When Bryan Wilcher signed up to volunteer for the 13th annual NIU Cares Day on Saturday, he thought he would be spending the day raking leaves or trimming bushes.
He never imagined he’d be rummaging through boxes of silk, lace and other assorted material at Stage Coach Players, 126 S. Fifth St. in DeKalb.
“I thought I’d be outside doing yard work, not sorting through fabric,” said Wilcher, a doctoral student with Northern Illinois University’s Educational Technology, Research and Assessment Department. “I’ve never been involved with theater, so I’ve liked looking at all of the items. We haven’t been watching the clock at all because we’re having fun.”
More than 20 students from NIU’s Department of Education, NIU Deaf Pride and the NIU NAACP helped the Stage Coach Players clean, organize, move and downsize their inventory of props, costumes and set pieces. Stage Coach’s goal was to reduce its inventory by a minimum of 25%.
“The students bring in an energy that encourages us,” said Jan Kuntz, vice president of Stage Coach Players. “We look at our items day in and day out and wonder how we will ever be able to clean it out. With the students’ help, we were able to clean out a section in half an hour that’s been unorganized for years and years. They’ve shown us that NIU really does care. They’ve really helped us.”
Stage Coach was one of 62 community sites throughout the DeKalb area that received help from more than 650 NIU students during the 13th annual NIU Cares Day on Saturday. Other community sites included residences, churches, park districts and nonprofit organizations, such as Opportunity House, DeKalb Area Women’s Center, Hope Haven, Glidden Homestead and Historical Center, and Friends of Gurler House NFP.
“NIU Cares Day is a once-a-year large day of service, when students, organizations, faculty and staff, even President Lisa Freeman, go out into the community and give back,” said Jen Van Ewyk, assistant director for volunteerism at NIU. “It’s a way for the college and community to become more connected. Students get involved and can make a difference.”
Before the participants were assigned to a community site, they attended a kickoff event Saturday morning at the Chick Evans Field House.
During the kickoff, DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith said that the city of DeKalb and NIU have grown up together and that “we’ve experienced what a great thing it is to live in a college town.”
“Here in DeKalb, we do so much together, whether that be with learning from our diversity, working alongside on community policing, having fun at ARTigras or celebrating the consolidation of the Huskie and [Voluntary Action Center] bus lines,” Smith remarked to the crowd. “This college-town scenario presents us with a world of opportunity.”
Susan Miceli, a senior physical therapy major and member of NIU Deaf Pride, said that she participated in NIU Cares Day for the first time because she wanted to help others.
“I didn’t know what to expect; I just wanted to get involved with the community alongside my friends,” Miceli said. “It’s also important for us to spread awareness of our organization and learn more about DeKalb organizations, too.”
Steve Becker, Stage Coach Players’ president, said that having students help was integral in making a much-needed inventory purge.
“It would have taken a week to do what the students did in a couple of hours,” Becker said. “We’re so grateful for them and all of their help. They have done a tremendous amount of work. For them to take their morning off from school and studying to help us means a lot, not just here at Stage Coach, but at all the NIU Cares Day sites throughout DeKalb and the community.”