What do you call a ‘jungle gym’ when it’s actually in a …marsh? These RPTA students can tell you.

A group of Western Illinois University-Quad Cities students recently put the finishing touches on a project that gave them class credit for working outdoors, creating something for kids, and improving a part of the Quad Cities community.

And perhaps even more interesting for nature-lovers: they did the entire thing with almost 100-percent natural materials.

“My classmates and I were taking a geographic information system (GIS) class last fall (2016), Site Planning, and we had to design something for our final project,” explained Maddie Kull, a senior recreation, park and tourism administration (RPTA) major from Morrison, IL. “It just so happened that around the same time, Nahant Marsh received a donation to create a natural play area for children who visit the marsh.”

Kull and the rest of the group members worked from the beginning of their class in the fall semester, and into the summer, to create an all-natural “playscape.”

“Nahant wanted an area that was safe and engaging which would spotlight the area’s natural landscape,” added Jennifer Swofford, an RPTA major from Coal Valley, IL. “The request fit perfectly with our class’s emphasis on wise land-use¬†through inclusive community recreation and conservation.”

Maddie Kull at the Nahant Marsh “playscape”

What’s That Word?

“We use the word “playscape” instead of “playground” because, rather than this being an area separate from its surroundings in what it offers, it blends the natural elements of the marsh into a space that encourages free play and imaginative interaction with the environment,” Swofford explained. “Many of us on the project have very fond memories of playing in nature as children, so this allowed us tap into our experiences in a fun and creative way.”

photo of an outdoor playground made of all-natural materials

Wiki-up and wingspan: Nahant Marsh all-natural playscape created by WIU-QC students

What’s That Stuff?

The all-natural playscape consists of

  • a living fence made of different bushes all with edible fruits,
  • a large balance beam,
  • stepping stumps,
  • a wikki-up, which is a Native American hut made up of brushwood or covered with mats (“We created ours with willow saplings from the marsh,” Kull explained),
  • a loose play-area where children can play with cut-up pieces of small logs, and
  • bird silhouettes kids on which kids measure their “wingspan”

But Didn’t They Have to Kill Some Nature to Make Something out of Nature?

“Most of the materials used to make this project were gathered here at the marsh,” said Jevonnah Prashaw, Nahant Marsh Education Center natural resources manager, who oversaw the construction.They cut willows and used them to make the wikki, the stepping stones, and balance beam, and the loose play logs were all from trees here at the marsh that were taken down either because they were hazard trees or were non-native (a lot of it was mulberry, green ash, and boxelder). The ‘living border’ around the playscape is made of native shrubs, including aronia berry, hazelnut, serviceberry, and crab-apple.”

Prashaw noted the improvement that the playscape brings to the site. “It adds an enriching experience to the younger children that visit the marsh and gives them a chance to play with and experience natural materials in a safe learning environment,” she said.

Another fulfilling achievement from the project was working with RiverStone Group of Moline to secure a donation of crushed limestone to use as substrate, said Kull, who is also minoring in environmental studies.

“The best thing about this project for me was being part of it every step of the way,” Kull said. “I was there from the very beginning until the very end, and it’s wonderful seeing your ideas actually come to life!”

What RPTA Work Is All About, Inside and Outside the Classroom

“The class project was designed around wise land-use,” Swofford said. “There were so many things that I enjoyed both while in the class and while doing the project. The class is extremely helpful in focusing on all of the considerations that arise during park planning. Not only do you learn about the physical and technical aspects of planning through GIS, but you also incorporate the human and conservation side of planning that allows you better serve the community in a thoughtful and educated way.”

Swofford said she also enjoyed putting the classroom work into a collaborative, practical application.

“We worked as a team to create, work, and present our plan as would any company,” she said. “It was very helpful in shining a light on what we are able to do well and what considerations we should make in the future. Our professor, Rob Porter, did an excellent job of guiding us when necessary, but giving us enough freedom to experience the project from a professional point of view.”

Swofford reflected on what she’ll take away from the project overall.

“The greatest thing I learned from both the project and the class is that wise land use is really a balancing act wherein you must consider many different elements of planning,” she said. “Recreation is not always about what attracts the most people to an area, but how well both the community and environment is cared for when they do come. Effective planners have to take into account all aspects of a landscape and community to bring a service that will be both fun and functional, while being considerate of the surrounding environment.”

Summer Love

Even once the project was finished, Kull was happy to remain at the Marsh this summer as an intern doing animal care as an intern.

“We have a variety of reptiles and amphibians that call the education center their home,” she said. “I also work on the natural resource team, working on restoring prairie and making sure the marsh is a thriving healthy ecosystem. I’ve fallen too deeply in love with the animals and the marsh to leave!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAPPING new directions for small communities

Recent studies have shown that rural populations are declining. But citizens of some small towns across the state are taking community development into their own hands, with the help of a group of experts from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA), which is housed at Western Illinois University. A recent article from the Herald-Review.com (Decatur, Ill.), describes how, in the community of Shelbyville, residents are working together–and with the IIRA–to help sustain and improve their town.

(More, below the image)

screen shot of IIRA MAPPING image

Just what does the IIRA do? Find out more on their website, or read about IIRA staff member Fred Iutzi’s recent appointment to the Alternative Fuels Commission board by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

‘Riding the wave of awareness’

‘Riding the wave of awareness’

Student helps organizes preventative screening for those in need

Kymberly Miller is excited about educating people on a topic that few like to talk about.

Miller, a non-traditional student who is taking courses at Western Illinois University-Quad Cities while working full-time for Trinity Regional Health System in Rock Island, Ill., organized a free colorectal cancer-screening event earlier this month for qualifying people in the Quad Cities region, the first event of its kind in the area. (Click here to see Miller receiving the Lujack’s Extra Mile Award on WQAD Channel 8).

