Special program helps student volunteers develop job skills

“I absolutely love it,” Mike Sauer, 21, says of his volunteer job in the gift shop at Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina.

Mike Sauer, 21, spent the past year working as a student volunteer in the gift shop at Fairview Southdale Hospital. “I’ve always wanted to work in a retail store,” he says. “This place is perfect.”

Mike Sauer, 21, spent the past year working as a student volunteer in the gift shop at Fairview Southdale Hospital. “I’ve always wanted to work in a retail store,” he says. “This place is perfect.”

Since last September, Mike spent three hours a day, four days a week helping in the gift shop with everything from stocking shelves to running the cash register.

“It’s just a wonderful experience,” he says. “I’ve gotten some great experience, and I’m better with customers than I used to be.”

Mike is among four students and one graduate of Minnesota Life College who’ve been working at Fairview Southdale Hospital as volunteers to develop their job skills.

Minnesota Life College (MLC), located in Richfield, is a nonprofit, vocational and life skills training program for young adults, ages 18 to 26, with learning differences and autism spectrum disorders.

The MLC program includes internships at work sites to help students develop the job skills and social skills needed to be successful and independent.

A variety of tasks

Tasks performed by student volunteers depend on their abilities and interests, but often include data entry, scanning, filing, stocking, tidying up lounge areas and delivering things between departments.

Rowan Scherf, 21, says she has enjoyed her work as a student volunteer doing data entry at the hospital.

Rowan Scherf, 21, says she has enjoyed her work as a student volunteer doing data entry at the hospital.

Rowan Scherf, 21, provides data entry in Environmental Services at the hospital. “It’s amazing,” she says. “I love the managers here, and I love working with computers.”

“Before, I was adept with computers, but I’m learning new skills,” she adds. “I’m more social and much more open.”

Erik Hatlen, a graduate of MLC, has been providing data entry in Volunteer Services at the hospital during the past year. “I like meeting new people and like the people who I work with in the volunteer office,” he says.

“Fairview is living its value of ‘service,’” says Mary Coleman, an MLC job coach who works closely with the students at the hospital.

“Everyone has been very kind and respectful to the people who volunteer—and the training for volunteers is fantastic.”

A win-win partnership

Social and emotional well-being was identified as a top community health need in our hospital’s most recent assessment and action plan—and this partnership ties into that plan.

“It’s a good fit and a great way we can support our community,” says Alissa LeRoux Smith, manager of Community Health and Volunteer Services at the hospital.

“Being able to learn job skills contributes to the students’ social and emotional well-being,” she adds.

“At the same time, we benefit from the students’ skills and expertise—and from them being here consistently each week.”

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