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UW-Eau Claire news release

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UW-Eau Claire students help establish homeless shelter in Eau Claire

March 2, 2012
 Alyssa Walker  Shauna Stoeger
Alyssa Walker Shauna Stoeger
EAU CLAIRE — When Dr. Donald Mowry, a social work professor and director of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Center for Service-Learning, asked his global poverty students to choose a semester-long project, a trio of students never expected the assignment to grow into something that would make a lasting impact on the Eau Claire community.

Through the assignment, Julie Koehler, Colfax, Shauna Stoeger, New London, and Alyssa Walker, Fitchburg, joined the Shelter Coalition, an established group of community members that ultimately created the Sojourner House — a new homeless shelter in Eau Claire.

The Sojourner House opened Nov. 1, 2011, with a mission to provide a safe, clean place for single adults to sleep overnight, shower, clean their clothing and have breakfast while ensuring their personal dignity, respect and safety.

"The Shelter Coalition was an existent group of community members working to create a shelter in the area for single men and women that welcomed all in a time of need," Stoeger said. "I thought joining this coalition seemed like a great way to offer assistance to the group in any way I could, while making connections in the community."

The students became advocates for the project, sharing information on campus about the future shelter, as well as information about volunteer opportunities. They also worked to help find a building for the shelter, assisted with social outreach and helped with publicity.

"The experience has been life changing and thought provoking," said Walker, a senior biology major. "It changed our whole perception on what we should be doing with our lives, who we should be helping and what we should be focusing on."

The opportunity to work on the project influenced her education more than anything else she's done, said Koehler, who graduated in December 2011 with a degree in social work.

The most important part of the service-learning program is to embrace the experience and the relationships made along the journey, said Stoeger, a trained volunteer for the shelter who volunteers there as her schedule allows.

"The more involved you get with your service-learning project, the more you're going to get out of it and the more it's going to impact you in a positive way," said Stoeger, a senior Spanish and psychology major.

The shelter has been thriving since its opening, averaging 740 guests per month, said Dan Robinson, Sojourner House director. Volunteer opportunities and other information can be found at on the Sojourner House website.

To talk to the UW-Eau Claire students about their involvement in project, email Shauna Stoeger at stoegesl@uwec.edu and Alyssa Walker at walkeral@uwec.edu.

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JT/JB/DW

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