Weekly Features


IU School of Medicine student get neighborly with Spring House Calls

Apr. 10, 2014

IU School of Medicine medical students got into the spring spirit April 5 by planting, mulching and landscaping at the homes of nearly 30 residents in the Haughville, Blackburn and near eastside neighborhoods of Indianapolis.

More than 80 medical students, faculty, staff and friends took part in the 19th annual Spring House Calls, a student-led event that lends a helping hand to elderly, disabled or other minority homeowners. The event is the oldest and longest-running medical service-learning project at the IU School of Medicine.

“When most students apply to medical school, they write personal statements about how they want to help people in need, especially the underserved or underprivileged,” said Alice Elroy, a fourth-year medical student and a co-chair of the project. “This event is a way to put those words into action -- to follow up on a promise to help people in any way we can, even if it’s not related to medicine.”

This is the second year students have taken their “house calls” to the near east side of the city, where they established the IU Student Outreach Clinic nearly six years ago at the Neighborhood Fellowship Church. The church’s leader, Rev. Jim Strietelmeier, works with event organizers to identify homeowners and designate landscaping projects in the neighborhood. Leaders of the senior center at Christamore House Family and Community Center in Indianapolis help students identify residents in the Haughville and Brackburn neighborhoods.

Older residents who can no longer beautify their yards on their own because of their age are especially grateful for the volunteers, said Ethan Morrical, a fourth-year medical student and a project co-chair, who participated in his last Spring House Calls this year before departing IU for a family medicine residency in Michigan.

"Sometimes as medical students we can become a little disengaged from the community we study in," Morrical added. "We've got exams, rotations, extracurricular activities and other things going on and forget about our surrounding neighborhoods and communities. This event really allows us to be more engaged in the community.”

Students began the day at 8:30 a.m. at the Christamore House with breakfast from Long’ Bakery, and then proceeded to their appointed homes to remove weeds, plant flowers, mulch and perform other landscaping tasks. Most equipment is owned by the IU School of Medicine and many plants and flowers planted were provided by the Allisonville Nursery.

The weather on Saturday was mostly sunny and great for planting, but students participate every year -- rain or shine. Past years have sometimes seen volunteers planting in muddy flowerbeds or digging away during a rainstorm.

Many students also point out that Spring House Calls provide an opportunity to practice their leadership skills, as well as to learn from the community they strive to serve. Everyone who volunteers as a team leader is expected to recruit enough fellow students and friends for one to two homes. Although most participants are students, anyone can volunteer.

“Helping the communities of my patients is a way for me to show my gratitude for everything they have taught me during my first years in the medical field,” said Meredith Faller, a second-year medical student and project co-chair “I get a better picture of where my patients are coming from and the challenges they may face. Firsthand knowledge of a patient’s community makes us all aware of the health concerns we need to be asking about in the clinic.

After a busy morning, IUSM students and homeowners sat down together at Christamore House to enjoy a lunch provided by Judge’s Bar-B-Que, a staple in Haughville.

The best moment from this year’s event, according to Faller, was carrying a double flat of pansy flowers around three sides of the Neighborhood Fellowship Church. Over the course of a block, three event volunteers, four medical students working at the IU-SOC, a couple on their way home from Pogue’s Grocery and a passerby with a dog all asked if she needed any help.

“That’s community,” she said. “We’re just trying to help our neighbors; we want to make sure they know we're here to help.”

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