First-year KCU-Joplin students help area agencies

Jul. 21—Alexander Behnam was glad to learn about Lafayette House and its mission. He was familiar with a similar agency in his hometown of Sacramento, California.

"Where I'm from, we had a shelter like this," said Behnam, an incoming first-year student t Kansas City University-Joplin. "It makes me glad to know these kind of programs exist. ... Being able to come here and help keep its luster and shine means a lot."

Before they start classes July 25, first-year students at KCU-Joplin spent time getting to know the community.

Behnam was one of about 160 students who spent time Wednesday volunteering. At Lafayette House, he helped prep some new residential units for their next clients and helped get the playground cleaned up and ready for new program participants.

The effort was part KCU's We Care Day. As part of orientation efforts, students are asked to help some of the area's community groups.

"This is an integral part of the student orientation process," said Haley Reardon, manager of marketing and communication for KCU-Joplin. "Part of our mission is to go into the community and help improve the well-being of those we serve. Whether students stay here or go elsewhere, we want them to be service-minded."

Students worked Wednesday at one of almost 20 locations doing a variety of tasks. At Ronald McDonald House of the Four States, students assembled welcome bags and memory boxes for guest families.

Chelsea Conley, development director of Lafayette House, said she appreciated their efforts. The nonprofit assists women and families dealing with domestic violence or substance abuse.

"Having groups like this is a huge asset," Conley said. "There are so many things we have to push to the wayside or not get done in as timely of a manner as we'd like. Groups like this help with those tasks we haven't been able to tackle yet."

While the work benefits those groups, the aspiring medical professionals also saw some benefits.

Behnam said he plans to enter the pediatrics field based on his previous work with youth in his hometown. Being able to learn the challenges people face before he meets them in a clinical setting gives him helpful insights, he said.

More immediately, the volunteering was part of activities that helped bond the incoming class of students. While some students have already been in Joplin for a few weeks, Behnam just got somewhat settled Friday. He has been able to make some friends and get to know others through the orientation.

Those relationships will be critical, he said, once students are in the midst of the university's intense courseload.

"A lot of us are kind of alone," Behnam said, "and we are going to need people supporting us to get through."