It takes a village! Eagle Village, a Northern Michigan nonprofit in Hersey, supports youth through love, education and care—and it needs your help. Give back to the community through programs that fit your schedule while leaving a lasting impression on local youth.

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Do you have a few hours to spare on a Friday? We have an idea for you.

“Friends Friday” is the newest program at Eagle Village, an organization that has been changing the lives of youth and families since 1968, located in Hersey, Michigan.

Eagle Village supports children impacted by trauma with several programs: a residential care program for 10- to 17-year-olds, summer camps and weekend interventions, therapy programs and mentorships, foster care and adoption services … the list goes on.

Given the breadth of their programs, it’s easy to see why “Friends Friday” is an excellent way for volunteers to learn about the world of Eagle Village and see which of the nonprofit’s many programs might be a fit for their skills.

“Come in and see what we are doing firsthand,” says Chad Saxton, director of outreach and engagement. “We see how visits spark something in potential volunteers—they suddenly see how their own special skills or gifts can help the kids, and they get excited.”

A prime example of this happened a year ago when a volunteer was on campus helping the boys decorate for Christmas. She left wanting to do something special for them and donated $8,000 for mountain bikes.

A man teaching a younger woman and boy about a technical project

Photo by Eagle Village

Another volunteer was there for a tour and heard the story of the donation. He was a mountain biking enthusiast and after seeing the gorgeous wooded campus—all 681 acres of it—he became invested in doing more. The volunteer went on to recruit biking friends to help improve trails on the property and—the fun part—put together group rides for the kids.

“The only catch was that it was impossible to find bikes during Covid-19,” Chad says. “But the volunteer didn’t give up. He reached out to REI and explained what Eagle Village does to help youth. It just so happened that the very same day, REI got a huge shipment of bikes in. They sent us the first 20 mountain bikes from the shipment!”

Programs like these not only get kids outside in nature—a key part of Eagle Village’s healing philosophy—they also work as an incentive. Children who complete five rides and an hour of trail work receive a bike jersey.

But there’s one thing that means most of all.

“There are a lot of firsts for kids here at Eagle Village,” Chad adds. “You can’t fathom it in most cases, but some kids here have never been on a bike or gone for an ice cream cone after a game.”

Chad shares another “first” story at Eagle Village that happened on Christmas morning.

“We had one young gal opening her present very, very slowly. Finally, we had to ask, why are you taking so long?” recalls Chad. The answer: The girl had never received a Christmas present before, and she wanted to make it last.

“She said her mother was always working to keep the heat on and keep them in their home, so there wasn’t any money for presents,” Chad says.

It’s stories like these that are both heartbreaking and heartwarming at Eagle Village.

A Helping Hand

Eagle Village has a 1:3 staff to youth ratio. Volunteers are in addition to staff members, so they don’t have to handle behavioral issues; they are there to enjoy, have fun and engage with the kids. All volunteers undergo a background check and training before starting, Chad notes.

Volunteers Rick and Beth Gentner are reg lar faces at Eagle Village. However, when Covid closed the campus to volunteers last year, they had to get creative.

The Gentners put out a Facebook call to provide masks for the youth, collecting 400 handmade cloth masks. Then, when they couldn’t decorate the residential houses for the holidays as usual, they collected “Cookie Baking Kits” (via Facebook again) for the residential houses instead.

“They thought of everything!” Chad says. “The kits included aprons, baking sheets, spatulas, ingredients, a recipe—everything.”
Rick and Beth both say the experience is beyond fulfilling.

“There is no way to track the impact that volunteering has,” Rick says. “There is no way to put a price on the worth and value this brings to your life.”

Two men working on a wood project

Photo by Eagle Village

The Programs at Eagle Village

As the pandemic continues, Eagle Village has about 30 children on campus, half their usual number. In 2019, Eagle Village served 120 Michigan youth from 56 different counties. Currently, they have four residential houses open, down from six, due to lack of staffing—some- thing that is happening across the board with all residential programs, Chad says.

