First-year students participate in service opportunities

Freshman dance major Tiffany Kovash works on Halloween-themed projects with preschoolers in the Brenau Child Development Center as part of the First-Year Experience service learning projects. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
Four Brenau students throw confetti
Brenau University freshmen Jayda Burkett, Ruthie Pittman, Abigail Grizzle and Haley Rosales throw confetti while making goodie bags for parents at Family Promise of Hall County. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Brenau University freshmen had the opportunity to touch the lives of people in Hall County, Georgia, through a variety of service projects the week of Oct. 21.

Students in the First-Year Experience, commonly known as FYE, packaged Christmas goodie bags for families in need, prepared art therapy kits for survivors of domestic violence, wrote cards to survivors of sexual assault, worked with preschoolers on hands-on learning activities, packaged gifts for veterans, made toys for shelter dogs and much more.

Participating organizations included Family Promise of Hall County, the Salvation Army, Gateway Domestic Violence Center, Elachee Nature Science Center, the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Rape Response and the Brenau Child Development Center.

Angel Jackson from Rape Response, which serves sexual assault survivors, said the Brenau students making cards for her clients would have a greater impact than they know.

“We meet survivors at any point in their journey,” she said. “Whether it was something that happened a few minutes ago or 80 years ago. So these students are creating cards with nice messages for either the 13-year-old or the 80-year-old survivor who is telling us for the first time that something happened to them. These are messages of empowerment that survivors really need to hear, especially at the point when they finally decide to disclose.”

Freshman English major Hannah Bowman created two cards for Rape Response clients — one with a butterfly and one with a garden scene.

Close up picture of a pink butterfly card being signed
A Brenau student writes a message of hope in a butterfly card for a sexual assault survivor served by Rape Response. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

“Butterflies are kind of important to me — I actually have a tattoo of one — and I’m going to write to them and say, ‘This butterfly symbolizes growth and transformation, and I know you might need that right now,’” Bowman said. “I know the last thing they want is a reminder, so I’m going to try to keep it simple but remind them they can grow from this.

“This honestly means a lot to me,” she added. “I myself am a survivor of sexual assault, so this is personal. I’ve gone out of my way to research and look into this stuff. It’s so important; it is something that happens way too often. I want to do all I can to support the people it happens to and to know how to stop anything I see that starts to happen.”

Jackson said she’s seen survivors bring their cards to court and pull them out right before testifying for reassurance.

“They’ll keep it on the stand as a tangible, ‘I got this. I can do this. I can testify,’” she said. “Especially for our littler ones, for them to know that someone wrote something to them who doesn’t even know them, it is really cool to see those reactions and how much it means to them.”

Freshman dance major Tiffany Kovash worked on Halloween-themed projects with preschoolers in the Brenau Child Development Center. Her class started with a spider cobweb game outside, then moved inside to hear the students sing and dance “their pumpkin song, a great little song and dance with their arms.”

“Then we did a project with pumpkins, first examining the pumpkins, letting them see what the insides and seeds are like,” Kovash said. “We helped them color some pumpkins, and then we wrapped up with this fun little project of some pumpkin chunks mixed with a few ingredients to make a pumpkin slime. It’s been fun to see what they like to interact with.”

Another class worked with Lynette Croy from Family Promise of Hall County. They packaged gift bags that will be given to parents who shop at the organization’s Christmas Promise Store, which allows families to shop and purchase Christmas gifts for their children at drastically reduced prices.

The gift bags included confetti, a candle and candies along with an encouraging poem to help the parents remember the important things during the holiday season. A few lines included, “Confetti to remind you to have fun. A Snickers to remind you to take time to laugh. A chocolate Kiss to remind you that you are loved.”

Maddie Thomas, left, hands a pair of scissors to Carleigh Mize.
Maddie Thomas, left, hands a pair of scissors to Carleigh Mize. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Meanwhile, Political Science Professor Heather Hollimon’s class worked on a few projects for Gateway Domestic Violence Center.

“They’re making kits for art therapy group sessions that they do at Gateway,” Hollimon said. “One is called persona dolls, and our students are cutting out all the equipment and parts that are needed for kids to make them and women to make them. They’ll put them together and then do things like write their fears on the tummies or write their goals on the feet, because they are walking to them.”

Blythe Hammond from Gateway said the dolls allow children to talk about their emotions, using the dolls to express some of those things without it being about them. And women at the center use them, too, as “an easy, tangible way to talk about some really hard things.”

Leighann Blackwood from Gateway also had students in Hollimon’s class work on pieces for the shelter’s new gratitude tree.

“This is something we’re going to do in our women’s group, our children’s group and as a staff,” Blackwood said. “It, like trees do, will change over time to reflect what we all are grateful for in each season of our lives. It will let them look back at these memories as well as continue to add to it.”

Freshman health science major Carleigh Mize cut out construction paper leaves for the gratitude tree and deconstructed brown paper bags that will be used to build the trunk at the center.

“This is really about giving back to my community,” Mize said. “And it means a lot to me because our sorority’s philanthropy is Gateway. So I’m thankful for any way, any extra opportunity that we can help out Gateway.”

Freshman elementary education major Maddie Thomas is also in Alpha Chi Omega with Mize and a Hall County native. The service project, for her, was a reminder that there is more to her Brenau experience than being a student and a member of the Golden Tigers basketball team.

“For me to give back to the community I live in, it’s just something bigger than playing basketball and going to school,” she said. “To do something about domestic violence — you know, there is a lot of it that goes on that people don’t know about. You could know somebody personally going through that, and you just don’t know. So I think it’s huge for us to have an impact and spread awareness that there are these organizations that can help in these situations.”