Holiday volunteer opportunities through the SEC

By Audrey Kelly – Republished with permission.

Adopting a family sounds like a difficult task, but it doesn’t take much to provide a family with a more cheerful holiday season.

Abby Juhasz, the community service coordinator in the Student Engagement Center, facilitates the Adopt-a-Family program every winter. Whitman students, faculty and staff can group together (like the Biology department, the Admissions Office, and Marcus House) to “adopt” a family. Groups donate funds necessary to ensure that their family has enough food, necessities and small gifts to make their holidays special.

“We delineate between Wants and Needs … [that way] people get the things that are clearly essential, but also in the spirit of the holidays, when you get things you wouldn’t normally get for yourself,” said Juhasz.

Covering both the wants and needs of an individual costs about thirty dollars. Ten of those dollars are for gift certificates to a local grocery store and the other twenty dollars goes towards buying gifts. This year there were forty-three families available for adoption, a modest increase from last year, when there were thirty-nine.

“[The families] are identified by Blue Mountain Heart to Heart and the Health Center … they are currently living at or below the poverty line,” said Juhaz.

While it is useful to use the poverty line as a distinguisher of need, Juhasz said that there are many families living just above the poverty line that are still very much in need and clearly deserving of aid. Some of these families go to the warming center, which is newly located at the First Congregational Church.

“Many people are asking for thermal underwear,” said Juhasz. She said the warming center is currently looking for toiletry donations.

Toiletries and thermal underwear may seem like necessities in the cold winter months in Walla Walla, but unfortunately those often end up in the “Wants” column.

Juhasz emphasized how impressed she is by the Whitman community’s response to the needs in Walla Walla.

“Whitman students have a dedication to serving … throughout the year, but especially during the holidays,” she said. “This morning I came in to a whole bunch of emails, and I am pretty sure that every family will be covered now.”

Whitman’s service programming during the holidays does not end with Adopt-a-Family.

Students and staff are making additional efforts, including making cards for the Adopt-a-Grandparent and Mentor programs next week.

“A card is a form of recognition of the significant relationship [between Whitman student and mentee or adopted grandparent]. It’s something they can hold onto during Whitman’s long winter break,” Juhasz said.

Between the two programs, the Whitman community produces about five hundred cards during the holiday season.

“Whitman students have an ethic of service and dedication to the local community,” said Juhasz.

The in-kind donation through the Adopt-a-Family program last year was $3,180 from the Whitman Community. An in-kind donation is a non-monetary donation like time or energy that is still assigned a monetary value to address it’s relative impact or significance.

“Service is a quiet effort at Whitman,” said Juhasz. “People don’t know the magnitude, the incredible in-kind donation that Whitman makes to the community every year. When you put all the efforts of Whitman students together, it’s incredible.”

2014 Fall Internship: Walla Walla Small Business Development Center

Skye Vander Laan, an Economics major and junior here at Whitman, is currently interning at the Walla Walla Small Business Development Center. SBDC is a local non-profit organization that promotes economic vitality within Washington communities by providing expert business advising, demand-­‐driven training, and applied research to existing businesses and entrepreneurs. The SBDC advises entrepreneurs about developing business plans, funding plans, marketing proposals, operational and management proposals, and assistance through the process of starting or revitalizing a small business.

As an Economics major, Skye feels that his internship very much aligns with what he is learning in his classes. It is a hand-on approach that allows him to draw connections between theory and practice. He states, “As an economics major, my internship is helping teach me business fundamentals and see textbook concepts in action in the small business community of Walla Walla.”

Skye Vander Laan_Small Business Initiative

Skye and his supervisor Joe at a client meeting.

Joe, Jacobs, Skye’s supervisor and the director of SBDC, has experience working with Whitman students. His relationship to his interns is one of trust and support which are the basis for a great internship experience. Skye writes, “I have a great working relationship with my supervisor. We connect well on an interpersonal level, and I spend the majority of the time I am working directly with Joe. We debrief after virtually every client meeting to discuss problems with the client, often done in a constructive way that tests my knowledge of the task. Each day holds a constant feedback loop of growth, and this is heavily rooted in my constructive working relationship with my supervisor.”

Skye’s responsibilities as an SBDC intern are varied. They include, “taking notes during client meetings, organizing the client database, and carrying out certain special projects when clients need assistance. I am developing very helpful broad business skills such as cash flow modeling, writing business plans, putting together business financing package proposals, and general operational problem solving skills.” But the most satisfying part of his work is seeing the small businesses prosper and achieving their goals. Skye writes, “The most rewarding aspect of my internship is to get to see businesses move from concept to creation. I have now been with the SBDC long enough to start to see some of the businesses that came to us early on take root. It is very rewarding to see how each job created and business formed has a wide impact on many peoples’ lives and benefits the community in many positive ways.”

Finally, the internship experience has not only allowed Skye to “use” his classroom knowledge and apply it in the “real world” but it has also made an impact on his future career goals and has opened his eyes. He states, “The internship has opened my eyes to many basic business fundamentals that will be useful regardless of what sector I go in to specifically.”


2014 Fall Internship: The Sustainable Living Center

Evan Trebesch Heberlein, a senior ES/Biology major (and Politics minor) here at Whitman, is currently interning for the Sustainable Living Center. The SLC is a local non-profit dedicated to improving the public availability of information about sustainable construction and workplace practices such as energy conservation, waste reduction, green building, etc. This goal is achieved through the organization’s five current programs, which range from certifying contractors who perform energy-efficiency-improving retrofits on existing homes ($mart Business Partners Program) to an EPA-sponsored food waste recycling program.

