United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region


Month: October, 2012

Volunteer Spotlight: WMU Students Lend a Hand

by Kierstin Nall

Students enjoying their time at Goodwill!

Students are an extremely valuable part of the community we live in. Now, I suppose I am a little biased since I am a student. But, as I approach graduation, I’m taking more notice of the active role students play in changing people’s lives for the better. At United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, we understand that students offer a lot. They are innovative, fresh thinking, and passionate about giving back.

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to bring together a great group of 24 students from Western Michigan University to participate in a volunteer opportunity at two local agencies, Heritage Senior Living Center and Goodwill Industries of Southwest Michigan. Students who visited Heritage enjoyed time at the organization’s “Harvest Festival” and got to know the residents through games, snacks and conversation. Goodwill asked students to help repaint areas of their warehouse, a task that allowed staff to stay focused on their mission.

These are just two examples.   There are others as well as great potential to do even more.  We need to make sure students understand the importance of engaging in our community. If we  give them the opportunity, they’ll make this a better place to live and work.

Kiersten Meales is Changing the Story

by Kellie Cochrane

Kiersten Meales seems like an ordinary Western Michigan University freshmen: she’s studying early childhood education, volunteering around campus, and is hoping to become a resident assistant in her future years.  What sets Kiersten apart, and drives her passion for helping others is her deep understanding of struggle.

Kiersten grew up in the foster care system after being removed from an abusive and neglectful home life at the age of six.  Then, her mother died when Kiersten was 11, shattering the young girl’s dream of ever going home. 

She moved in and out of different foster homes and three different residential facilities.  Throughout those tough years, Kiersten says school was her safe haven: “That’s how I got away, was school, I could be with friends and I always loved to learn.”  Kiersten eventually was able to move to Kalamazoo and live independently while finishing up high school.  Despite being completely on her own, she graduated a semester early with a 4.0 grade point average.  Now her dream is to become a teacher, so that she can be a positive light for students who need someone to look up to, as she once did.

Rather than let her difficult background bring her down, Kiersten uses it to fuel her generosity.  She knows how it feels to lack adequate clothing, so she took up knitting to make scarves, hats and other winter accessories for people in need.  Also, she became a first time United Way donor this year, giving $50 to the 2012 campaign.  That’s no small donation for any college student, and Kiersten’s contribution is especially touching given her story.

While she says that she’s proud of all her accomplishments and independence, Kiersten believes all children should have someone to rely on.  She is grateful for the resources and services she did have, such as, Starr Commonwealth, which  helped with her transition into college life, and the John Seita Scholars Program, a special scholarship for foster youth at WMU.

Kiersten says it pains her to think of others in our community struggling with the issues her family went through.  This is what motivates her to make a difference.   We’re so proud to have students like Kiersten in our region, inspiring us all with her commitment to bettering the lives of others.