AU spreads holiday cheer for Celebrate Differences

At Aurora University, the Wackerlin Center for Faith and Action is more than a place for students to reflect and explore their beliefs. It helps provide leadership and volunteer opportunities within the community that allow students to join forces to improve the world around them. On Saturday, December 7, the center, along with the Aurora University Students’ Association (AUSA), co-hosted a holiday party for Celebrate Differences, a nonprofit organization based in Oswego, Ill. that welcomes and provides support for families and children with disabilities.

The annual holiday party first took place in 2012 when Dr. Donald Phelps, Professor of Social Work, assigned his Interdisciplinary Studies class the task of finding a meaningful service project that they could complete together during the fall semester. After receiving the assignment, Amy Zepeda, AU ’15, turned to the staff of the Wackerlin Center for assistance and they connected her with Celebrate Differences. As Zepeda learned more about the organization, her enthusiasm for helping people with disabilities quickly extended to her classmates. When it came time for the class to vote on a service project, they decided to follow Zepeda’s recommendations and host a holiday party for the children involved with local nonprofit organization.

The event was so successful that the Wackerlin Center and AUSA decided to work together this year to again welcome Celebrate Differences families to campus in hopes of making the holidays a little brighter for those in need. “Organizing the Celebrate Differences holiday party for children with disabilities has provided me another opportunity to realize how much I, and so many of us, truly take for granted,” said AUSA Vice President Ross Copeland, AU’14.

Last weekend, their work came to fruition as more than 50 people, including children and their family members, attended the gathering, which featured arts and crafts, story-telling and gifts from Santa. “The success of the event exceeded my expectations based on the support that I received from the AU community alone,” said Copeland. “I hope that those who have taken their time for granted will volunteer it willingly to others in need.”