Spring is no time to break for Whitman volunteers

April 5, 2011

By Laura Geggel

More than 50 students help Pomegranate Center projects around the United States

During spring break, some students go to Cabo San Lucas, while others go skiing at Lake Tahoe and some go home, bumming around and watching TV.

Whitman College students Ngan Huynh (left), Shannon Morrissey, Sarah Adler, Diana Boesch and Jeremy Kotler use acrylic paints to decorate a Tacoma bus shelter with a Milky Way design at Issaquah’s Pomegranate Center. By Laura Geggel

More than 50 students from Whitman College chose to volunteer, heading to places near and far — from Issaquah to New Orleans — helping communities with local projects.

For the second consecutive year, a group of Whitman students drove about 250 miles from Walla Walla to Issaquah to volunteer at the Pomegranate Center, a nonprofit organization that helps communities create public art and community gathering spaces.

The students said volunteering with the Pomegranate Center exposed them to new ideas.

“Volunteering has allowed me to use art to bring people together,” Jeremy Kotler said.

His classmate, Diana Boesch, said it gave her an excuse to expand her world.

“Volunteering, in general, is a great way to get out of your bubble and get into the community and give back,” she said.

The students kept busy during their service trip, from March 12-20. They drove to South Park in Seattle, where they cleared ivy and blackberry vines from a public park. For the rest of their stay, they painted bus shelter panels for the Salishan community in Tacoma.

The Pomegranate Center has also come to Whitman’s neck of the woods, creating public places in two Walla Walla parks in collaboration with community members.

The center’s founder, Milenko Matanovic, spoke at the Whitman campus during his trip to Eastern Washington, telling them about his passion for helping communities take pride in the gathering spaces they build with the Pomegranate Center.

“I saw Milenko talk at Whitman a few months ago and he was absolutely inspiring,” Ben Lerchin said.

He said he liked Matanovic’s mission, especially because it gave him ideas about how to proceed with his own career.

“I personally am trying to find a way to get my art out into the community,” he said.

“I love that he found a way to have his individual talent and passion and share it with the community,” Shannon Morrissey said. “I just wanted to be a part of that.”

The students stayed at Our Savior Lutheran Church, in Issaquah, during their eight-day service trip. Pastor Ryan Fletcher said he enjoyed their company, and the students chimed in, thanking the church for its support.

“This church has a very strong tradition of openness to all outside groups, in particular if they have some sort of tradition of outreach to the community,” Fletcher said.

The church provided the students with access to the kitchen and invited them to a community dinner.

“They’ve been so wonderful,” Ngan Huynh said of the church congregation.

The students not only connected with the Pomegranate Center’s staff and the members at the church, but also became close friends with one another.

“This group definitely makes it awesome,” Katie Hardy said. “We bonded on the first day because we got a flat tire,” on the way to Issaquah.

Service trips are a growing trend at Whitman, Assistant Director of Student Engagement Lina Menard said. She credited the program’s popularity to student Kelsie Butts, who found organizations for students to volunteer with, including the Pomegranate Center.

When the college began organizing spring break service trips in 2010, its students joined approximately 72,000 college students nationwide who volunteered during their spring breaks.

“I believe that serving our community is one of the best ways for us to apply the knowledge that we gain in the classroom setting,” Menard said.

The college works with Break Away, a national organization that trains students and college staff members how to organize and lead volunteer trips.

Each participant in the Issaquah service trip paid $400 — an amount covering food, transportation and entertainment, including a trip to the Seattle Art Museum. The volunteers said they paid for most of the trip through fundraising.

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or lgeggel@isspress.com.

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