NSU alum creates ‘Hearts in the Park’ to assist homeless population

Female soldier singing in front of an American flag

ABERDEEN, S.D. – This fall, a Northern State University alumna helped create an event that brought much-needed care and assistance to more than 100 homeless individuals in Wisconsin.

Katie Cramer organized Hearts in the Park, held Sept. 1 in La Crosse, Wis. Cramer, a registered nurse, said the event came about due to the fact that this year has been difficult for everyone, but especially those without a home.

“Together, we brought food, love, medical aid, and so much more to over 100 hearts living in our park communities,” said Cramer, a 2016 NSU School of Fine Arts graduate.

Along with serving more than 150 meals to homeless individuals, Hearts in the Park provided blood pressure checks, foot and wound care, drug and alcohol resources, behavioral health resources, housing resources, hygiene supplies, haircuts and beard trims. It also raised $4,952, funding hygiene packs and a donation to The La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness. 

Originally from Lake City, S.D., Cramer first began working in health care as a nursing assistant at Aberdeen’s Bethesda Nursing Home. She then completed the NSU-SDSU Accelerated Nursing Program, and has been an RN for just over two years.

Cramer started her nursing career working on a medical-surgical behavioral health unit. Then, she volunteered to work on the COVID-19 unit for about six months. Now, she works in the intensive care unit at Gundersen Medical Center in La Crosse.

Inspired by Her Mother’s Example

Cramer saw a need for an event like Hearts in the Park from working on a unit caring for this underserved population. But she was also inspired by her mother’s history of helping others.

“Growing up, my mom inspired me to get involved with local charities through the Marshall County Relay for Life, American Cancer Society Fundraisers,” she said. “I've watched her lead and be a part of many giving organizations for over two decades, and I want to continue her legacy across the Midwest.”

Cramer’s own history of service includes serving with the South Dakota Army National Guard for almost 10 years.

“I still continue to travel to South Dakota once a month to serve my state and hope to do another 10 years doing what I love, giving back to veterans and their families,” she said.

Active on Campus at Northern

During her time at Northern, Cramer was active on campus, including serving in Student Government Association as Senator of Fine Arts; Cheerleading; Symphonic Band; Marching Band; Jazz Band; Chamber Choir; Jazz Choir; Concert Choir; many other ensembles; and participating in every theatrical production and show her schedule would allow, both at ACT and NSU. She was also an RA for a year, topping it all off with a tremendous senior recital.

For Cramer, the best parts of Northern were the people and the opportunities.

“I would not be where I am today if it were not for all of the professors who pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to reach farther,” she said. “I am so thankful for all of the help and support I've had along the way.”

She’s also thankful for everyone who inspired her to give back.

“Northern State University, SDSU and my hometown not only supported me and set me up for success, they inspired me to want to give back to all of the communities who helped me get to where I am today,” Cramer said. “I am so grateful for everything, and I feel so inspired to keep the ‘giving back’ momentum going to lift others.”

Pictured at top: NSU graduate Katie Cramer performed for the President with the 147th Army Band during the state of South Dakota’s “Salute to America” celebration at Mount Rushmore on July 3, 2020. (Photo by U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Fiona Berndt)

Pictured above: Hearts in the Park Committee: Members of the Hearts in the Park Committee, pictured from left: Amanda Mullally, RN; Kayli Posvic, RN; and Katie Cramer, RN. (Not pictured: Holly Honish, CNA.)

About Northern State University

Northern State University is a student-centered institution that provides an outstanding educational experience, preparing students through the liberal arts and professional education for their future endeavors. A regional university, Northern offers rigorous academics; diverse civic, social and cultural opportunities; and a commitment to building an inclusive environment for all points of view. Northern also offers a broad-based athletics program, sponsoring 15 NCAA Division II intercollegiate varsity sports that compete in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (NSIC). The university strives to enrich the community through partnerships such as its Educational Impact Campaign, which opened a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired; new athletic and recreation fields; and, soon, an on-campus regional sports complex. With the $55 million campaign, NSU has been the recipient of more than $120 million in privately funded building projects and scholarships within a decade. To learn more, visit NSU Admissions