The colorful leaves of autumn can signal a new season and a new challenge for home maintenance, particularly for homeowners with multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease that affects various areas of the body.
To help these members of the community, UNC Asheville’s Campus Recreation Department participates in a biannual MS Service Day each semester where students join other volunteers in the community in order to assist in numerous service projects indoors and out. This year, 10 UNC Asheville students traveled to Kristin Wolk’s house on Oct. 15 to help out with both indoor and outdoor maintenance.
“There’s different stages, there’s different types of MS, and everyone’s symptoms can be different, treatments are different for everybody,” Leah McDowell, assistant director of outdoor programs explains. “Just like with any other illness, some people can still be very high functioning and you don’t notice it. But really it’s folks who really need help at home and around the house.”
Students helped with leaf and debris cleanup, clearing out gutters, and anything else that needed to be done.
“I know many of the things they did may have seemed simple and mundane tasks, especially some of the simpler things inside, but to me and my family every single task was priceless,” Kristin Wolk posted as her Facebook status after the day. “They accomplished in hours what would have taken us weeks, probably months. They couldn't have been more polite, kind, efficient, eager to serve, genuine group of young people. They went above and beyond everything I asked and expected. Infinite thanks to the 10 UNCA students who came out today, I'm forever grateful and so blessed.”
MS Service Day is just one project organized by UNC Asheville alumna Leslie Newman, who is the leadership volunteer of MS Community of WNC, a local awareness group that hosts events and support groups for those with MS. During her freshman year at UNC Asheville, Newman discovered she had MS. After graduating and moving to Charlotte, in 2009 she moved back to Asheville and helped strengthen the National MS Society in the WNC region.
Campus Recreation has participated in MS Service Day as part of its philanthropy since 2014, says McDowell, also an alumna of UNC Asheville. Numbers of volunteers keep growing each year, including a record breaking 99 this year. With growing numbers comes a greater outreach.
“We are really excited for our students to get out and connect with the community and for them to provide those services,” McDowell says. “Everything that we have students engage in here at college we’re hoping becomes a lifelong skill. So them seeing the value of it, of giving back, of helping others when others are in need, or realizing how much we can do when we get together as a team, that we can make a difference and that we can make a connection.”