Miller, who works in Trinity’s GI Lab, took on the additional responsibilities of an internship for the organization, through which she helped provide preventative screenings to the uninsured or to those would not have been able to afford the procedure otherwise. Since last fall, Miller has been working to coordinate donations, medical staff, and patients who meet the qualifications. Her efforts resulted in five doctors and 35 staff members volunteering their time on a Saturday (March 5, during Colon Cancer Awareness Month), providing preventative procedures to as many as 15 patients who could be at risk for the disease–which include factors such as family history and being over the age of 40.

“Our main goal with this has been to educate people, raise awareness, and provide the screening for people who’ve met the criteria,” she said. “Getting screened is the best way to diagnose cancer. There is no better way.”

(More, below the photo)

photo of Kymberly Miller
Kymberly Miller, WIU-QC student

In her position at Trinity, Miller is responsible for assisting with basic operations of the department. While she doesn’t have a history of colon cancer in her family, she has seen firsthand the benefits of early screening–and, at the same time, the devastating news that a cancer has been found too late, and could have been easily prevented.

“I’ve seen people who’ve put it off and put it off… and then it’s too late, and you just feel bad. It’s such a preventable cancer. If you get it early, there’s a 90 percent chance you’re going to be fine. You hear so much about breast cancer, and colon cancer actually kills more women, but you don’t hear about it as much because nobody wants to talk about colon cancer preparedness. But it’s not anything to be scared of. The screening is usually done in 15 minutes.”

A new kind of lab, a new direction

Not long after beginning her new life as a student and full-time worker, Miller took on an internship, which consisted of coordinating the free screening event. And though the event may have only been one day, it became a reality through Miller’s efforts to coordinate patient care technicians and secure donations from medical supply companies. She wrote proposals that resulted in a company providing all of the day’s pathology reports for free, to the scope provider donating extra scopes for the day.

Miller explained that she was a facilitator for an idea that had long been in the works in the community. Trinity has representatives on the Colon Cancer Free QCA Consortium, through which area doctors’ offices collaborate to raise awareness and educate the public, and general practitioners ensure that people are getting screenings if they meet the risk factors. Trinity and the consortium partnered with a free clinic in the area that offers services to the working uninsured to identify individuals who would qualify for the free screening.

Miller came to her job and her internship at Trinity after having worked for several years in quality control in a chemical plant. But a few years ago, she found herself unemployed. So she took an entry-level position as a technician in the GI Lab at Trinity, and at the same time decided to pursue a degree in general studies at WIU.

“I’ve taken several classes over the years, and with the job market the way it is, I definitely wanted to go back and finish that up,” she explained.

Now in her second year of studies at WIU, Miller has focused on management and communications courses, and her classes–particularly those with Mary Hogg, associate professor of communication at WIU-QC–have helped her with her with the internship, and vice versa.

“Mary Hogg had me speak about the screening event in class, and she ran off the flyer that I’d made up, offering extra credit to students who want to come and write something up about it.

“I’ve had to speak with doctors, with the president of Trinity, present my progress to the senior team, the CEO and COO,” she added. “It has helped me build confidence, definitely. A lot of doctors have been very supportive. When they tell you how proud they are and give you words of encouragement, it’s nice. And it all boils down to the fact that you’re helping people.”

One giant team

Miller explained that in addition to donations secured for the screening day, the Trinity Foundation provided funding for the event. But Miller got so involved in the cause, she decided to create her own fundraiser to help out even more–a Taco Tuesday at a local pub that donates proceeds to local causes.

“I just felt like this event was something worth growing and sustaining,” she said. “So I hit up local business to provide certificates and baskets for a silent auction. But it was also just a way for all the volunteers to blow off steam, have a good time, and kind of ride the wave of awareness we’ve been going on.

“What keeps me motivated is that I’m helping people, and the fact that this has never been done before,” she continued. “I’ve enjoyed the people-contact, too; I love to talk to people, and when I can get people to feel good about giving to the cause, when it becomes a giant team, that’s fulfilling, also. It’s a huge project, and I feel blessed that I got such a cool project to work on. And to be the first one to do it is pretty cool too.”

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Students purchase more than $300 in groceries for local food pantries

If you happened to shopping for groceries at a local store yesterday, you might have gotten in line behind a group of shoppers with six carts, and who were trying to calculate their expenses with a calculator–but they were actually working for a great cause, not just holding up the line!

[More, after these photos]

photo of WIU Management students with food donation

photo of Management class delivering food

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, nine WIU freshmen and their instructors shopped together at a grocery store in Macomb, filling carts with more than $300 worth of groceries including canned vegetables, peanut butter and other staples.

But it wasn’t to stock up their own residence hall rooms for the winter months.

Beginning in late October, students in four sections of Management 125Y, Business and Technology in a Global Society–a class offered through Western’s First Year Experience (FYE) program–sold 50/50 raffle tickets to benefit local food pantries. These nine students (above) volunteered to take the proceeds to the store and purchase groceries for disadvantaged families in the area. And as the holiday season approaches, this project was in addition to the Black Student Association’s ongoing Thanksgiving Basket Project, in conjunction with the annual Cans Across America Drive.

Instructors Jeri Harper, Becky Mahr and Cathy Onion came up with the idea for the raffle project.

“Considering the current economic climate, the students involved are receptive to the idea of giving back to the community they live in,” Mahr said. “Since a majority of today’s businesses stress social responsibility, this project prepares students to volunteer and assume an active role in making a difference.”

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