She may not have a cool invisible airplane like Wonder Woman or be able to leap over tall buildings like Superman, but Jen Rosacker is determined to be a superhero. This plucky Kansas University sophomore from Topeka is taking to heart the motto for a volunteer organization she helps coordinate: Be a Child’s Superhero.
Mentors in the Lives of Kids (MILK), a program of the KU Center for Community Outreach, connects KU student volunteers with children served through Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence. MILK’s 30 student-volunteers plan parties and events for the children. They also visit Boys and Girls Club after-school programs to help kids with homework or just hang out, giving the kindergarten through fifth-grade students some one-on-one attention.
Kenton Holder, assistant director of operations for Boys and Girls Club, has been so impressed by MILK’s work that he selected the group as his agency’s Volunteer of the Year for direct service, honoring them during Tuesday’s United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center’s annual Celebration of Volunteers. MILK was one of more than 65 individuals and four groups to be applauded during the volunteer recognition event.
As co-coordinator for MILK, along with Michael Weinberger, a sophomore from Scottsdale, Ariz., Rosacker has taken big steps toward achieving superhero status in the lives of hundreds of kids. On April 6, MILK hosted Music Madness, inviting a few hundred Boys and Girls Club kids to KU to learn about recycling and develop a deeper appreciation for music by making musical instruments out of recycled materials. MILK collaborated with two additional programs for the event: CREATE, which works with local students on arts projects, and Music Mentors, which helps kids develop as musicians.
In addition, during the holidays MILK threw its sixth annual holiday party for hundreds of children in kindergarten through second grade.
“Every year they put together a party for kids to come and celebrate the holidays by decorating cookies, taking pictures with Santa, playing different games and setting up booths that allow kids to experience how different cultures celebrate the holidays,” says Holder. “They plan everything, get volunteers and show up willing to hang out with kids in a safe environment.”
“It’s kind of chaotic, but you can tell it’s totally worth it: All the kids leave with a big smile on their faces,” Rosacker says.
Rosacker knows that serving as a volunteer for MILK is giving her much more than a good feeling inside. It’s helping her develop skills she will use later on the job.
“Michael and I have both grown in the leadership department,” she said. “We had to organize the events, gather all the volunteers and plan the thing. When you plan an event for 700 kids, who wants to let a kid down?”
After graduation, Rosacker, who is pursuing a social culture anthropology major and a Latin American studies minor, wants to work as an activist. Mentoring kids through MILK, she say, “is one step to my dream.”