How do you get Lawrence students out in the community while also promoting the health of children in the Appleton area? Little Vikes has it figured out.
The club, founded by two Lawrence University men’s hockey players, provides opportunities for athletics and general wellness education to children in the Fox Cities through mentoring and support from Lawrence students. The Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) approved Little Vikes as an official club last spring, making it a new addition to the school’s repertoire of more than 100 student organizations.
Danny Toycen ’21 and Jordan Boehlke ’20 founded Little Vikes in the summer of 2018. The club isn’t Toycen’s first experience with volunteer work. When he was a junior hockey player in La Crosse, he connected with his community as a peer mentor for younger players.
“We’d bring little kids and youth hockey players into the locker room,” Toycen recalls, “and they’d give us a pep talk or we’d give them fist bumps and stuff like that. They loved it.”
Toycen also assisted Coulee Region Sled Hockey in La Crosse, where individuals with disabilities that prevent them from skating can navigate the ice on sleds. He was moved by seeing people overcome obstacles to be active and have fun playing the sport they love.
He took these experiences with him to Appleton, where he saw a need for mentors for children needing wellness education.
“Getting to do stuff like that is what I really loved,” Toycen says. “I just wanted to do something like that here at Lawrence.”
Thus, Little Vikes was born. It’s still in its infancy, but Toycen and Boehlke say they hope it’ll grow well beyond its dozen members and will establish itself as an active student program that will live on at Lawrence long after they’ve graduated.
The mission is simple, yet has the potential for high impact in the lives it touches.
“We’re trying to promote an active and healthy lifestyle, while still putting an emphasis on education and things like that,” Toycen says. “We want the kids being active, learning sportsmanship and being on a team. Things that come from being an athlete I’ll definitely take into any job or career I choose to follow.”
Since becoming an official club, Little Vikes has been able to plot a clearer course for community outreach. The most recent development is a budding partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley. The club plans to host weekly activities and events at the nonprofit youth organization’s local facilities.
Toycen also is setting his sights on working with SOAR Fox Cities, a local nonprofit and Special Olympics agency that provides a range of programs for disabled individuals.
In the meantime, the club’s activities are geared toward connecting with kids in the Fox Cities and spreading the word about its mission. In November, Little Vikes will hold its second annual Toy Drive for the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin-Fox Valley. The group also will visit classrooms at Horizon Elementary School in Appleton in February to make valentines.
These activities have something to offer the kids involved. And Toycen says Lawrentians need the community exposure that Little Vikes provides.
“It’s always good to help and serve your community in whatever way you can,” he says. “Especially people coming from out of state and out of the country, for them to get a real feel for the Midwest and the Wisconsin lifestyle.”
Despite the focus on athletics, the Little Vikes club is open to anyone on campus dedicated to supporting wellness in Fox Cities youth. The organizers are setting their sights on growth.
“I want to see the club grow,” Toycen says simply. “Part of the reason we went through LUCC is to make sure it stays here. I feel like there’s a need for it. I want to see that need be served each year well after both of us move on.”