Coe College - Center for Community Engagement


ICAP Spotlight: Katie Gerhart

A Day at Prairiewoods

This year I chose to volunteer with Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center through the Iowa College Americorps Program (ICAP). Prairiewoods, located in Hiawatha, is a nonprofit organization focused on improving the community through a variety of environmentally-minded events and spiritual retreats. Many of these events are held on their beautiful land which consists of 30 acres of prairie and 40 acres of woodland (hence the name Prairiewoods). I chose to work with Prairiewoods because I was interested in their mission and wanted to learn more about how they became an award-winning environmental nonprofit organization. Throughout my time at Prairiewoods, I have come to understand how important the center is to connecting people in the community and to making community members feel enriched in their daily lives.

No two days at Prairiewoods are the same because the nature of Prairiewoods is less like a business and more like a family. I do a lot of reading and researching for Prairiewoods overall, but I also help with daily maintenance of the facility as needed. All the staff at Prairiewoods—even the Executive Director—have helped tidy up guest bedrooms, clean the bathrooms, and help in the kitchen, just as a family would.

Throughout the fall semester, I was engaged in doing research and writing informed articles about environmental topics related to Prairiewoods. I also helped facilitate their large annual events including the Alternative Gift Exchange and Holiday Bazaar. For the spring term, I anticipate working to maintain the beauty of Prairiewoods’ natural landscape by clearing the trails and planting new crops in the garden. I will also assist with various projects to ready Prairiewoods for their upcoming 20th anniversary in 2017.

Prairiewoods has been an established organization since 1996 and has continued to grow because of its dedicated staff and numerous volunteers. Though Prairiewoods has had immense part-time help from community volunteers, they have not experienced the aid of many interns. In fact, I am the first person Prairiewoods has decided to work with to create an internship program. I hope that my work at Prairiewoods this year will help establish a relationship between Prairiewoods and Coe College and that in the future students will seek Prairiewoods out as a place of refuge and volunteerism.

For additional information about the programs Prairiewoods offers (including free mandala coloring sessions, yoga classes, and drum circles) or opportunities to volunteer please visit or contact Katie Gerhart at [email protected]

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