Education for Service Scholars find success in serving

Wednesday, July 3, 2019
Diana Pastrana and Karole Iraheta assist in the food pantry at Upper Des Moines Opportunity, Inc., in Storm Lake.
/ Photo submitted

Maggie Reyes’ eyes light up as she considers the impact Buena Vista University’s Education for Service Scholars have on campus, in Storm Lake, across Buena Vista County, and beyond. The 10 Education for Service Scholars, all freshmen, broke new ground for BVU in their recently completed academic year. The students, all residents of Buena Vista County, represent the first person in their immediate family to attend college. In that way, they are educational pioneers for their families, much in the way President Joshua Merchant was for his family.

“My parents had an agricultural background and they worked hard, very hard, to help provide their children with an opportunity they didn’t have by sending them to college after high school,” Merchant says. “When I came here, I was asked if a college education was within reach for many of our first-generation college students. We wanted to build a scholarship program that supports local first-generation college students who have the potential to be successful in college, but also may have that extra need for the financial support in order to do so.”

With support from donors and throughout the community, BVU established the Education for Service Scholars program, which welcomed its first cohort to campus in August 2018. Students receive free tuition and each member of the cohort participates in a structured program whereupon they volunteer 300 hours of service through the AmeriCorps program during the academic year.

Organizations receiving service assistance from EFS students during the academic year include: Upper Des Moines Opportunity, Inc.; Storm Lake Public Library; CommUnity Ed; TLC Animal Shelter; Methodist Manor; St. Mary’s; The Bridge; Alta-Aurelia Police Department; and Faith, Hope, and Charity. Heidi Coronel and Karole Iraheta, 2018 graduates of Storm Lake High School, assisted Reyes in the food pantry at Upper Des Moines Opportunity. Iraheta also did service work with residents at Methodist Manor in Storm Lake.

“I’m a pretty organized person, so I like to organize the food pantry when I’m at Upper Des Moines Opportunity,” says Iraheta, a business management major. “It makes me feel good that we can serve people in need. It also makes me feel grateful for what I have.”

Both are grateful to have such caring supervisors in Reyes and Melissa Keller, an outreach specialist, at Upper Des Moines Opportunity.

“Maggie and ‘Melly’ are amazing,” says Coronel, who earned the Neil Ball Award for her service work at BVU. “They show compassion and love, not just as supervisors, but as people who care about what is going on our lives.”

“I know we are making a change for the better,” Coronel says of her work at Upper Des Moines Opportunity. “I can see it in peoples’ faces when they pick up food and supplies.”

“EFS is also making a huge difference,” says Reyes, an Upper Des Moines Opportunity, Inc. office assistant/interpreter who works with Melissa Keller, an outreach specialist, in annually serving thousands of those in need. “Our food pantry, at times, can be a mess because Melissa and I are busy working to serve clients up front. Our EFS students are so organized and enthusiastic, always willing to help.”

“We’re really not sure what we’d do without our EFS students,” Keller says. “We’re now training two of our EFS students to do data entry and to serve our clients. We’re working to get them even more involved.”

“Volunteering has always been a part of my life,” Iraheta says. “I see myself carrying that forward even after college.”

College. The word itself can bring tears of joy to Maggie Reyes. And the EFS program she’s watched blossom in year one to help support Upper Des Moines Opportunity will impact her family even more as the second group of EFS Scholars begins its academic journey with a walk through the Victory Arch come August.