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For the past 10 years Ally Initiatives at University of Wisconsin-Stout has partnered with the Dunn County Aging and Disability Resource Center to offer the fall Yard Cleanup.
This year 56 UW-Stout students raked 15 yards in Menomonie.
“In a place like Menomonie, it is common that neighbors help neighbors,” said Mary McManus, director of Ally Initiatives.
Yards can become too cumbersome for some senior citizens, and extra help is required. “In these cases the students and the university are happy to be the neighbors who can lend a helping hand, or rake,” McManus said.
Having their lawns raked often gives senior citizens a boost.
“The senior citizens are a proud group of people, and keeping a tidy home and yard is important to them,” said Bobbette Tunnyhill, Senior Nutrition Program coordinator at the Dunn County Aging and Disability Resource Center. “(The Yard Cleanup) helps them maintain their independence and preserves their self-esteem.”
Anyone 60 and older or disabled who still lives at home but is unable to complete outdoor work is eligible for the Yard Cleanup.
The Meals on Wheels program raises the most awareness about which homes are best suited for assistance. “We get to know, by delivering meals, who the home-bound senior citizens are and who wants and needs help,” added Tunnyhill.
The service also offers senior citizens a chance to connect with college students.
“The home-bound participants enjoy the students and a conversation with a young person. “(Seniors) often buy soda and cookies to share with the students,” Tunnyhill said.
UW-Stout students see the program as a way to invest in the Menomonie community.
“It’s great to give back to the community because the community gives so much to us,” said Caleb Ahles, of Lino Lakes, Minn., a construction major and StoutReach coordinator for Ally Initiatives. “The fall Yard Cleanup gives us a chance to interact in a fun, helpful and personal level with seniors in the community.”
Some student volunteers find raking leaves an adventure. “It was an exhilarating experience for many international students,” noted GaoNhia Vang, of Stevens Point, graduate assistant for the Office of International Education.
“For them raking leaves is a new experience, since many come from regions of the world where fall leaves are not a seasonal occurrence.”
The leaves raked by students are turned into a resource. The Menomonie Street Department picks up the bagged leaves and deposits them at the city landfill, where they are turned into compost.
The composted soil is free for Menomonie residents and was the fill of choice at the community garden last spring. The city delivered a truckload of the soil to the garden during Earth Week in April.
Senior citizens interested in enrolling in the Yard Cleanup for next fall can call the Aging and Disability Resource Center, 715-232-4006. If you are interested in this community service opportunity or others, go to StoutReach.
This article was written by Trevor Peterson, an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) volunteer serving at UW-Stout through a grant written by Wisconsin Campus Compact. His food security focus has included garden installations and organizing farm-to-school efforts in Dunn County.