Student volunteers Jack Henderson (left) and Kelsey Kaline (right) watch fellow volunteer Christine TenHoeve eat her first crawdad. The Vanderbilt students spent their spring break helping elders in the Cherokee Nation.

Vanderbilt University Volunteers Spent Spring Break With Cherokee Nation Elders


Vanderbilt University senior Jack Henderson saw something other than sandy beaches or his hometown of New York City during his spring break—a reverence for elders.

Henderson is a participant in the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program, a community service organization run by students that sent a group of volunteers to assist with the Cherokee Elder Care (CEC) program on the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

“There is a youth culture in New York City. The elderly are often disregarded,” Henderson said. “I love the freedom and autonomy the elderly have here.”

ASB volunteers socialized with CEC participants, did chores around the facility and visited and assisted homebound elders.

Another ASB volunteer and Vanderbilt student—senior Michelle Cohen of Winston-Salem, N.C.—noticed a connection between the elders and their roots.

“This community has a general respect for its heritage,” Cohen said. “I think I learned more from the participants than I helped them.”

The volunteers were thanked with a hog fry featuring traditional Cherokee menu items the students had never tried like crawdads, wild onions and eggs, Indian tacos and fried pork.

“The students have worked with our participants and done a great job,” said David James, CEC interim program director. “We wanted to do this to thank them.”

“It was my pleasure to work with such an outstanding group of college students,” said Katina Dugger, community education liaison for CEC. “They touched the lives of many at CEC this week.”

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