The place was in shambles. Gauze, tools and other materials were falling off the uneven shelves. Every area was in disarray. Outside, in the open air facility, people waited.
“People sat there all day waiting to see the dentists, knowing that their next opportunity to see (one) would not be until June,” said Vince Haupert, staff leader for the Haiti 2013 Huntington University Spring Break trip. “They waited, and waited, and waited.”
The work was tough for Haupert, a 1990 HU alum and vice president for advancement at HU, and the 16 other members of the Haiti missions team. Yet they knew it was worth it, especially, when a young Haitian man walked into the clinic one day.
“A young man, probably 15 years old, really quiet, had waited all day long. It was down to the last half hour. The generators were about to be shut off, ” Haupert said.
Unsure of their ability to help their patient, the team went to work.
With a few phone calls and help from an assistant at the clinic, the power company agreed to leave the generators on for an additional half hour.
“The young man gets in the chair. Dr. Clore does two fillings, deals with all of his tooth pain, and the kid gets up out of the chair at 6:28 — two minutes before the power goes off. It was awesome,” Haupert said. “Just to see that was really, really cool.”
For 20 years, HU students, faculty, alumni and staff have been making a difference through the Friesen Center for Volunteer Service, formerly known as the Joe Mertz Center, with volunteer days, serving at community organizations and mission trips, like the Haiti trip this Spring Break. The Friesen Center promotes a desire to “instill a lifelong commitment to volunteer service.”
Since 1992 when the volunteer center was founded, there have been 9,000 volunteers, more than 200,000 hours recorded and more than 70 percent of the student body, faculty and staff who have volunteered their time.
Like many trips before them, the 15 students, along with team members 1979 alumnus Dr. Jerry Clore, Haupert and his brother, Jason, have continued the Friesen Center’s mission of service with their trip to Haiti.
“I am a general dentist, and it seemed natural to use those skills in Haiti because of the need,” said Clore, an HU Board of Trustees member and a family dentist in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“It has been a long time since I pulled two all-nighters in one week. It was a pleasure to serve with HU students and admire their skills, humor, wit and hard work as they served the Lord.”
A Heart for Haiti
“Without a doubt, Haiti has my heart.”
For sophomore Hannah Bowles, the Haiti trip was as much about helping the children as it was helping herself. Bowles was one of 18 team members who spent their Spring Break serving others at Mission of Hope, a not-for-profit Haitian organization founded by two Huntington alumni.
“I love everything about the country — the people, the villages, the language, the mountains, the ocean, the hope of the citizens there,” Bowles said. “God is so present in almost everything I witnessed there, and because of that, I want to work on my own faith. The Haitians who are Christians give literally everything they have to offer to the Lord, and it is amazing to witness.”
The 2013 Haiti team had just one week. One week to discover the importance of serving others while working with their peers. They had one week before the trip would be a distant memory. One week to make a lasting impact.
Mission of Hope was founded by Brad and Vanessa Johnson, 1993 and 1994 HU graduates, respectively. It strives to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the Haitian population. Their outreach mission upholds the goal of encouraging a lifelong commitment of service that the Friesen Center emphasizes.
“We had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with Brad and Vanessa while we were there. It was really neat to see their world for a few days,” Haupert said.
Organizations like Mission of Hope show the lasting impact that service can have on students at HU. Spring Break mission trips are just the start for so many of Huntington’s alumni.
“Trips such as the Haiti trip offer a connection for students to really see what life could be like if they choose to continue missions and volunteering,” said Grace McBrayer, director of volunteer service and outreach ministry. “They provide an opportunity to do service in a condensed amount of time. Because of our students’ academic load, sometimes it’s not easy to serve over the school year. Often trips provide cross cultural experience and community building among the team.”
A Legacy of Service
The Friesen Center opened in 1992 as a gift — a gift of service and hope for the future.
The original grant that elevated Huntington College to a higher level of volunteerism was nearly $60,000. The grant was received from the Joseph E. Mertz Memorial Education Foundation Inc. in Indianapolis. Huntington University was the first institution in the State of Indiana to receive the grant and establish a volunteer service center.
The legwork of the Friesen Center has been maintained through the student body, faculty, Student Life staff and the Huntington community.
In 1992, Dr. G. Blair Dowden stated in an issue of The Herald-Press, that the college “desired to link the community needs with sensitizing students to the needs of others, to teach students the value of service as a lifelong ethic and to provide opportunities for linking service to one’s academic curriculum and personal faith in Jesus Christ.”
