The Indianapolis 500 is equal parts racing, love and family legacy for Jennifer Brinn, a senior early childhood education major and 500 Festival Princess.
“The need for speed is huge in my family,” said Brinn, whose grandfather has volunteered with the track’s fire crew for the past 33 years. “My grandpa has said to me my entire life that I’m going to be out there one day with him.”
Six of the 33 500 princesses this year are Butler students, which Brinn said is a source of pride for her and her five Bulldog princess counterparts.
“Indiana University only has four [princesses],” Brinn said. “We’re proud that there’s six of us representing Butler as ambassadors to the Motor Speedway.”
The six Butler students chosen this year raises the total number of Butler student princesses since 1998 to 57, according to numbers from a March 1, 2009 Butler University release.
This year, Brinn is joined by fellow Butler students Stephanie Flint, a junior marketing major from Petersburg, Ind.; Brandi Jarrett, a senior marketing major from Kokomo, Ind.; Christina Nelson, a senior marketing major from Valparaiso, Ind.; Brooke Shafer, a senior marketing major from Fishers, Ind.; and Allison Wright, a junior elementary education major from Carmel, Ind.
Brinn said she is looking forward to the outreach work that she’s going to be able to do as part of the program.
“Service has been a huge priority for me in my time at Butler and was really what made me apply in the first place,” Brinn said.
Flint said every weekend in May, if not every day, there’s an event for one or several of the princesses to take part in to reach out to the state of Indiana, the city of Indianapolis or any of the 24 cities and towns represented by the 33 princesses.
The princesses are encouraged to not only help each other with outreach events, but also to do a few on their own, Flint said.
She plans to volunteer at an elementary school in Carmel, Ind., for the school’s Kindy 500, a bite-sized version of Indianapolis’ real thing.
Flint will also be traveling to her hometown of Petersburg, Ind., to volunteer at Petersburg Elementary School, where she went to grade school. Flint will work specifically with fourth-graders who are learning about Hoosier history.
“For me, it’s really important to help kids learn about the Indy 500 so that they can get excited and take pride in being a Hoosier,” Flint said. “I want to bring the excitement that’s going on in Indy back to the kids in Southern Indiana and teach them to be proud of where they’re from.”
On top of emceeing Relay for Life, helping out at the Boys and Girls Club of Indianapolis and making Easter baskets for kids at the Ronald McDonald House with the group, Brinn has also made time to embark on a service project of her own.
“My goal was to read to 500 children and I’ve already surpassed that goal,” Brinn said. “I remember being little and meeting someone who was representing someone that they really cared about and how special those people made me feel. I want to make kids feel special now.”
Another outreach highlight for one of the Butler princesses was reading to and playing with children at the Indianapolis-based Julian Center, an organization that supports victims of domestic abuse.
Wright, an elementary education major, said she remembers her time at the Julian Center as being the most influential volunteer work that she has done with the program up until this point.
“The most rewarding part of the day was to offer the kids some stress relief from their home lives,” Wright said.
While Wright and Brinn said they are excited for the volunteering to continue long after the race is over, until the 2012 set of princesses is named, Race Day is the culminating experience for these reigning Butler princesses.
“There’s nothing like being at the race and hearing those engines firing up,” Brinn said. “It gives me the chills.”