Make a Difference Day
Paul Van Horne, father of Jessica Van Horne ’15 at far right, and Erica Nikwocha ’15 polish the floors of the Kirkman House Museum for a Make a Difference Day project.

It wasn’t an orientation week stunt when Meredith Kretzler ’14 and Lindsay Olson ’12 led eight first-year students knee-deep into Walla Walla’s Garrison Creek last August. The students were cleaning up the local creek, tearing out 300 feet of invasive blackberries and extricating from the water such foreign objects as cans of food and a television as part of the Whitman-led Make a Difference Day program.

Make a Difference Day
Gary Kuo ’15 (back) Allison Ramp ’13 (left foreground) and Alex Pearson ’12 get their hands dirty. The Whitman Christian Fellowship worked on a sustainable garden in conjunction with the Washington Native Plant Society and Blue Mountain Humane Society.

Whitties returned to Garrison Creek to restore the riparian zone – the area along the banks of the creek – one of seven different community service projects held Oct. 22, which is national Make A Difference Day. Kretzler’s team of Whitman students planted native plants in the same area of the creek that her group cleaned up in August.

“It’s exciting to complete this final step in the restoration process following the preparation work we did this summer cleaning up the creek,” Kretzler said. “I’ve now worked at this site on four separate occasions, and it is such a joy to see it substantially progress each time.”

The project was the result of continued collaboration between CURB (Creating Urban Riparian Buffers) and the Whitman Community Service Program. Whitman students have partnered with CURB for more than 10 years, and volunteered for the local organization on 22 different occasions in 2011.

Although Make a Difference Day is designated as a single national service day, five out of the seven Whitman projects represented long-standing relationships between Whitman student groups and community partners. Students like Kretzler believe community service is more than a one-day event.

“Service is a way that I can involve myself beyond Whitman, in the Walla Walla community. It’s also a way to ground my academic studies,” said Kretzler. “I strive to apply all that I have learned from Whitman to better the world around me.”

A diverse group of campus organizations participated in various community-building projects in October: the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity partnered with the Downtown Foundation to clean up downtown Walla Walla; the Whitman Christian Fellowship worked on a sustainable garden in conjunction with the Washington Native Plant Society and Blue Mountain Humane Society; and the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. Two other groups of Whitman students and their families worked on stream restoration projects with the Whitman Mission and Kooskooskie Commons.

“This isn’t a one-time thing. A lot of these groups have consistently worked with these organizations, and use this community service day as another opportunity to get involved,” said Kelsie Butts ’11, Whitman’s community service coordinator.

Whitman students have been participating in Make a Difference Day since 2007, with more than 100 students volunteering each year since 2009. The popular program is important to the surrounding area, because community partners depend on the volunteer efforts of Whitman students.

“Whitman students, faculty and staff are the driving force behind the CURB program,” said Tara Patten, CURB coordinator. “They contribute hundreds of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars in in-kind matches to CURB and other Steelheaders’ projects. With their help, the CURB partnership (Tri-State Steelheaders, Kooskooskie Commons, and Walla Walla County Conservation District) has installed 30 urban riparian buffers along Walla Walla’s creeks.”
This year, students and their parents had an opportunity to reflect and relax at the end of their service experience in the Coffeehouse – the basement of Reid Campus Center.

“Whitman students are incredible for doing a lot of different kinds of activities,” said Noah Leavitt, assistant dean for student engagement, who anticipated the value of the additional reflection time this year. “We’re always thinking about how students can create meaning and how the experience can offer them other opportunities or insight, and sharing the experience made that happen.”

While students volunteering on housing projects gathered to eat cupcakes after polishing floors and painting at the Kirkman House, another group of stream restoration volunteers showed off their torn pant legs, the hems stuck with thorns from the invasive plants growing wild along Walla Walla’s Yellowhawk Creek.

“We had to work hard to get rid of those plants, but it was very satisfying,” said Kathy Best, mother of Anna “Richael” Best ’13, who lives in the Community Service Interest house. “There was definitely a visible difference. One person would have done nothing, but there were 12 of us.”

Read more about SCORE: Service excursions

Read more about CURB and the Tri-State Steelheaders