Since its inception, the Friesen Center has hosted on-campus events such as spring and fall work days and served as a valuable asset to the Huntington County and surrounding communities. Organizations such as Love INC, the Boys and Girls Club, Huntington Kids Club, Habitat for Humanity, Youth For Christ, Upwards Cheerleading and Adopt-A-Grandparent are just a few organizations that have been the recipients of students’ efforts.
Over the years, the students have relied on a 1992 Ford Aerostar that was provided by the initial grant for transportation to these many service opportunities. Because of the unreliable nature of the van, the team began raising funds for a replacement.
In December 2012, the prayer for a new mode of transportation was answered. The team had raised $3,100 and a $3,500 gift from Tom Ahl Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep in Lima, Ohio — owned by Tom Ahl, father of 2007 alum Mindi Ahl — allowed the volunteer center to purchase a 2006 Chrysler Town & Country minivan.
The van allows students greater opportunities to easily serve the community. It allows for the transport of supplies and tools for workdays as well as helping with food and clothing drives.
“I think serving is a mindset. My hope for the JMC is that more students develop a mindset for serving others — whether that’s addressing the needs of complete strangers, friends or family,” said Joanne Green, the JMC director from 1997 to 2006. “In doing so, I think the sky’s the limit for what the impact could be on our campus and the community.”
To continue the legacy of service, the JMC was renamed this May in honor of Dr. Norris Friesen.
“It is because of Dr. Friesen’s commitment to providing service opportunities for students, his modeling of a servant’s heart for the community … that it is an honor to and a privilege to officially rename our volunteer service program the Friesen Center for Volunteer Service,” Dowden said at the dedication ceremony.
Friesen became the dean of student services in 1985, and then was named vice president for student development in 1993. In 2002, he was appointed interim academic dean, and in 2003, he was appointed vice president and dean of the university while continuing to teach German.
He currently serves as the director of institutional effectiveness and professor of German. He has been an active volunteer in the Huntington community for more than 20 years. The Joe Mertz Center was created 20 years ago in part due to Friesen’s support.
“Service is one of the three pillars of what we stand on and a part of our mission statement to equip students for service through Huntington,” McBrayer said. “We believe it to be a part of curriculum through Huntington and service adds to the local and global community. We hope to transform who our students are through service. Our students are the leaders of the trip. We are setting up our students to be able to lead trips and feel confident in doing so through the church.”
A Lasting Impact
From the 2013 Haiti trip, students carry with them many memories and stories they could share. But one in particular stood out for junior Logan Bush.
On a day just like any other, the team loaded into the buses and drove up a gravel-covered and dusty trail through the mountains to spend the day in a village called Turpin.
“As soon as our truck pulled into the village, the children came running to us from all directions,” Bush said in his blog, haitispringbreak2013.wordpress.com. “There were probably 50 kids, and they immediately ran into anyone’s arms they could find.”
He remembers specifically how a little boy ran into his open arms, and with his little arms and hands, held tightly to his body.
“It’s interesting interacting with some of the Haitian kids. They love to play games and have fun, but many of them just long for human touch,” he recalled. “This little boy was very quiet and well behaved. He didn’t want to play, but only to be held. Whenever I tried to put him down he’d hold on tighter. I put my baseball cap on his head, and carried him around the entire day.”
Bush had to leave without knowing the little boy’s name. Each time he asked, the boy would not speak. After leaving that day, Bush could not forget about him.
A few days later, the team returned to Turpin. Bush hoped that he would find the same little boy.
As he climbed off the bus and quickly scanned the crowd in front of him, the boy was nowhere in sight. Then, over by the street, he saw the little boy across the way, holding onto his older sister’s hand. After recognizing Bush, the little boy hurried over excitedly into his arms. In broken Créole, his sister finally told Bush what he had wanted to know.
“She told me his name was ‘Blanzi.’ I told them my name was Logan, and gave Blanzi a hug and left for the truck,” Bush said. “He wasn’t happy that I had to leave. Neither was I, but I feel much better that I now know his name. I’ll never forget Blanzi, and now I have a face and a name to pray for.”
Without the dedicated service of students like those who went to Haiti, many would not know the joy that can be found from volunteering or receive the service of those who ask nothing in return. And children like Blanzi would not know what it’s like to throw his arms around another’s shoulders, and one young, Haitian man would not know the comforts of modern dentistry.
For 20 years, the Friesen Center has given the people of this world this opportunity and more through thousands of service hours to the community, the country and the world beyond. With a mission of service at HU, the legacy of the Friesen Center will continue for many years to come.