When the COVID-19 pandemic prevented education students from completing their practicum hours in local elementary schools last fall, Dr. Rea Kirk, a professor of special education at UW-Platteville, suggested students go out into the community to make a difference. Two senior education students, Jeanna Rupnow and Kali Oyen, decided to work together to give back and do something that would make a real impact on the community. They approached Kelly Jo Hadfield, Student Center coordinator and Platteville resident, and asked her what she wished to see in the community. Hadfield, who has two elementary-aged sons on the autism spectrum, gave Rupnow and Oyen the idea of playground communication boards, as her oldest, Jacob, is non-verbal and has limited ways of communicating with his peers.
Communication boards are a way to break the communication barrier between verbal and non-verbal students, giving those who are non-verbal the opportunity to point at pictures in order to create words and communicate with others. To bring the boards to life, Rupnow and Oyen started a GoFundMe campaign.
While the GoFundMe campaign gave them a start, it was the help of the 2020 Pioneers Day of Giving that made their vision a reality. Pioneers Day of Giving is held every October in honor of Founder’s Day. It's a day focused on fundraising to support student success in all its forms. With the help of funds from Pioneers Day of Giving, Rupnow and Oyen far surpassed their original goal for three communication boards in the Platteville area. They then reached out to more communities to inquire about their desire for communication boards on playgrounds in their areas. The result was 16 communication boards in four Wisconsin counties.
Oyen and Rupnow received an abundance of positive feedback and the gratitude of so many parents, educators, and community members from multiple communities.
“We are so grateful to have been able to make a difference in our community, and Pioneers Day of Giving helped make this happen,” said Rupnow.
Over $800,000 has been raised during the past five Pioneers Days of Giving. The 2021 Day of Giving begins on Thursday, Oct. 14. For more information visit go.uwplatt.edu/dayofgiving.