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Oct. 21, 2003

ISU students help low-income seniors in Chicago

CHICAGO, Ill. ó For the past 18 years Idabell Brown has lived in a one-story brick home on Parkside Avenue on Chicagoís West Side. The woman many in the neighborhood refer to as "Grandma Brown" moved in shortly after retiring from Campbellís Soup after 35 years of work.

Indiana State University students Katey Schenk, Justin Lien and Will Lacey work on a window as Barbara Crews, daughter of homeowner Idabell Brown, looks on. A group of 36 ISU students and faculty recently took a social service trip to Chicago, where they winterized homes of low-income seniors and worked for a community service center.

But at 84 years old Grandma Brown is finding the task of keeping up her home becoming more and more difficult.

"Itís kind of hard," Brown admits, "but I do the best I can. Iím thankful to still be here."

A group of 36 students and faculty of Indiana State University recently traveled to Chicago on a social service trip organized by ISUís American Humanics and Womenís Studies programs. In addition to helping low-income seniors winterize their homes, the weekend service project gave students the opportunity to work for a social service agency. The project benefited the charitable organizations Housing and Maintenance for the Elderly and St. Vincent de Paul Center.

Homeowners like Brown were grateful for the work the college students did insulating homes against the ravages of a cold Chicago winter.

"It means so much, so very, very much," beamed Brown. "I canít even begin to tell you how much this means to me, to have these people to think enough of me that donít even know me and come in and get to work just like theyíve been knowing me all the time. I have to be thankful."

A group of four students installed weather-stripping and plastic over the windows of Brownís home to help prepare it for cold weather. It was the first time for some of the students to do such work.

ISU student Justin Lien works on a window to winterize the home of 84-year-old Chicago resident Idabell Brown.

"I felt like I was on Trading Spaces," said Avon native Will Lacey, referring to the popular cable TV home fix-it show. "The girls were showing me how to do the curtain rods; I didnít figure out how to get them off of there. It was very interesting."

Others, like senior Katey Schenk, had done similar work on their own before, but were doing it for the first time for others. She liked the idea of helping the elderly remain independent as long as possible.

"I really feel like Iím helping people out," said Schenk, a Bloomington, Ind., native. "It feels really good just to be able to help somebody that you donít even know and make a difference."

The trip to Chicago was Schenkís first.

"Itís a completely different city and a completely different environment," she said, "but yet weíre all still human beings and we all want to be in our homes as much as we can and feel comfortable. When you think of it like that, you want to help them and do whatever you can."

During the weekend visit, the group also toured the Hull House Ė a settlement founded by social activist Jane Addams Ė and took in some of the sights of downtown Chicago, such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum.

"I think there was a nice balance of activities," noted Nancy Rogers, ISUís American Humanics director. "(Students) got to enjoy the cultural side of Chicago as well."

Rogers said the trip helped educate students better than any classroom lecture could.

"The students and the three classes all have studied some aspect of privilege and poverty," Rogers noted. "I think this trip helps them understand urban poverty in contemporary society by actually spending time serving people who are among the urban poorÖ and I think it helps them make a connection between service and how service can impact those who live in poverty."

The trip was the brainchild of Jessica Bush, a senior business management major from Boone Grove, Ind. A class d iscussion on Addams and the Hull House sparked the idea, Bush said.

"It gives me a good feeling," Bush said of the volunteer work. "I know a lot of people say that, but it really does, knowing this is going to help them out in the winter months, and knowing that it will help reduce their costs."

Grandma Brown, for one, was happy to have the help.

"Thereís so many of us that need help, and then there are so many that canít even get the help that they need," she said. "Iím one of the blessed people."


Contact and Writer:
Mark Gibson, assistant director, ISU Public Affairs,
(812) 237-3790 or

ISU Public Affairs:
(812) 237-3773 or