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children visit UMD
Katie Moret, next to Champ, is the president of the UMD University Honors Student Association. Members of the group volunteered for after school activities and hosted events for the children from the Steve O'Neil Apartments in the 2015-16 school year. Here, the children visit UMD.  

Honors Students Connect to the Community:
Katie Moret Shares Her Story

champ hug
Champ gave out big hugs
Everyone enjoyed the group art project.
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Students tried to catch a ball while wearing vision distorting goggles.
Learning to Skate
The ice was perfect for smooth skating

The room is bright; large windows face the street. Katie Moret hardly notices the small chairs and round tables around her. She is focused on all the details of planning and coordinating 30 University Honors students trying to create a special experience for the smiling children filling the room.

Katie, a UMD senior psychology major, volunteers and coordinates several events in the Steve O’Neil Apartments. The apartments are new to Duluth. They are a 44-unit permanent housing community and emergency family shelter that opened in early 2015. 

Katie is deeply involved. She is the president of the UMD University Honors Student Association (UHSA). The UHSA made a long term commitment to work with the children that live in the Steve O’Neil Apartments. Their involvement started in fall 2014, when they raised $10,000 to furnish the bathrooms in the apartments. In spring 2015 they began working with the kids, all who had experienced homelessness.

“I come to the Steve O’Neil Apartments to spend time with the kids,” says Katie. “When we started, we thought we were the ones who would do the giving, but it turns out the kids give us so much.”

The Commitment
By fall 2015, the UHSA took on a bigger commitment. Every day, six days a week, for at least a few hours a day, one or more of the honors students volunteer with the children at the apartments.

The UHSA students get assistance and training from Lee Stuart, the executive director of CHUM, a non-profit group that helps provide basic necessities for people in Duluth and Christy Gould, Children's Program Director of the Steve O'Neil Apartments. The sessions with the children are relaxed and fun. The UHSA students help with homework, cooking classes, and other activities. “We play with the kids, too,” says Katie. “Most of all we care about them.”

In fall 2015, the UHSA hosted a kick-off barbecue at the apartments, complete with hot dogs, hamburgers and games. “We were really unsure how things would go,” Katie says. “But the doors opened and the kids raced in and when it was done they begged us to keep it going.” They played with hula hoops and jump ropes and the UHSA students did a lot of face painting. 

Last month, the honors students brought the kids and their families to UMD for a “really successful campus visit,” says Katie. The day was filled with a planetarium visit, science and art exhibits, ice skating, lunch at the UMD Dining Center, and even a showing from Champ the Bulldog. Katie says. “The whole day was really incredible.”

Ryan Goei, director of University Honors, feels humbled watching the UHSA. "This is a very special group of students. They take on big commitments hoping to make a positive difference in their community. They come away realizing the relationships they form with these children are just as important to them as they are to the children."

The Spring Party
On April 15, the UHSA is bringing a chili cook-off to the apartments. It’s a way of saying goodbye for the summer. “We didn’t want the school year to just fizzle out and have the college students suddenly disappear from their lives,” said Katie. “It’s also a thank you for letting us into their lives."

Continuing the Connection
The UHSA will be back next fall. “Our goal is to build a long-term partnership,” said Katie. The UHSA has done lots of volunteering in the past, but as one isolated incident at a time. 

During the past two years, the UHSA comfort level has increased. At first, some of the honors students were hesitant. “Most of us had not done this before,” Katie says. “We didn't really know what to expect.”

Now, there’s little apprehension. “The parents are so grateful and we love seeing the kids have fun,” Katie says. “I think we're starting to see ourselves a bit like big brothers and sisters.” 

The UHSA work in the Steve O’Neil Apartments is only part of Katie’s personal goals. She is interested in art therapy and helping people dealing with domestic abuse. She traveled on a 2014 UMD study abroad program to learn about learn about violence, women's rights, and art therapy in Italy and she’s looking ahead to graduate school.

She’s says the UHSA’s commitment is meaningful. “It’s important. It’s making Duluth a better place.”

Find out more: University Honors Student Association.


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