Throughout his internship Evan worked closely with local small businesses and helped them improve their overall energy efficiency –which is the goal of the $mart Business Partners Program. But that was just one of his responsibilities. He writes, “I am responsible for finding a wide variety of facts for Sandra [Evan’s supervisor] based on the needs of certain businesses (anything from energy efficient freezers to driving mileage to waterproofing materials in upholstery). This experience has given me a wide range of knowledge related to environmentally friendly business practices, as well as techniques for tracking down hard to find information. I have also begun calling businesses not involved in the program to try setting up appointments to bring in more program members. This has been the most challenging part of the internship, as most business owners are less than enthused about unsolicited invitations when they are hearing about the program for the first time. My professional speaking skills have improved substantially, especially things like improvisation and understanding the needs of the person I’m talking to. My third set of responsibilities is participating in meetings with new and ongoing program partners. From watching Sandra in these meetings, I have learned so much about how to conduct myself professionally and tailor my agenda to the needs of a particular business. This skill is universally valuable during any type of negotiation or consultation position. I would say my professional demeanor in the context of promoting environmentally friendly practices has improved the most during this position out of all my skills.”

It was important for Evan to find an internship that aligned well with his academic and future career goals and would teach him how to apply his knowledge in a real-life setting. The internship at SLC offered all of the above. “This internship has taught me a lot about materials science, energy, and business economics, and how these factors contribute to the decisions business owners make every day (in addition to the relative environmental costs of these decisions). My time working with Sandra has been a literal microcosm of my future career goals: to apply my scientific and environmental knowledge to the political and economic realms, to make progress on larger scale environmental issues. It also has given me significant exposure to the inner workings of an environmental nonprofit, through working on a grant and representing the program at community events. This internship has come closer to my career interests than any class I’ve taken at Whitman.”

Even Heberlein_Sustainable Living CenterEvan presents the $mart Business Program award to this year’s winner.

As a result of his work, Evan now has a very good vision for his future career and feels that his internship opened his eyes to what he can do once he graduates next summer. He says, “I have gotten to see firsthand how rewarding it is to help businesses improve their environmental consciousness and achieve their goals based on their improvement. Sandra has been a complete inspiration to me by demonstrating how well environmental priorities can be incorporated into a successful business strategy. The $mart Business Partners program has also greatly improved my appreciation for grassroots local environmental work. If this program existed in every town in the U.S., we would be immensely better off. This experience has thus reduced the scale of my ambitions somewhat, as I have seen how big of a difference one person can make on the local level (as opposed to the immense struggle of environmental work at the national and international levels).”

The most rewarding part of his internship, however, was getting out of the Whitman bubble and helping the Walla Walla community. Evan states, “One thing I did not anticipate from this position was the feeling of community investment and improved local understanding which I got from this internship. In my meetings with businesses, I have gained a newfound appreciation for the people of Walla Walla. I have come to know the town so much better in my weekly travels to different businesses with Sandra, and I feel much more a part of the community at large than I ever have before. It feels great to be forced out of the Whitman bubble every week!”

Finally, he adds that the success of his internship is in large part due to his invested and supportive supervisor, Sandra Cannon. Here is how Evan describes their working relationship, “I have spent 3 hours with Sandra every Thursday afternoon since beginning the internship, and we are in contact nearly every day about different projects for the week. She has been at every $mart Business Partners meeting with a new business, and I have gradually been taking over more and more control of these meetings as I become more confident in my professional skills. After each meeting we go over my performance, and she gives me suggestions to take into account in the next meeting. She has also coached me closely on making calls to unfamiliar businesses and how to handle rejection. I have really enjoyed working with such a small organization (we are the only people working on the $BP program, and the entire Sustainable Living Center only has 4 paid employees), since I get Sandra’s undivided attention and expertise. I have had every opportunity to learn as much as possible from her.”


The Buddy Program Winter Ball: A Night to Remember


Devin Reese ’18 takes Rachel Kutcher for a spin on the dance floor!

The Buddy Program held its annual “Winter Ball” on the evening of December 5 in the Reid Campus Ballroom, and what an evening it was! The energy in the room was high as Whitman and community buddies alike took to the dance floor to dance and show off their best moves.

As the program intern, I could not have been happier with how the Winter Ball went.  Seeing the smile on Rachel’s face as Devin spun her around to the tune of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” was absolutely wonderful, as was watching my previous buddy Jacob jamming with his buddy Michael as they chose music to play. Other highlights of the evening included the formation of an enormous conga-line, great food, and classy pictures.

The Fall 2014 Buddy Program crew!

The Fall 2014 Buddy Program crew!

When I came to Whitman, I never knew that I would have the opportunity to develop such a unique set of friendships with the local members of the community. My work with all of our community members continues to teach me so much about the unique talents and capabilities that individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities have to offer us, as well as how much we can learn from their outlooks on life. As I reflect back on IMG_5410[1]my first semester running the program, I can see just how much I have grown from my experience, and am certain that I will continue to grow as we enter a new semester in January. 

Winter Break Whitties Helping Whitties

We have a series of Whitties helping Whitties events coming up in January and we want you to attend!These events will be a great opportunity to meet fellow Whitman students, alumni, parents, and even job recruiters!

If interested please click on the links below for more information and to RSVP for your event. Feel free to email us at with any questions!

Jan. 5 – Seattle
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Jan. 6 – Portland
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Jan. 7 – San Fransico
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Jan. 8 – Bellevue
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