Record number of UW-Madison students join Badger Volunteers

Fall 2015 will see more UW-Madison students making a difference in their community through volunteering than ever before.

Over 780 students registered for Badger Volunteers, UW-Madison’s largest student volunteer program, for the fall 2015 semester. This is the program’s largest-ever cohort. These volunteers will serve in teams of fellow students at the same community partner site at the same time once every week for the entire semester.

Last year, Badger Volunteers students provided over 37,600 combined hours of service to Madison-area nonprofits, municipalities and schools.

“Volunteering made me see Madison, especially when I was a freshman, as a broader city beyond the university,” said Kelsey Beuning, now a senior and a Badger Volunteers veteran. “Campus really can be a bubble, but volunteering in the community helped put everything in perspective.”

Establishing semester-long volunteer relationships between students and community nonprofits has made Badger Volunteers a huge success among both students and nonprofits. The program has nearly doubled in size in just the last three years.

The program has become so popular that when pre-registration for returning volunteers opened this year at midnight, nearly 100 spots were claimed before the sun was even up.

“We have a student population at UW-Madison that’s eager to make a difference,” Badger Volunteers Director Steph Harrill said. “Every year that we add more spots, students fill them.”

The Morgridge Center for Public Service at UW-Madison launched the Badger Volunteers program in 2008 with just 40 students and four community partners. Today, over 80 nonprofits and local municipalities host Badger Volunteers teams throughout the year.

“I wasn’t super excited about school when I was entering college. But volunteering broke up the routine and made me feel like I was doing something meaningful while enjoying myself, so I search for more opportunities,” said junior Carol Silva, who will volunteer this semester with Red Caboose After School at Marquette Elementary. “It helped me find my place in the community.”

Opportunities with Badger Volunteers fall into three categories: education, sustainability and public health. Specific opportunities range from planting and harvesting at local food pantry gardens, to home chore programs with Madison-area elderly, to tutoring at elementary schools and community centers.

And whatever the volunteer task or community partner, the Badger Volunteers program emphasizes reciprocal relationships as a core value.

“Our students are providing a valuable service to their community partner, but they are also gaining a lot in return.” Badger Volunteers Coordinator Kari Temkin said. “This is a partnership with the community. Not the university coming in imagining we know best.”

Badger Volunteers also aims to make volunteering as accessible as possible for students. The program provides transportation for students working with community partner sites beyond walking, biking or busing distance from campus.

“We work to remove as many barriers as possible for students to volunteer off campus,” Harrill said. “Providing transportation helps a lot of students who otherwise wouldn’t have a way to connect with parts of their Madison community. And we see every year how valuable that opportunity is for UW students.”