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Students Get Grant for Public Service Projects
in El Fortín, Nicaragua

RELEASED: June 2, 2008

Joe Muellenberg Wendy Weimerskirch in Uganda
Left photo: Joe Muellenberg with a resident of El Fortín, Nicaragua. Right photo: Wendy Weimerskirch, far left, on a previous volunteer mission in Uganda. (Contributed photos)

EAU CLAIRE — A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student and a recent graduate involved in several public service projects in El Fortín, Nicaragua, have been awarded the Ryan Prechel Community Service Fellowship administered by the UW-Eau Claire Center for Service-Learning and the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.

Junior Wendy Weimerskirch, a sociology major from Plymouth, Minn., and Joe Muellenberg, La Crosse/Chaseburg, who graduated in May with a major in psychology, will use the $1,250 fellowship to help fund work they will do with 20 other students traveling to El Fortín in the fall of 2008.

One part of the project will be a health and hygiene education and testing program to eliminate parasitic infection in children and adults in El Fortín. The second part of the project will involve construction of a permanent bridge across a primary road in El Fortín that is impassable during the rainy season.

Muellenberg, who lives in Madison, and Maribeth Kniffin, New Glarus, who graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Mass., took part in the study abroad program last fall. They will travel independently to Nicaragua again this fall, in advance of the rest of the group, to coordinate the health/hygienic program and act as assistants to the local medical professionals carrying out the parasite treatment process. They will recruit local volunteers to help with the bridge building project when the students, including Weimerskirch, arrive in November. Muellenberg and Kniffin hope to stay on in Nicaragua for several months.

The two-week service-learning project is included as part of the experience for the 20 UW-Eau Claire students who will study abroad in the fall in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The project builds on three years of collaboration with the Center for International Training and Development run by Phillip Flahive and Marielos Calvo. The students will stay in homes with local families and be fully immersed in the community and culture during their visit. In past years, students built a greenhouse; planted herbs, fruits and vegetables; and tutored children in English, math and Spanish.

Muellenberg said the $1,250 Ryan Prechel award would likely be split between materials needed for the bridge project and purchasing parasite testing materials and medicine.

"We also intend to acquire two bicycles for travel to and from El Fortín into Granada and then donate them to the community at the end of our time there," Muellenberg said, adding that bicycles are one of the safest and cheapest ways to travel in the area.

Muellenberg and Weimerskirch, who is currently on another volunteer mission in Uganda, are required to report on their project within one year of receiving the grant.

The Ryan Prechel Community Service Fellowship was established by David and Nancy Prechel to support students who, like their son Ryan, demonstrate a balanced approach to education, focusing on academic excellence, campus and community leadership and service to others. The fellowship is intended for a student or group of students with a specific community service activity in mind, and the funds are designated primarily for supplies, materials and resources that will have a direct impact on the target population.

The Prechels live in Hilsboro, and Ryan, who graduated in 2005 with a degree in computer science and business administration, lives in Rochester, Minn.

A recent article in UW-Eau Claire's student newspaper, The Spectator, tells more about El Fortín, its residents and the work done there by UW-Eau Claire students..

Students who visited El Fortín in recent years began the fundraising for these projects, but more funds are needed to complete the bridge, Muellenberg said. Anyone interested in contributing can contact Dr. Don Mowry, director of the Center for Service-Learning at UW-Eau Claire, at 715-836-4649 or dmowry@uwec.edu.

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