The Ohio State University at Lima

Spring break 2018 leads students to service

Ohio State Lima Student Senate member work on the Pillowcase Project in Putnam County.

“What are you doing over break?” is a common question on college campuses this time of year. Typical answers involve studying, sleeping, heading home, or heading out on a road trip to a beach. Not so for many Ohio State Lima students, although some of them did take a road trip and all of them built friendships.

For spring break 2018, the Newman group traveled to Kentucky to build and repair people’s homes who couldn’t do it for themselves. Ohio State Lima’s Student Senate took advantage of the time away from class to install smoke detectors and prepare elementary students to deal with emergencies.

Student Senate formed a partnership with the American Red Cross two years ago in response to the We Serve campus service initiative. When former dean and director Charlene D. Gilbert challenged everyone on campus to volunteer at least five hours during the academic year, Senate President Kayla Brown went looking for a community project or partner that meshed well with student interests and schedules.

“Having a service initiative puts into perspective for students that, yes, college will help you in future life, but you also need to remember life is going to also be outside of your job and outside of the academic world,” Brown said. “You need to get involved in your community and kind of immerse yourself in that community to be a well-rounded person.”

Since then, the Student Senate has generated a lot of activity with their community partner. After going through the volunteer training, group members took on the Pillowcase Project for west central Ohio. The project is sponsored by Disney and trains elementary students in disaster preparedness. The program aims to increase awareness and understanding of natural hazards and teaches safety, emotional coping skills, and personal preparedness.

“I am so proud to work with the OSU Student Senate on the Pillowcase Project,” said Derek Stemen, executive director of the West Central Ohio Chapter of the American Red Cross. “The elementary students that they’ve taught have really enjoyed the engaging way the Student Senate members have brought the material and learning to life. They are having a profound impact on our communities.”

Through instructor-led presentations, students learn the best ways to stay safe and how to create their own emergency supply kits by packing essential items in a pillowcase for easy transport during a disaster. Students also have the opportunity to decorate and personalize their pillowcases and share what they’ve learned with friends and family.

Over spring break, Student Senate presented the program to schools in six of the 10 counties that the American Red Cross of West Central Ohio covers. They were so dedicated that they used up all the kits allotted to the area Red Cross. They finished up their final school groups in the first days of spring break using kits they borrowed from other Red Cross agencies, bringing their total up to nearly 1,000 pillowcases distributed.

The final days of the Pillowcase Project for spring 2018 overlapped with the project Student Senate worked on for the larger part of their break – installing smoke detectors free of charge for residents in a number of communities in the Red Cross service area. Armed with a three-step ladder, information packets and electric drills, groups of students and community partners installed hundreds of smoke detectors.

“Students who are thinking about volunteering should find something that they're passionate about,” Brown said. “Volunteering requires time. You have to put in the time to fill out an application and go through the background checks so if you're going to do it – great, awesome – but find something you're passionate about so you can like fully immerse yourself in it.”

Newman Club member Alexus Miller-Schmenk at her spring break work site in Kentucky.

The students in the Newman group who spent their spring break working with CAP, the Christian Appalachian Project, were definitely fully immersed. College groups from all over the country stayed together at a camp at the far end of many winding Kentucky roads with little-to-no cell service. During the day, the students split up into different work groups and took on building and renovation projects.

The unplugged experience made it easy to focus on the people they were working with and for. Alexus Miller-Schmenk returned for a second year after spending her first visit building a wheelchair ramp for a military family faced with physical limitations and a family member in need.

“I have kept in touch with my family that I got to help last year so it’s really amazing to see their progress and where they’re at,” Miller-Schmenk said. “The reward of it is seeing how people are grateful that we helped them. We’re grateful, too. They taught us so much.”

As part of the projects they worked on, Miller-Schmenk and the rest of the Ohio State Lima group had a chance to learn many skills that will come in handy when they are home owners, many involving power tools. Miller-Schmenk is fairly confident in her ability to put together a deck, shingle a roof and negotiate a square dance. More importantly, they learned about each other and the people they were helping.

“The experience pulled us all out of our comfort zones because going in we didn’t know everybody. I can definitely say now that they are some of my greatest friends,” Miller-Schmenk said. “It is really amazing the stories and relationships you can develop and learn about just while sitting and eating and hearing the history of people. You’re able to expand and grow your knowledge of yourself and others and what you’re capable of doing.”

Miller-Schmenk built more than a wheelchair ramp and a new roof. She built a community of friends and a wealth of experiences.

“I have left both years knowing I was a part of changing lives in Eastern Kentucky. I am also grateful for all that I have experienced with them,” she said.


Kayla Brown is a junior in marketing from Clyde.

Alexus Miller-Schmenk is a junior in social work from Toledo.

Top photo: Ohio State Lima Student Senate members Ariana Juarez (left) and Olivia Green work with students in Putnam County on disaster preparedness.

Photo right: Alexus Miller-Schmenk at one of her work sites during spring break 2018.