By Hadley Montgomery
As a Bonner leader, Sara Balte (C’17) implemented a program called “New Life,” that continues to enhance the lives of people in and around Sewanee. Through the Bonner Leader program, prospective apply for a four-year service internship and leadership program to forge connections with community partners and engage with the greater Sewanee community once on campus as freshman.
New Life is a non-profit agency that serves as a day home for people with intellectual, developmental, and other disabilities in Winchester, Tennessee. Balte’s involvement in the program began when she was asked to make a business plan for their art therapy program at the day center. Although this business was outside of her realm of expertise, she began attending New Life in Winchester when the idea came to her: “What if we start a group that comes to Sewanee?”
Beginning her junior year, approximately ten New Life members began coming to the mountain to hike, go on picnics at Lake Cheston, garden on the farm and at St. Mary’s, and even take a tour of the Sewanee Fire Department. One of the main struggles Balte faced was the lack of volunteers. From the beginning, she did most of the planning and the visits alone; however, she really wants New Life to “engage more with the student body,” and since the inception of this program, it has grown exponentially.
“Over time it developed into a big part of how I find meaning in my own life and how I can connect to people in Winchester whom I had no clue I would have the opportunity to connect with,” said Balte.
The New Life members now visit Sewanee twice a week. Balte arranges for the visitors to do music and art therapy once a week and to do a random activity, like breadmaking the other day. “We go to the CAC luncheon. We bake cookies for them, help set up, and eat,” Balte explained.
Although Balte is the backbone of the program on Sewanee’s campus, her position as leader will soon be changing as her graduation approaches. Someone new will lead the New Life site as a Canale Intern.
Balte has been “inviting people to volunteer a lot this semester, and some of them have expressed they want to take on the Canale.” She hopes that the new leader continues to reach out to the Sewanee community for visitors, much like she did. She stressed the importance of asking for guidance and assistance when planning the two days per week that the members visit.
“At this point, as a senior, I feel like I have kind of reached a lot of my goals that I didn’t even know I had set for myself. New Life has given me a sense of meaning and purpose, and it is something that motivates me to keep going,” Balte said when reflecting on her experience.