Volunteer experience feeds student's passion to help others

Contact: Erin Flynn
A young woman smiles as she loads a cooler of food into the back seat of a car.

Nora Guensche loads food into a car to deliver for Meals on Wheels.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Access to a nutritious meal is something many people take for granted. Western Michigan University alumna Nora Guensche got a firsthand look at the need in the Kalamazoo area when she started volunteering with Meals on Wheels

"One of the seniors I met is completely confined to his bed. The first time I went to his house, it hit me that my problems were so minimal in scale compared to his," says Guensche, who graduated in April 2019 with a bachelor's degree in advertising and promotion. "That moment instilled in me that taking time to care about and understand one another's struggles and problems helps us connect." 

Moments like that are life lessons you wouldn't expect to get from a business class. But business ethics and sustainability isn't a normal course. The upper level undergraduate class—a requirement for graduates within Haworth College of Business—incorporates service learning, requiring students to complete at least 15 hours of service with a community partner. 

"I chose Meals on Wheels because I had never heard of the organization and I wanted to explore something new," says Guensche. 

A young woman carries a cooler filled with food out of a storage room.

Guensche carries a cooler of food out to a car.

She had no idea the impact it would have on her. 

"I never knew how many people were so passionate and caring about their community. Many volunteers would come in every day and tell touching stories about why they chose to volunteer," Guensche says. "Their spirit and caring nature was contagious." 

Instead of required class work, volunteering with Meals on Wheels quickly became something Guensche looked forward to every week. 

"The seniors are all excited when I come. Some of them I stay and talk to. A lot of times they don't have human interaction, so this might be the only time all week they see someone," Guensche says. "I never thought it would have such an impact on me. You think you're just delivering meals, but when you're finished you have such a good feeling because you're helping someone." 

Volunteering made such an impression on Guensche that she plans to continue working with Meals on Wheels when she moves back home to Grand Rapids to start a job with SeyferthPR.  

"The feeling of giving back to your community is something everyone should experience. You can take it and apply it to any of your jobs; caring about people, listening to people, finding out what they need instead of focusing on your own needs." 

A young woman rings a doorbell as she holds a hot meal she is delivering to a senior.

Guensche makes a delivery to a Meals on Wheels recipient.

Abby Finn, nutrition program coordinator for Meals on Wheels, says volunteers like Guensche provide a vital service. 

"It's a lot more than just delivering food. We check up on homebound seniors and make sure they're doing okay, talk with them, assess their wellbeing," says Finn. 

Guensche says she's enjoyed working with Meals on Wheels so much, she's encouraged her friends to help as well—something Finn appreciates. At any given time, she estimates about 25 students are volunteering with the organization. 

"It's really helpful," says Finn. "It's really good for adults who are homebound to see some younger faces. They really like seeing students and having new people to talk to." 

The students take away something, too. 

"You really get a sense of selflessness," says Guensche. 

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