Twelve organizations and nonprofits across Missoula nominated 16 University of Montana students as this year’s crop of outstanding volunteers, though the true number of college volunteers is counted at more than 1,000.

The Office for Civic Engagement at UM announced the winners last week during the Spring Leadership Recognition ceremony. The nominees were submitted by local organizations, with the winners selected by a panel of faculty, staff and students.

“Each time I volunteered, I saw something new and more interesting,” said Travis Tikka, who volunteers at the Poverello Center and was selected as one of UM’s outstanding student volunteers. “I learned how close the rest of the population is to being homeless without even knowing it. It drove me to continue helping where I could.”

Jeff Wilson, who volunteers with Court Appointed Special Advocates of Missoula, also recieved top honors for his service.

Colleen Kane, the student programs manager with the Office for Civic Engagement, said student groups at UM produced 270 volunteers who provided 3,000 service hours in the community.

Another 730 students earning academic credits in service learning classes provided 5,000 additional hours of service with 124 community partners.

One service learning class on hunger and homelessness partnered with the Poverello Center, and as students explored the systemic problems behind homelessness on an academic level, they also were called upon to prepare meals, serve food, staff the office and participate in the shelter’s outreach efforts.

“A lot of these nonprofits rely on their volunteers in general,” said Kane. “Missoula is a very rich community in its number of nonprofits, and those nonprofits rely heavily on the Missoula community to help meet their needs. It’s awesome to see volunteers turn up in droves.”

In February, UM ranked 12th for the second year among medium-sized universities for producing Peace Corps volunteers. It also marked the 10th time UM ranked among the top 25 volunteer-producing schools.

As a state, Montana ranked eighth nationally for its rate of volunteerism, according to Volunteering in America. In the state, Missoula claims one of the highest densities of nonprofits.

“Missoula’s nonprofits have few paid staff members, and they rely on student leaders to serve their mission and meet the needs of the community,” said Kane. “There aren’t a lot of opportunities to commend our volunteers and say thank you.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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