by Professor Sarah DeArmond

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”  Dr. Seuss

UW Oshkosh SHRM group outside of the Dream Center in North Charleston.

During spring break, thirteen members of the UW Oshkosh Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (UWO SHRM) traveled to North Charleston, South Carolina to volunteer with the Dream Center. North Charleston is regularly named one of the ten most dangerous cities in America. This community is diverse and faces significant economic challenges. The Dream Center provides resources and opportunities to low income, homeless and under-served individuals and families living in North Charleston. The Center has a medical clinic, a clothes closet and food pantry. The Center also provides youth programs. One major program is Groundswell, where young people come in one night a week to eat dinner and participate in a variety of activities (e.g., basketball, arts and crafts, drama, video games).

Our students and I each completed 23 hours of service at the Dream Center. This amounts to 322 hours of service for the entire group. During that time, we painted three bathrooms; moved a variety of furniture and equipment; cleaned and reorganized the North Charleston High School Coaching Office; assembled weight lifting equipment; helped with intake for the medical clinic, clothes closet, and food pantry; delivered food to those in need; helped finish a home renovation; and assisted with Groundswell.

Touring the Gildan facility.

In addition to the service, our students visited Gildan, an international garment company, for a tour. We were able to arrange this tour thanks to the assistance of the Tri-County Human Resource Management Association, an affiliate of SHRM. The day of our visit, Gildan’s Human Resources Team welcomed us with breakfast. They arranged for us to have short presentations from most of their departments (e.g., logistics, marketing, finance, customer service, forecasting, etc.). Many of the presenters were Vice Presidents or Directors. We had over 10 presentations and were extremely excited and grateful that so many people at Gildan took time out of their busy schedules to meet with us! We also received a tour of their distribution center and each of us left with our very own Gildan t-shirt, pen, and t-shirt shaped sticky notes.

The trip was entirely planned by students. Lindsay Klug, a senior from Union Grove chaired the trip planning committee. Katie Sweeney, a senior from Madison was our primary contact with the Dream Center and Gildan. Tiffany Schmitt, Matthew Brey, Haley Rauch, Sally Meyer, and Jenna Voskuil rounded out the trip planning committee.

I am incredibly thankful that I accompanied these students on this trip. I was again reminded of the caliber of people in our student body. During this trip, we brought together thirteen people, the majority of who did not know each other well before this trip. They roomed together, ate together, worked together, and drove 20 hours in cars together. In so doing, these students received a trial-by-fire training in teamwork. They were put in a situation that demanded adaptability and patience. These students excelled in both. They were taken out of their comfort zones. Some of our students did intake at the medical clinic and worked with other volunteers to take down patients’ medical histories. Others actually had to assist in telling those in need of food or clothes that they had exhausted their benefits at the Center for the month. Five of our students delivered food to people in need. In some cases, the people were homeless. The students showed a great deal of empathy to the people they helped. They were all willing to do whatever was asked of them, and they were open to learning about others’ life experiences. Here are just a few of the students’ reflections on the experience and one of the notes we received from another volunteer at the Dream Center.

“Five of us baked biscuits, and then rode along to different houses to deliver them to an area burdened with poverty in North Charleston. It was an eye-opening experience to actually see and talk to the people who resided in the area. We even delivered biscuits to two men who lived under tarps in the woods. The experience made me realize how much I have to be grateful for, and it was heart wrenching to see how much the residents appreciated us bringing them biscuits.”
Tiffany Schmitt, Junior from Beaver Dam

“I loved meeting you and the team this past few days. What am amazing group you have. I think you’re one of the best to ever visit us. I hope your experience was awesome. Come back in summer and we will teach you to surf for sure. We have surfing, paddle boarding and kayaking all summer. You are always welcome, and bring the rest of the cheese heads with you!”
Rick Reed, unpaid Dream Center staff member

“My low this week was realizing the trust issues some of these kids [the kids attending Groundswell] are obviously growing up with. It was really eye opening considering how open we tend to be in Wisconsin. My high this week was having the opportunity to strengthen my relationships with everyone in SHRM. I felt like I really had no personal relationships with anyone in our group before the trip. I feel like I do now. Ultimately, this trip was a reminder that I do have the tools to succeed, and if I ever doubt myself, I should think of the people we worked with that don’t have the types of resources I have grown accustomed to having at my fingertips.”
Matthew Brey, Senior from Marinette

John and Nyjel on the court.

“I met Nyjel Lawton on the basketball court at the Dream Center in South Carolina. As soon as I met him, I could tell he was used to dominating the games at the Center. I tried to challenge Nyjel in front of his peers to gain his respect. Nyjel and I became friends on the court. We exchanged contact information, and Nyjel has contacted me several times since. He has texted me to let me know his stats for games. His team won a tournament this past weekend and he scored 10 points in the championship game. I played two years of college basketball and currently coach. I hope I might be able to act as a mentor to Nyjel while he is developing as a player. I am very thankful for the opportunity to develop a long lasting friendship with a unique character like Nyjel.”
John Vermeern, Senior from Appleton

“This was my third volunteer trip with SHRM and each year I have learned something new about myself. This trip taught me that everything I do makes a difference even if it is filing paperwork, painting a bathroom, or having a conversation. Providing a small service to an individual can take little of your energy but have a huge impact on someone’s life. Ben, the leader of Groundswell, made a huge impact on me during this trip. He said that as long as a student wanted to come to youth group, he would drive anywhere to pick them up. Just by driving a few extra miles he had an impact on someone’s life. I am sad that this was my last opportunity to go on a spring break trip with SHRM but it was an amazing one to end with. I truly believe I am a better person, leader, and friend because of my experiences on these trips and I hope everyone gets to have an experience like this at least once in their college career!”
Katie Sweeney, Senior from Madison

“Getting to partake in the volunteer trip to Charleston was a phenomenal experience for me. Not only did we all get to bond as a group, we impacted a community across state borders. We became aware of what the social/economic reality is in so many communities in our country. The experience was invaluable. Working at the Dream Center for a week needs neither accolades nor rewards; knowing we touched people’s lives is a great reward in and of itself.”
Kelsea Raskiewicz, Junior from Kewaskum

“This trip has truly been life changing for me. I have been on this kind of trip before and I do lots of volunteering; however, this experience has been the most touching of them all. I knew that areas like North Charleston existed, but I had never gotten the opportunity to experience them first hand. I have a much larger appreciation for the life I have. I found great pride while watching the rest of my peers, who may have never done anything like this before, transform their views on life and become so dedicated and passionate about the work we were doing at the Dream Center. I can only hope that everyone takes time throughout their life to help serve those who are in need.”
Amber Baugnet, Senior from Townsend

I think the trip made a lasting impact on all of us. Many of us are sad for it to be over, but we are certainly glad that we had the opportunity to do this! We are thankful for the financial support of the Fox Valley Chapter of SHRM, the Oshkosh Chapter of SHRM, the College of Business and Benvenuto’s.  This trip would not have been possible without it!