AOC | New students serve Indianapolis community

Lawnmowers ran, shovels sliced into the ground, leaves rustled as they were stuffed into trash bags, a leaf blower roared on the sidewalk and 90 voices penetrated the 75-degree summer air.

“If it’s not growin’, it’s goin’,” an instructor shouted to the volunteers.

These were the sounds at St. Paul Street last Friday, where 66 freshmen, 22 group leaders and two coordinators completed their last service project as Ambassadors of Change.

Ambassadors of Change is a five-day Pre-Welcome Week program that Butler freshmen have participated in for the past 16 years.

“In a nutshell, we want to introduce the freshmen to the Indianapolis community and hopefully get them to consider what their role is in it,” said Julie Pakenham, one of the professional staff involved with AOC. “This year’s group let themselves be very open to the experience.”

The 66 freshmen were split  into 11 groups, each led by two leaders who participated in AOC when they were freshmen.

Junior Daniel Peterson, a group leader, said AOC was a great way for new students to meet other freshmen and leaders on campus.

“It allows you to establish a social network base and find clubs and organizations to be involved with at Butler and the greater Indianapolis community,” Peterson said.

David Ediger, a freshman who participated, said he had volunteered a lot in high school. He said he knew he wanted to connect with people who were service-oriented.

Fourteen leaders from the Indianapolis community talked with the freshmen about service early last week at the Active Citizen Breakfast.

The leaders represented local organizations such as Exodus Refugee Organization, Indy Reads and Wheeler Mission.

Freshman Hannah Meinen lived in the Indy area and said she had volunteered at one of the centers before, but had no idea most of the volunteer organizations existed.

The 11 groups were assigned to different service projects throughout the week, and everyone reunited for the Fuller Center service project on Friday.

Ediger hauled wood across a lawn, focused on his work amid the bustle of activity.

Meanwhile, Meinen pushed a wheelbarrow, wearing a “happy birthday” ribbon with a smile on her face. It was her 19th birthday, and her group leaders had given her the ribbon earlier that day.

Acts of service were not the only good thing to come out of the program. New friendships also blossomed.

“By the end of the week, everyone came out of their shells,” said Alyssa Setnar, a sophomore group leader.

Chip Gibson is a senior citizen who lives on St. Paul Street. He said it is hard to navigate through the yard with his wheelchair, so it takes a long time to do yard work.

The Ambassadors of Change participants cleaned up his yard and helped pull his bushes out.

“They do appreciative work,” Gibson said. “They make a half-hour work out of something that I would get done in three days.”

The hands-on volunteering was not the only focus of AOC, said Kevin Knaus, a senior coordinator.

“After every service project, we would emphasize reflection and talk about who we impacted and how it will change our framework for thinking,” he said.

If the longevity of the Ambassadors of Change program is indication, many more communities like St. Paul Street will be impacted in the years to come.