Indiana State University Newsroom

Sycamores volunteer in Jamaica as part of Alternative Break

May 2, 2017

Indiana State University faculty, staff and students went above and beyond for the families of Steer Town, Jamaica, on Alternative Spring Break trip in March.

Brakayla Hillis, a junior nursing major at Indiana State, was one of many students who participated. She started collecting donations to take during winter break and ended up with a small suitcase of girls' clothing in sizes from newborn to 10-12 years, shoes and basic baby needs.

Her neighbor has two daughters, ages 2 and 5, so donating some of their belongings helped de-clutter their home -- for a good cause. "My neighbor was willing to help because she strives to help children, as she works at IU Methodist Hospital," Hillis said.

The 2-year-old owned a Minnie Mouse shirt that she loved but gave it up.

"‘Bye Minnie, I hope you enjoy your new home,'" Hillis recalled the child saying. "She continued to give the shirt a kiss and said that I had to get a picture of the little girl who received Minnie." When she saw the photo when Hillis returned, she said, "‘My heart happy.'"

Hillis wants to become a travel-missionary nurse after graduation. She's additionally been to Costa Rica and Panama for other Alternative Spring Breaks through Indiana State.

"Seeing the girls next door impacting girls their age in another country was one of my favorite parts," Hillis said. "Since they experienced this, they don't ask for anything anymore. It was rewarding to see that they got something out of this as well."

Hillis said the town was nothing like was used to. Everyone was in good physical shape because of the hike to the village. All the children were outside all of the time and wanted to be involved with the group at all times.

"It was hard to witness sometimes that they were so excited to get hand-me-downs, when all we care about is getting something new," Hillis said. "There was a little girl who was itty-bitty wearing size six clothes, but the size did not matter to them."

The group was able separate clothes by size and distribute to the children based on the best fit. A man and his girlfriend had a newborn baby that had nothing was so appreciative for the group's donations.

"The baby was 10 pounds, and we were able to give clothes that fit the baby," said Jennifer Christian, alternative breaks coordinator with the Center of Community Engagement. "The baby's father personally thanked each and everyone one of us. His girlfriend personally thanked us on the phone while she was in the hospital."

The experience consisted of three-mile hikes up to a village to paint homes blue through IsleGo Missions. In three days, more than 25 houses were painted. The afternoons were spent outside with the local children playing soccer and football, face painting, coloring and making bracelets.

The group purchased bags of food for five local families, enough to last each of them a week. "It is pretty awesome to see this happen for poverty-stricken families," Christian said.

Christian's office brought with them 200 erasers, pencils, bubbles, jump ropes, whiffle balls and more for the families in Steer Town. Other students brought toys and candies, also known as "sweets" to the youngsters there. On their last day, students left some of their own personal shoes and clothes for families.


Photos: -- Indiana State students volunteer in Jamaica as part of Alternative Spring Break in March. -- Indiana State students volunteer in Jamaica as part of Alternative Spring Break in March.

Writer: Abby Niepagen, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, or 812-237-3773

Media contact: Jennifer Christian, Alternative Breaks coordinator for the Center for Community Engagement, Indiana State University, or 812-237-7900