Doing Good in Decorah
Luther is home to an abundance of service-oriented students. From mentoring kids to organizing food donations, they make Decorah brighter through their community engagement. Here, we sample a few of the many, many ways our students reach out and do good in this place.
Members of Luther’s football team volunteered last fall at the Decorah Elementary Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) Night at Carrie Lee Elementary School. Players helped families explore activities at different stations. Assistant coach Tim Souza says, “It was a great opportunity to connect and serve in the community.”
Luther football players spent recess last fall at John Cline Elementary School teaching safe play and good sportsmanship.
Each August, Luther’s soccer teams work with Get-2-Gether to put on events for adults with special needs in the Decorah community. Activities include bingo, dancing, kickball, sharing a meal, and yard games. Head men’s soccer coach Chris Garcia-Prats says, “This event has become a tradition for our programs and an awesome way to start our season!”
Each August, Luther’s cross country teams spend a day doing trail work on the Decorah Human Powered Trails. Women’s cross country coach Yarrow Pasche says, “Doing quality manual labor is rewarding in its own right, especially when done in community, and it becomes even more meaningful when we can see the fruits of our efforts unfold over the course of the day. Combine this with the knowledge that we are contributing to a fantastic resource for the Decorah community and building on the trails we as runners use all the time. It gives us a direct connection to the community and exposes all of our first-year students who are new to the trails great insight into the network we have here.”
Luther has a chapter of the national service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega (APO). Its president, Ashley Karas ’24, says she’s learned through APO that “great things can’t happen alone. All the projects and events that APO takes part in are multistep occasions that require planning and thought from our team and the willingness to serve from our active members.” Karas has an especially fond memory of Luther’s APO chapter working with the Decorah Rotary Club and the Girl Scouts of America on a Saturday-morning Highway 9 roadside cleanup. “It was meaningful to me because I didn’t realize how much garbage actually accumulates on the sides of the highway and also how willing a group of tired college students was to engage with their community.”
PALS connects Luther student mentors (this year, 20 of them) with area elementary school kids (this year, 45). At get-togethers, the “bigs” and the “littles” make crafts, play games, and complete other activities. “It’s great to see the connections the littles make with their big,” says vice president Elizabeth Doane ’25. “Every little is so excited to meet with their big every month.” President Jessica Lambo ’24 says that PALS was one of the reasons she came to Luther. “A really important part about being a community is connecting with all different types of people. Working with kids is especially fun for me because they have so much energy, and they love to learn from older students,” she says. A November PALS event included an ice breaker game, scavenger hunt, turkey hat crafts, and Thanksgiving stories.
For decades, the Student Activities Council has put on Christmas Cheer, a campus-wide drive to provide Christmas gifts for Decorah-area families in need. This year, SAC sponsored 30 families, filling six cars with gifts. Aden Barber ’23, who spearheaded the event, says she was surprised by “how willing and excited students on campus were to get involved. We had a lot of groups looking for ways to sponsor another family or help out with other wish lists.”
The Luther College Cafeteria to Community program brings together students, volunteers, and Luther Dining Services staff to package and label food that’s provided to four northeast Iowa facilities: Open Hands Food Pantry, Northeast Iowa Community Action, Decorah Food Pantry, and Midwest Mission Bible Training Center. Each facility ensures that individuals and families receive the nutritious meals at little to no cost. Since the program’s inception in 2014, it has donated more than 80,000 pounds of food to local organizations to address hunger.
“The Caf to Community program is a great opportunity to simultaneously reduce Luther’s food waste and help feed our community,” says Meg Sessions ’23, student program coordinator. “The meals we send are recently prepared, healthy, and balanced, which recipients of the food appreciate. Volunteering with Caf to Community is an easy way to make an impact in our community while encouraging sustainability on campus.”