July 25, 2016 | 1:30 p.m.
By Monique Kleinhuizen '08 GS'16, New Media Strategist
One of Bethel’s Twin Cities Outreach teams was awarded an Excellence in Community Education Leadership (EXCEL) Award from the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District in April. The EXCEL awards recognize individuals and groups who have demonstrated a commitment to lifelong learning, and they received the award for their work teaching adaptive swimming to kids with disabilities at John Glenn Middle School in Maplewood, Minnesota.
“Part of the purpose of TCO is to encourage Bethel students to invest their hearts and minds in their service in a way that goes far beyond ‘logging volunteer hours.’ This award, in part, recognizes their deep investment,” says Associate Dean of Campus Ministries Matt Runion.
Bethel’s Twin Cities Outreach ministry is designed as a “reflective service program,” giving students an opportunity to examine their assumptions and think holistically about issues like race and class. By investing a significant amount of time serving a specific community, they discover more about themselves, God, and those they encounter. A dozen student-led TCO groups serve in various capacities across the Twin Cities through the program.
Ellie Wilcox ’17, who is majoring in biokinetics and minoring in biology, founded the Bethel swim club, and is also a member of the Disability Awareness Group (DAG), so her involvement in this TCO group was a natural fit with her interests. She plans to study occupational therapy after graduation from Bethel.
“I found out about this TCO group my freshman year when a girl on my floor was putting on her swimsuit and I asked where she was going. She told me to come, and I've been involved ever since. I stuck with this team because I have a strong desire to be a blessing and be blessed by those with disabilities,” says Wilcox. “My older sister has Down syndrome and is my hero. I wanted to be able to use the experiences I've had to help other group members grow in their understanding of disabilities.”
The group members are paired up with buddies and give one-on-one swimming lessons that are adapted to the particular needs of the kids they serve. “They each form an amazing bond with their swimmer, which makes it hard to leave every week!” says Wilcox. “It is so important to serve to simply step out of your world for a bit and enter into the reality of someone else’s…spreading awareness and compassion for those with disabilities is important and often forgotten. Jesus calls us to serve one another in love, and that's exactly why we serve. Not necessarily to teach the child perfect swimming form, but to simply love them and show an interest in their life.”