Each house has nine children (grouped by age and gender) with three staff members on day, afternoon and overnight shifts to care for them. The children go to a charter school right on campus and do normal family things together after school, like sports (mountain biking!), leisure, dance, art, Christmas pageants, drama, etc. There are auditions and practices and prepping stages, and parents and the public are invited to watch their productions.

There is also a vocational certification program available for older residents as they prepare to leave Eagle Village and live in the community. All residents are provided with on-site medical care and therapy, and all students have the opportunity to earn a high school diploma.

In addition, the children’s families are involved in Legacy Weekends, which are chances for Eagle Village therapists to work with kids and their families together. When safe and appropriate, Eagle Village picks up the family, provides all the food and lodging for the weekend, and returns the family to their home at no cost.

“We do our best to help the family heal as a whole,” Chad says.

A group of children with a woman in a park

Photo by Eagle Village

Eagle Village Mentor Volunteers

Mentoring children is another rewarding way to volunteer at Eagle Village. Mentors are assigned by gender.

“For example, we would pair up a female adult with a young lady for an hour a week,” Chad says. “It could be phone mentoring or they might come here, walk and play games with them. After six or so visits, they might take off-campus field trips. We keep it very structured, so everyone knows what to expect.”

They are sure to emphasize that mentors aren’t there to lecture or become additional therapists, they are simply there to care about the kids. “Some of our kids don’t have any place to go on Christmas Day, no foster home, nowhere,” Chad says. “They see other kids getting phone calls, but they don’t. Mentors can become that person for them.”

In addition, Eagle Village facilitates foster care and adoptions. Chad has firsthand experience with the program. He started fostering with his wife in 1994, and they have adopted three children. “When you work here, you see kids who need help and don’t have it,” Chad says. “Our adopted children are now ages 31, 22 and 14. We see miracles here every day.”

Man standing by orange cones

Photo by Eagle Village

How You Can Volunteer with Eagle Village

Come spend time at Eagle Village! No matter how much time you have to volunteer, there’s an opportunity to fit your schedule.

1 HOUR
• Speak in chapel or be a part of student athletic events.

2 HOURS
• Teach a specific skill, such as cooking, crafts, organizing or changing car oil.
• Participate in a Career Day and share what you do and the education it requires.
• Mentor a child—spend two to four hours monthly investing in them through phone calls and in-person visits.
• Bring a group for a tour of the campus.

4 HOURS
• Help with an event, such as Eagles Pride (residents are recognized for accomplishments and get to have their hair done, makeup, formal attire and dinner to celebrate!) or the Eagle Village 5K, usually held in July.
• Invite Eagle Village to speak at your church or service group.
• Invite Eagle Village children to an event or project in your community.

5 HOURS
• Attend an Eagles in Action Day to help tackle larger projects around campus. (There’s usually one in April for spring cleaning.)
• Do landscaping or raking around campus.

LONG-TERM
• Coordinate volunteers (10 hours weekly).
• Rally your church or group to adopt one of their residential houses. Be their go-to person for learning skills, cheering them on and helping purchase Christmas presents
(1-year commitment).
• Involve your group or another organization in recurring volunteer days.

YOUR AREA OF EXPERTISE
• Offer your area of expertise to the Career and Trades Center program. Some examples include teaching kids how to mountain bike or cook a meal.

Man working on a wood project

Photo by Eagle Village

For more information, visit the Eagle Village website. “Friends Friday” is held the third Friday of every month and includes a campus tour and lunch with the kids. Some needs include mowing, raking, gift wrapping, baking, sorting clothing and spring cleaning. Chad encourages you to come out and see if there’s a way to share your gifts.

Kandace Chapple is a freelance writer and founder of the Michigan Girl Bike Club. She can be reached at kandacechapple.com.

Photo(s) by Eagle Village