Kansas City Poverty Experience Leads to Campus Service Challenge

After seeing poverty firsthand, NWU students came back to campus and issued a service challenge.
During their experience in Kansas City, NWU students read to school children.
NWU students load mattresses in a trailer as part of their service work with Sleepyhead Beds.

Twenty Nebraska Wesleyan University students spent 10 days of their winter break immersed in a poverty-stricken area of Kansas City.

They read to needy children, played volleyball with low-income senior citizens, and delivered mattresses to children who might otherwise sleep on a cold floor or in a car.

“Instead of asking myself, what can I do about the situation, I started asking myself, how can we help these people,” said Nebraska Wesleyan first-year student Bailey Wood.

Wood’s reflection on the Global Service Learning trip to Kansas City was echoed by her peers who got a first-hand look at poverty. Their experience led to an idea: challenge all Nebraska Wesleyan students to experience what they did: service.

Throughout the spring semester, NWU students will log volunteer and service hours. The goal is to reach 3,000 hours collectively, which averages approximately two hours per student.

While in Kansas City, NWU students active in Global Service Learning (GSL) volunteered at six organizations: Operation Breakthrough, Don Bosco Senior Center, Sleepyhead Beds, Reach Out and Read, Ozanam, and Harvesters Community Food Network.

Operation Breakthrough

Operation Breakthrough provides childcare, preschool and enrichment programs for children living in poverty. The program also provides advocacy, educational services and emergency aid to the children’s families. GSL members played and read to the children and helped with the daycare’s daily chores.

Junior Kelsey Arenda was impacted most by a young artist.

“He was working on painting a picture, so I commented on how good his drawings were. He told me that he wanted to be an artist someday, but he wasn’t sure how because his mom worked at CVS and couldn’t help him work towards his goal. It was in this moment that I realized just how much we take our opportunities for granted,” she said.

Don Bosco Senior Center

Don Bosco Senior Center provides food, exercise, activities, and transportation for low-income elders. Students played volleyball with the residents and were surprised by their activity levels — contradictory to the preconceived notions of a typical senior center.

Sleepyhead Beds

Sleepyhead Beds collects gently-used mattresses and bedding and re-distributes them to children in need who might otherwise be sleeping on a cold floor, in the backseat of a car, or at a homeless shelter. GSL members assisted with pick up and delivery of the beds in the Kansas City metro area. Not only does the donation of these beds have a positive impact on the academic performance of the children who receive them, but also on the environment. Donating and recycling beds helps to keep these unnecessary items out of landfills.

Reach Out and Read

Reach Out and Read prepares America’s youngest children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors who prescribe books and encourage families to read together. GSL members went into the classrooms and read to the kids for hours at a time, making connections and establishing relationships. This one-on-one reading time between the children and the volunteers helps lower illiteracy rates so that the kids can become more educated and have more academic success in school.


Ozanam provides residential treatment, day treatment, transitional living programs and consultation services for schools. GSL members painted the residence halls and learned about the organization’s goals.

Harvesters Community Food Network

Harvesters Community Food Network is Kansas City’s only food bank. It provides food, as well as resources for disaster relief, food donations, and a backpack program for kids who need assistance.

At a recent community conversation where GSL members shared their experiences with the campus, they reflected how living it and seeing it has a larger impact compared to being sympathetic for a particular impoverished group.

“Getting out of the classroom, and seeing the full picture was an opportunity of experiential learning that ignited a passion for activism in the majority of the members,” said Wood. “Putting a face and a story to the numbers and statistics is what made it more personal and real for me.”

3,000 Hours Service Challenge

How can you make an impact? Global Service Learning and Student Affairs Senate has issued a 3,000 hours challenge to the NWU students, faculty and staff. All service counts including Greek service, service learning, and volunteer opportunities. The service challenge is the start to a service challenge that will be extended to alumni next fall in honor of the University’s 125th anniversary. Thermometers located around campus will track the progress.

Log your hours.

Those looking for service opportunities are encouraged to visit the Service Learning webpage or contact Kelli Wood at x2413.