News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 11, 2010

College students spend week off helping out in Valley

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Creighton University senior Jill Bronk spent much of Thursday washing and rinsing empty prescription pill bottles for St. Ann’s Medical Clinic.

Earlier in the week, she volunteered at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, where she cleaned out a barn, split wood and cared for alpacas.

While many college students travel to destinations with sunny skies and sandy beaches for spring break, Bronk chose to do something more meaningful, something that would help others.

Bronk joined 16 other Creighton students who volunteered for an alternative spring break experience this week that has brought them to St. Mary-of-the-Woods.

They have volunteered at White Violet Center, St. Ann’s and the West Terre Haute food pantry. They’ve also volunteered at the Helping Hand, a re-use store in West Terre Haute.

“It’s good to be able to get out and do something for others and not just for ourselves,” said Bronk, who is majoring in English and theology at Creighton, a Jesuit university located in Omaha, Neb.

The alternative spring break program is organized by Creighton’s Center for Service and Justice.

Cleaning pill bottles may seem like a small task, but the volunteer labor is a huge help to St. Ann’s Medical Clinic, which offers free medical and referral services to people who do not have insurance or sufficient financial means to get their own health care.

“They’re wonderful,” said Sister Lawrence Ann Liston, administrator of the medical clinic. “They are doing things we normally don’t have time to do.”

Bronk had many volunteer experiences, and she especially enjoyed working with the alpacas. “It was fun. It’s not something we’re used to doing – most of us are city kids,” she said. She managed to avoid getting caught in the crossfire when the alpacas spit at each other, she said.

The students have been here since Monday and will finish up this morning.

At the White Violet Center, Creighton students Anya Burkart and Megan Nicklaus sorted and cleaned alpaca fibers that were too small to make yarn but that still could be used for needle felting.

Burkart painstakingly pulled out hay and other debris from the alpaca fibers. “It’s good thinking time,” said Burkart, who has done alternative spring breaks at American Indian reservations in past years.

She enjoys visiting new places, “and I would rather be doing something productive for different communities and society than just sitting around being a bum,” she said.

Her volunteer work this week has included spending time with retired Sisters of Providence in the health care facility at St. Mary-of-the-Woods.

Nicklaus, a Creighton freshman and pre-pharmacy major, said of her work at the White Violet Center, “I think it’s really great to learn more ways about being sustainable and to bring that back and share that with our Creighton community.”

She said it makes her feel good to have a “really productive spring break.” And it is relaxing, because the volunteers don’t bring cell phones, computers or iPods. “It lets us be more focused on what’s going on here,” she said.

Robyn Morton, associate director of the White Violet Center, said that with spring approaching, there is much work to be done. The center is involved with sustainable agriculture.

The students have been planting seedlings, clearing trails and raking flower beds, among many other activities.

“There are so many tasks these guys are doing,” Morton said. “It would take so much of our [staff] time and energy when we could be doing other things. It gives us an opportunity to do things we might not get to.”

The volunteers cleaned out a hay barn, something that often gets set aside. “It really needs to get done,” Morton said.

Creighton has sent students to St. Mary-of-the-Woods for several years, and typically the group consists of about five to nine students. By having 17 students, it gives the Creighton volunteers an opportunity to work with other projects.

“We’re trying to give them as many different opportunities as we can,” Morton said.

Another Creighton student, Patrick Carter, spent part of Thursday planting watermelon seedlings in a White Violet Center greenhouse. A justice and society major, he wants to learn more about sustainability and hopes one day to work with an advocacy group on environmental policy.

“It’s been a fantastic experience,” he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or