By Sarvary Koller
The temperature hovered around 90 degrees as freshmen Sidney Parrish and Julia Thomas pruned trees at Indianapolis’ Holliday Park. Parrish and Thomas volunteered at the park as a part of Bulldogs Into the Streets (BITS), an annual freshman orientation public-service program organized by Butler University’s Volunteer Center.
Gardening and cleaning up Holliday Park on a humid, summer day made for exhausting work, but the two said they loved the opportunity to venture out of the Butler bubble and make a difference in the surrounding Indianapolis community.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Thomas, a business major from Bay Village, Ohio, said. “I’ve gotten to meet a lot of new people, and it helps involve us in Indianapolis. A lot of us aren’t from the area, so it’s helped to transition us to living here.”
“We’ve connected more as a group,” added Parrish, a pre-pharmacy major from Indianapolis, Indiana. “I came in today not knowing anybody, and now I’ve already made friends with new people in my class.”
Holliday Park Volunteer Coordinator Katie Neill said the 15 Butler volunteers transformed the park’s playground area by pulling weeds, raking mulch, trimming trees, and sweeping sidewalks. With a full-time park staff of four, Neill said she is grateful for the students’ hard work.
“Our playground does need help,” Neill said. “Every year, we try to have a project that shows the students that they’ve made a difference. We depend on volunteers for everything, and we love when the students come out and help keep the park looking nice for the community.”
Sam Thomas, Volunteer Center Events Coordinator and sophomore Political Science and Economics major, spent most of last semester and this summer being called “the BITS guy” as he worked with places like Holliday Park to coordinate volunteer projects for BITS participants.
About 545 volunteers donated their time to 19 agencies across the greater Indianapolis area this year, but Thomas said BITS is about more than just service work.
“The 1,500 hours of community service is awesome,” Thomas said, “but what BITS does is show freshmen that they can make a difference in their new home and community right off the bat during their first week on campus.”
Freshmen Moriah Riggs and Nicolina Cecere said they, too, appreciated their BITS experience at Joy’s House Adult Day Service in Broad Ripple as new Butler Bulldogs looking to get acclimated in Indianapolis.
Riggs and Cecere spent time playing bingo and conversing with visitors to Joy’s House, an adult day service for community adults with physical and mental disabilities who are no longer able to stay at home safely.
“It’s nice to just talk to the people here,” Cecere, a sociology major from Minneapolis, Minnesota, said. “It’s cool because not only do we get to go out in Indianapolis, but we get to meet other people from our class and the community. I didn’t know any of these people before today.”
Candace Preston, Joy’s House caregiver and Program Manager, said the house guests love the opportunity to meet and interact with the Butler students.
“They love seeing a set of different faces,” Preston said. “They see us Monday through Friday all day, and now they get to spend time with new people. Plus, it benefits the Butler students by showing them that old people aren’t scary or boring. We have some volunteers who come for a couple hours and then decide to come back.”
Thomas said the goal of BITS is to recruit freshman volunteers and encourage them to take advantage of future service opportunities in Indianapolis.
According to Thomas, the Volunteer Center will host a Volunteer Opportunities Fair on September 5 to provide an experience where students can discover new community volunteer options. The fair will include many of the agencies that hosted students during BITS this year.
“Hopefully we’ll get some BITS volunteers signed up for more service activities at the fair,” Thomas said. “This program is mutually beneficial for both students and service agencies in our community.”