Ready to Help

Fred Rogers famously reminded us, in times of crisis, to “always look for the helpers.” During this coronavirus pandemic, countless helpers have stepped forward, including our Alverno Strong alums.

And there are so many ways to help. Whether it’s as health care workers caring for the ill, essential employees keeping the economy running and getting us the supplies we all need, educators adapting to virtual learning or professionals who are caring for society’s most vulnerable, Alverno alums are supporting their communities in meaningful and varied ways.

Alverno Magazine is proud to celebrate just a few of these many, many members of our community. Look for more stories in the coming weeks, and please help us continue celebrating these Alverno Strong helpers by emailing story ideas to magazine@alverno.edu.

Educator in action

Sarah Seegers ’19 is a special education teacher assistant at Franklin Elementary School in the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District, with a particular focus on four and five-year-old kindergartners. Not only does she co-teach, but she also helps her students with everything from practicing handwriting to developing their social skills, as well as recognizing and communicating their feelings in a healthy way.

After schools closed and shifted to online learning, Seegers has continued to provide much needed social interaction for her students. In one-on-one Zoom meetings, she’ll check in to see how a student is feeling, make sure they’re getting outside, work with them on phonics, early literacy and math, and then help them practice calming techniques. She also facilitates small group meetings online, giving the students a chance to see the faces they miss so much.

“Seeing their friends is amazing, especially for the kids who are nonverbal or who need more social interaction,” she says. “The kids tell me they want to be back at school. I understand — I do, too.”

Seegers does all this while homeschooling her own 12-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son and continuing online classes through Alverno’s Master of Arts in Education program. (She earned her bachelor’s degree from Alverno in December 2019.)

Despite the inherent challenges in these new daily routines, Seegers sees a lot to be thankful for, including her family’s health and the technology that empowers her to keep helping her students. “This is showing how strong we are right now, as a team and as a school.”

And she’s still invested in serving others. Seegers donned a mask and gloves to serve as an election inspector for the Wisconsin Elections Commission during the April 7, 2020 spring primary. It was her first time doing so. “I wanted to be involved in my community,” she explains.

That sense of community is going to be what gets everyone through this crisis, she believes.

“We’re all going through this together, and we’re going to come out stronger together,” she says.

Maintaining human connection

Monique Williams ’19 studied kinesiology at Alverno and plans to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy. As the lead rehab technician for Paxxon Therapy, Williams coordinates and teaches group exercise classes at two senior living facilities in Illinois and helps residents with private physical therapy sessions.

“What I like the most about my job is working with the patients because they are amazing,” she says.

Since the pandemic started, Williams has had to adjust her daily routine to keep herself and the elderly residents safe. She wears a mask daily and is vigilant about washing her hands. Group exercise classes were canceled at one facility, so she makes sure to show her face so residents know she’s thinking of them. At the other facility, she now leads what she calls “hallway classes,” where she does the exercises in the hallway while the residents follow along from their doorways.

Above all, she’s helping lift the residents’ spirits during this time of social distancing.

“We’ve been helping residents communicate with their family members,” she says. “I’ll help them FaceTime their families. We allow family members to come to the facility and they can stand outside a resident’s window to wave hello.”

Serving society’s most vulnerable

Sarah Kuhrt

Niki Klimowicz ’18 and Sarah Kuhrt ’19 each work at shelters for people experiencing homelessness. The goal is to support adults and families as they work to secure permanent housing.

Kuhrt works at the nonprofit organization Pillars, which operates two shelters in Appleton, Wis. The future social worker is driven to help a vulnerable population.

“A lot of times our society overlooks homeless people and thinks of them as a nuisance and they don’t receive compassion from our society as a whole,” she says. “The biggest feedback I hear from clients is that I treat them with dignity.”

Niki Klimowicz

Klimowicz works as a case manager at the Salvation Army Emergency Lodge, a 120-bed, 24-hour shelter for men, women and their families in downtown Milwaukee. The pandemic means things her clients would normally be doing — viewing apartments, attending support group meetings — have been canceled.

“I’ve had more residents with mental health emergencies lately. Although everything is sort of on hold right now, I do have extra time to offer those who are really struggling right now,” she says. “I’m glad we are still onsite to support the residents and provide necessary social services.”

Kuhrt is working to help her clients keep hope alive even as many have lost their jobs. “People are really discouraged right now. My biggest contribution is giving them reassurance. They’re still doing well, and it’s not their fault.”

Kuhrt is proud to continue working during the pandemic. “People usually think of police officers, firefighters and hospital workers as heroes. But we’re also heroes. It makes me feel good knowing I’m still able to help vulnerable populations during this time.”

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