Chippewa Falls (WQOW) - A Chippewa Falls woman volunteers her time to help mold the next generation of volunteers. That's why Mary Jacobson is the March winner of the Jefferson Award.
Thirteen years ago, Mary Jacobson wanted to create more volunteer opportunities for her children. From that idea, McDonell Student Ambassadors was born.
"Kids don't want to do it if it's just their parents asking them," Jacobson said. "If they're doing it with their friends, it's more fun, so it's more rewarding."
The first year, 45 students signed up. Now, in the 12 years since, participation hovers around 100 - roughly one-third of the McDonell Middle and High School students .
I have the valedictorians, the honor society students, the band kids, quarterbacks and baseball players," Jacobson said.
Ambassadors must participate in at least seven charity events a year, but that's never really an issue.
The ambassadors help in about a dozen organizations across the Chippewa Valley, and donate roughly 1,600 hours each year.
"As a high schooler, it's hard to feel like you're making an impact in people's lives, but Student Ambassadors has given me an opportunity to do that.," said McDonell Senior, Megan Baier.
However, Jacobson wants students to do more than donate time, but to grow as well.
"I talk a lot about getting out of your comfort zone," she said. "I tell them that is where the magic is."
Two students who helped at Special Olympics even found their calling. "One's got a degree in special education and another has a degree in speech therapy because of that experience," Jacobson said.
It isn't only the students volunteering their time, but Jacobson as well.
"She does it all volunteering, she doesn't get anything in return, and I think that says a lot about her," Baier said.
Jacobson volunteers anywhere between 20 and 40 hours a week running the program. On top of donating time, she even bought her own desk for the school.
What started as a project for her kids, has grown into a life's purpose.
"I could go get a job and punch a clock, but I wouldn't have probably the same reward, because the passion is here," Jacobson said.
To be part of Student Ambassadors, each student must apply for the program each year and get recommended by two teachers
Jacobson's children are now having kids of their own, but says she has no plans to step away from the program anytime soon.
If you know a volunteer making a difference in your community, you can nominate them here for a Jefferson Award.