SPOTLIGHT: Dr. Jerri Kropp and Dr. Brent Wolfe
“I guess we've given up our spring break for the rest of our lives,” Dr. Jerri Kropp remembers saying to Dr. Brent Wolfe after Georgia Southern University’s first session with Camp Blue Skies in 2011.
Seven years later, Brent calls the work with Camp Blue Skies “the most pure thing that I do.” Jerri quickly agrees.
The pair tag-teams coordinating Georgia Southern University’s Alternative Spring Break program for students to volunteer with Camp Blue Skies. She is an Associate Professor of Child and Family Development, and he’s a Professor of Recreational Therapy.
Dan Matthews, Camp Twin Lakes Chief Operating Officer, played matchmaker: GSU was looking to add another Alternative Spring Break for students, and Camp Blue Skies needed volunteers.
So far, around 160 students have spent the week with our campers instead of heading to the beach. “Some attended all four years,” said Brent. “And some are still volunteering.”
GSU students begin volunteer training sessions in January and visit Camp Twin Lakes in February to train with the Camp Blue Skies team. “The student who starts with us in January is not the same student after camp,” Brent says.
“Students love to see the campers overcome hurdles and accomplish goals,” Jerri said. “Often, the students are transformed by these amazing experiences and come to the realization that the campers are just like them. Seeing that change in our students is incredible.”
Spending a week at camp is such a transformative experience that some students change their majors when they get back to school, Brent said. Many become strong advocates for our community.
Camp Blue Skies uses the GSU partnership as a template when approaching other schools about volunteering. The key to the successful relationship? “You have to work with partners that are passionate and see it as something students will want to do, not something they have to do,” Jerri says. “Or else it becomes just a line on their CV,” Brent says.
The week also has become part of Brent and Jerri’s families’ lives. One of Brent’s daughter’s birthdays usually falls during camp and is celebrated at camp. Jerri’s husband will come for a few days if his schedule permits. Wrigley, a certified therapy dog that Jerri owns and handles, volunteered until 2017. The white German Shepherd turned 11 this year and is be- loved by many campers, volunteers and staff members.
What do they do when they’re not at camp or teaching? Jerri loves to read and enjoys traveling with her husband to countries such as Ireland, Scotland, Italy and France. They also have two grandchildren to visit these days. Brent enjoys having unplanned adventures with his family and perfecting his night photography skills. “I go to crazy places in the middle of the night and take photos.”