When Alexis Ruiz went looking for a service-learning opportunity, her options were limited. Because of social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) student couldn’t go to a library and read to children. Or help out at an animal rescue. Or visit patients at a hospice. But Alexis was determined to help someone some way.
So she turned to Brenda Nelson, Student Services Analyst-Service Learning, for ideas. Nelson sent her a list of virtual service learning ideas and Alexis decided to write Encouragement Cards for Valley of the Sun United Way. But that’s not all she decided to do.
“When I was browsing the United Way website, I also saw that they were doing a Book-In-A-Bag volunteer project as well and I wanted to participate in that because I love reading and would like to help children find that passion as well,” Alexis said.
Alexis, who has been at EMCC since 2017, will graduate in May and attend Northern Arizona University where she will major in psychology. She chose United Way because its priorities align with hers.
“The organization helps local families that are struggling and tries to inspire children, which I think is amazing,” she said.
Alexis made 30 Encouragement Cards adorned with drawings and words of inspiration that will be included in weekend food bags provided to more than 500 children every week during the school year. She also created five Book-In-A-Bag projects — children’s books inside paper lunch sacks decorated with characters from the book and inspirational messages. She purchased the books herself, all Dr. Seuss as he played an important role in her childhood.
“I wanted other kids to be able to enjoy his books as I did,” she said.
The books will help to build home libraries for local children.
“I was very grateful to participate in these projects to show struggling families and local children that there are people out there who care and are here to provide support,” she said.
The project gave Alexis the service-learning hours she needed to graduate with highest distinction, but it also gave her a fun project she could do with her 2-year-old niece.
“I let her sit next to me and color while I worked on my Encouragement Cards and Book-In-A-Bag projects,” she said. “These projects made me very happy while I was working on them because I was able to encourage kids and I was excited that kids would open their food bags and see a cute picture with a note to encourage them to be the best they can be.”
Although Alexis only needed five additional service-learning hours to graduate with highest distinction, she went above and beyond, volunteering seven hours of her time. Nelson said she could not be more proud of Alexis for her dedication and perseverance.
“Every interaction we shared was positive and enthusiastic,” she said. “I was thrilled to help her because she really wanted it and she made it happen. How cool is that?”