Partner Perspectives are written by members of the Community Consulting Board through the Center for Civic Engagement. These articles provide examples of partnerships, best practices, and other insights from the viewpoint of Illinois State University’s community partners.
By The Baby Fold employees Claire Wagner, B.S. Mass Media ‘21, and Sam Guillory, B.S. Agriculture ‘11
Located less than a ten-minute walk from Hewett-Manchester and Watterson Towers, The Baby Fold has been working hand-in-hand with Illinois State University for decades. The timeless collaboration gives students and staff opportunities for internships, employment, and volunteering for a nationally recognized nonprofit child welfare organization. Fulfilling both local community needs and service hours, The Baby Fold invites ISU students to spring into action where they shine most—whether it be research and data entry, landscaping and construction work, human resources and networking, or directly helping the children and families served. Students of all majors and interests have the opportunity to serve year-round at The Baby Fold. Redbirds are heavily involved with Baby Fold events like Easter egg hunts in the spring, landscaping playgrounds and gardens in the summer, sorting and processing Christmas presents in the winter, and of course, lending a hand at The Baby Fold’s Festival of Trees fundraiser in the fall.
With over 11,000 attendees across the Midwest attending The Festival of Trees, The Baby Fold offers countless opportunities for volunteers, and Illinois State staff and students are happy to help. ISU clubs, classrooms, and individuals have been involved with every aspect of the Christmas extravaganza, from set-up to tear down, and everything in between. Designers have created spectacular trees and holiday décor to be auctioned off to support the children and families The Baby Fold cares for. Teams set up hundreds of trees ranging from under two feet tall to a whopping seven feet tall, fluffing each branch before adding strings of lights and ornaments. On top of the trees, students help set up and play parts in the silent auction, Santa’s workshop, family dinner, and more. Experiencing shining lights, a festive atmosphere, and a group of friends by their side is a fantastic moment for students to feel connected to each other and the Bloomington-Normal community. The 28th annual Festival of Trees will take place the weekend before Thanksgiving and volunteer opportunities will be posted soon to the Festival website.
Right after the Festival of Trees, Redbirds get to work as Santa’s elves in The Baby Fold’s Christmas Wish List program. Community donors adopt and fulfill Christmas lists for children served by The Baby Fold. Without the generous donations, many children served by The Baby Fold would not experience the joy of unwrapping presents under the tree on Christmas morning. During set-up, volunteers create a magnificent toy room at one of The Baby Fold’s many campuses and set up a welcoming space for donors to drop-off the gifts. During the program, students help Baby Fold staff to process gifts for over 700 children in foster care, adoption support, and other programs. After every child’s list has been filled, volunteers pack up the Christmas showroom until next December. Volunteer opportunities for The Baby Fold’s Christmas Wish List program will be available on The Baby Fold website this fall.
Fraternities and Sororities at Illinois State are offered multiple ways to bond with their brothers and sisters while volunteering for The Baby Fold. Not only do they provide help in The Festival of Trees and Christmas Wish List, but in other projects as well. For example, in recognition of The Baby Fold putting over 500,000 miles on their fleet of agency vehicles each year to serve children and families in their own homes, students came together to wash and detail the agency’s vehicles. Students would laugh and shout as they hosed each other down with water after a fun day’s work, feeling content knowing their work also helped children in our community. They got down and dirty to make the cars spick and span for Baby Fold workers and the kids and families they care for.
Illinois State University’s motto, “Gladly We Learn and Teach,” is widely reflected in The Baby Fold’s Hammitt Special Education School programs. Teacher Therapists attentively learn how to teach students with trauma and emotional-behavioral disorders, and exhibit unwavering dedication and care towards each child and their needs. Students in Illinois State University’s special education and social work programs have come to The Baby Fold to further their careers. Redbirds donated their time at The Baby Fold both before and after graduation as volunteers and interns to serve our community. The Baby Fold’s main office is a walkable distance from the ISU campus for students to volunteer even without car access.
For more information about internships, employment, or volunteering at The Baby Fold, visit the website.