice students about college while also engaging in a service project,” said Nemmetz. “Earth Day was April 22, so we thought it would be a perfect time. My favorite part of this activity was watching the Orion teens and the young adults chat, learn and laugh together while also making a difference for our state park. I’m looking forward to planning more activities between our criminal justice students and the great juveniles and staff at Orion. We truly have so much to learn from one another; our college students select the criminal justice or forensic investigation field because they want to help those in the system."

“It is really important to be able to do events like this to connect with others,” said Nick Drott, a criminal justice major from Medford, Wisconsin. “I was able to meet and talk in great length with two of the youth. Listening to their stories and answering questions about college and life to come impacted me as much as it impacted them.”

“The part of the Wyalusing trip I enjoyed the most was the satisfaction that I was making a difference in people’s lives,” said Haley Schwister, a criminal justice major from Appleton, Wisconsin.

“Volunteers are extremely important to our state parks program,” said Breuer. “The work that volunteers – like the students and staff from UW-Platteville – perform allows us to make improvements and maintain facilities that we never would have on our own. Last year, volunteers contributed more than a 140,000 volunteer hours to the state park system.”

“Orion is dedicated to healing the mind and spirit of children and families,” said Nicole Hamilton, program manager of Orion. “Healing happens when we enhance positive relationships through events within the community. Engaging Orion residents with this service project along with the criminal justice students gives Orion youth the opportunity to engage in positive relationship building and discuss college and career opportunities. At the same time, residents are able to give back to the community.”

Students in UW-Platteville’s Criminal Justice Living Learning Community take a common course, Introduction to Criminal Justice, taught by Nemmetz. As members of the LLC, they have the chance to participate in training and seminars facilitated by criminal justice professionals, attend career exploration field trips, participate in civic engagement projects, critically reflect upon the criminal justice field via guided discussions, and network with criminal justice professionals, faculty and staff outside the classroom.

The volunteer project at the state park was paid for with funds from the UW-Platteville Criminal Justice Living Learning Community.

As UW-Platteville pursues its vision of being recognized as the leading student-focused university for its success in achieving excellence, creating opportunities, and empowering each individual, it is guided by four strategic planning priorities. The work with students from Orion Family Services Group Home aligns with fostering a community of achievement and respect and enriching the tri-states.

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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