Nikhil Jog, 20, a software engineer intern at Rockwell Automation, grew up with a community center in his neighborhood. There were always volunteers helping kids at the center, Jog said.
“The United Way Literacy Fair felt like the perfect way to give back to the community and help kids,” he said.
More than 1,000 interns representing 38 companies from the area volunteered at the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County’s recent literacy fair.
The fair was held at 15 locations in Milwaukee and Waukesha County: Pieper-Hillside Boys & Girls Club, Brown Street Academy Boys & Girls Club, Mitchell Boys & Girls Club, Pierce Boys & Girls Club, La Causa, La Casa de Esperanza, COA Goldin Center, Cass Street School Boys & Girls Club, Hopkins Lloyd Community School, Children’s Community Center, 81st Street School, Grantosa Drive Elementary School, 53rd Street School, Honey Creek Elementary School and Kluge Elementary School.
The volunteers worked with students from age 5 to 14 on a variety of activities centered on the importance of education.
The COA Goldin Center volunteers participated in an “around the world” experience, with seven stations representing the seven continents. The kids spent 10 minutes at each station doing a variety of activities, such as word searches, word matching, crossword puzzles and spelling the names of popular international cities with cutout letters.
Trejuan Talley, 6, loved participating in “around the world,” especially spelling the names of international cities with scrambled letters. “It’s really fun,” he said. “You’re on a team, you get to race and everyone cheers for you.”
The fair’s goal is “to build a love of learning for young people,” said Karissa Gretebeck, manager of corporate volunteerism at United Way.
The event is also called the “Intern Day of Action,” because every volunteer is an intern at a company that has a relationship with United Way. It is the largest single-day volunteer event in greater Milwaukee.
“We want to build deeper relationships with the local businesses that support us,” Gretebeck said, “and give them an opportunity to create real change.”
Jayne Thoma, vice president of volunteer engagement, added, “The event gives the companies that support us a look at what they are doing for the community.”
Thoma said the idea for the literacy fair came from United Way’s interest in education. “We want to give every volunteer an opportunity to make a difference on an issue that is so important to us,” she said.
For the first time, volunteers were required to take a #PledgetobePresent and turn off their cellphones for the day. Gretebeck said the pledge was designed to make sure volunteers were completely focused on the participants.
Kendall Keith, 23, an intern at Miller-Coors, said the pledge “made a great impact.”
“By turning off our cellphones we can be completely committed to the event and the kids,” he said. “The event will not have a lasting impact on us or the kids if we are not fully present.”
Keith volunteered last year when he was interning with Rockwell Automation and presented the opportunity to Miller-Coors.
“I love this event,” he said. “I’m so happy I got the chance to volunteer again this year.”
Gretebeck said using college interns to inspire young people helps achieve United Way’s goal of making learning and reading fun.
During every intern meeting executives stress the importance of volunteerism, said Brianna Iverson, 20, a Rockwell intern. Iverson’s group of students worked together to write a story about a zebra in Africa, using a word wheel to fill in the blanks in a series of sentences.
Rockwell intern Colin Messner, 21, worked at the spelling station. Messner said he looked up to volunteers at summer camps when he was growing up. “They were great role models,” he said.
“This event is such a rewarding experience,” Messner added. “I don’t know who had more fun, the interns or the kids.”