BVU Students Continue AmeriCorps Service from Afar

Count Education for Service Scholars among dozens of BVU students who keep striving to serve their communities in the midst of COVID-19 battle.

Sophomore Cody Holtgrewe wasn’t sure what would become of his AmeriCorps service when Buena Vista University closed campus in late March, sending students home to complete the second semester in online instruction, a precaution the University took to protect the health and safety of students and the larger campus community.

Holtgrewe is one of 18 students in BVU’s landmark Education for Service initiative, where students contribute to their community through 300 hours of annual service as part of the program. Holtgrewe assisted with activities and visited with residents at Methodist Manor, an assisted-living complex for seniors in Storm Lake. He also coached young people in basketball through Storm Lake’s CommUnity Education organization.

“I would complete five hours of service in our community each week,” Holtgrewe says. “But, I got much more out of it than that. I got to know quite about my community and the people in it.”

“Fourth-graders maybe don’t fully grasp what’s going on with COVID-19, but they know it’s not normal. This has been very eye-opening to me to see how a teacher responds to keep educating his class even when school is closed. I think this experience will help me prepare myself as a teacher in the future.”

Isabel Hernandez, Education for Service Scholar

When school went online for the balance of the semester, Holtgrewe went home to the Buena Vista county community of Newell and wondered about his Education for Service Program.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to continue my service in the community,” he says.

That’s when Elizabeth Multerer, Education for Service Scholars Program Coordinator, and Dr. Ashley Farmer-Hanson, Assistant Vice President of Student Success & Director of Community Engagement, reached out and helped direct Holtgrewe and dozens of BVU AmeriCorps members, 35 in total. In Holtgrewe’s case, he was pointed toward Diane Johnson, Activity Director/Volunteer Coordinator of the Good Samaritan Society in Newell, as she sought assistance in delivering Meals on Wheels on weekdays.

“I had delivered Meals on Wheels during high school,” Holtgrewe says. “I told Diane I could help out. So, I’ve been delivering Meals on Wheels Monday through Friday since late March.”

Holtgrewe says he enjoys briefly visiting with and checking in on seniors who receive the Meals on Wheels service in Newell.

“Our residents like seeing a familiar face even if it’s covered with a mask,” says Holtgrewe, who dons a surgical mask to protect himself and his Meals on Wheels recipients in the midst of the pandemic.

He will continue his work in the community this summer through an internship set up with CommUnity Education in Storm Lake. Holtgrewe, a digital media major, plans to lead groups of children at The Bridge in Storm Lake as they complete a host of daily activities during June and July.

Brian Gomez and Isabel Hernandez write cards to students during the COVID-19 pandemic
Freshman Isabel Hernandez, who hopes to become a teacher, serves her community through AmeriCorps and Buena Vista University's Education for Service program by assisting her older brother, Brian Gomez, a 2017 BVU graduate, who teaches fourth grade at Storm Lake Elementary School.

Isabel Hernandez is already working with many of those Storm Lake youths through her position as a teacher’s assistant for Brian Gomez, a teacher at Storm Lake Elementary School, and a 2017 BVU graduate. Like Holtgrewe, Hernandez is an Education for Service Scholar at BVU, a freshman who serves her community as an AmeriCorps member. Throughout the school year, Hernandez has assisted Gomez, her older brother, as he teaches 25 fourth-graders. She contributes feedback on lesson plans, class activities, and devotes time mentoring students one-on-one.

Her AmeriCorps service continues even as the local elementary school closed as a result of the highly contagious COVID-19.

“I’ve spent time in recent weeks writing cards and sending them to Brian’s students,” says Hernandez, an elementary education major. “I’ve helped him brainstorm ideas as he sends messages to students. We’re now working on sharing a gift with each student along with a bundle of projects for each student to stay busy with during the summer.”

The experience, she says, has been powerful.

“Fourth-graders maybe don’t fully grasp what’s going on with COVID-19, but they know it’s not normal,” Hernandez says. “This has been very eye-opening to me to see how a teacher responds to keep educating his class even when school is closed. I think this experience will help me prepare myself as a teacher in the future.”

Hernandez, like the rest of BVU’s Education for Service Scholars, will continue her AmeriCorps involvement next year, her sophomore year at BVU. She hopes she can aid her older brother, a BVU graduate, in his classroom once again. “It will be great to actually return to the classroom,” she says.

Other AmeriCorps students at BVU are serving their communities in a variety of ways this spring, most of them in their hometown. Some, like Hernandez, are making cards and working to encourage elementary students, while others are assisting at animal shelters, delivering groceries, conducting food bank distribution efforts, aiding seniors with yard care, and more.

“Even though our students aren’t on campus,” Multerer says, “they have remained engaged in service. That’s not only important to them, but it’s important to the people, the organizations, and the communities they all continue to serve.”

Buena Vista University welcomes its third cohort of 10 Education for Service Scholars on campus in August. Those students, like the cohorts before them, all hail from Buena Vista County. And all represent the first generation in their immediate family to attend college.