Empowering Volunteers: navigating challenges and embracing growth

A conversation about Social Justice, Hope and Dignity.

Written by Volunteer Coordinator, Brooke Graham

Romelle Nelson posing for a photo at Wellspring.

In Michels Hall at St. Norbert College, Romelle Nelson spoke to thirty students about her journey of resilience and transformation, sparking a discussion on hope, dignity, and the significant influence of social justice. “I just want to help others,” Romelle stated, summarizing the focus of a workshop designed to inspire and educate.

Romelle, a volunteer at St. John’s Ministries and a former guest, opened up about her struggles with addiction and homelessness, providing a testament to the power of determination and the possibility of change. Her story, documented in a previous blog post, serves as a beacon of inspiration for those facing adversity.

Gracie Rohr, Residential Service Organizer

The workshop, conducted as part of St. Norbert College’s service learning program, drew students committed to making a difference. These students dedicate 30 hours of their school year to volunteer at community partner organizations and attend three workshops annually to enhance their understanding of social justice. Gracie Rohr, Residential Service Organizer for the Sturzl Center on campus and St. John’s Ministries volunteer, said “The purpose of our social justice workshops… is to prepare our Michels students for service and social justice issues in the Greater Green Bay area. We follow the PARE model for preparation, action, reflection, and evaluation. This allows us to help our students navigate their service and understand their impact on the community. We want our students to better understand the [people] they are serving and gain confidence in their skills.”

Romelle and I engaged the students in a dialogue that extended beyond the concept of volunteering within vulnerable populations, offering practical insights for their roles as volunteers in the community. We discussed things that may hinder us in our volunteering, such as the fear of making mistakes, emphasizing the transformative power of learning from challenging experiences. The importance of asking for help emerged as a recurring theme, underlining the collaborative spirit required to address societal issues effectively.

The workshop aimed to bridge the gap between theory and practice, imparting valuable lessons that students could apply directly in their volunteer work. Recognizing that social justice requires more than just theoretical knowledge, the conversation encouraged a hands-on approach, urging students to step out of their comfort zones and actively contribute to positive change.

One key takeaway was the acknowledgment that volunteering is a journey fraught with uncertainties, and mistakes are inevitable. However, it is through these mistakes that profound learning occurs, fostering personal growth and a deeper understanding of the issues faced by marginalized communities.

Gracie elaborated, “One of my favorite quotes from Romelle was: ‘The staff showed me love when I no longer had any love for myself left.’ This showed me and our students the impact we can make in our service.”

Brooke and Romelle talking with St. Norbert College students.

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