Purdue junior Jerica Drew displays plants that will be given to residents of the Indiana Veterans Home after Span Plan's "Give a Little Love" community service event.

Purdue nontraditional students will ‘Give a Little Love’ to Indiana Veterans Home residents by planting succulents donated by Home Depot

Last updated: Feb. 8, 2021

It started as a simple inquiry. Malissa Ayala, director of Purdue’s Span Plan program that supports nontraditional students, was organizing a community service project that would double as an engagement opportunity for her students. Span Plan wanted to “Give a Little Love” this Valentine’s Day by painting and planting small succulents and donating them to residents of a local nursing home.  

Ayala estimated she had enough of a budget to pay for about 30 planters. On a whim, Ayala called the Lafayette Home Depot, explained her idea to the manager, and asked if the store had any plants or other materials to spare. To Ayala’s surprise, the manager invited her to head over to the store the next day.  

“I showed up on a Wednesday morning, and the associate who helped me was actually a Span Plan student,” Ayala said. “We started talking about Span Plan, and she said, ‘I know what Span Plan is because I get the postcards and birthday cards you send me, and I keep them all!’ Then the manager told me to just take a cart, pick out what I needed, and then they rang it up and took care of all of it.” 

Ayala was nearly speechless as the Home Depot cashier rang up more than $500 in plants, soil, biodegradable pots, and other project materials. It was everything her students needed to make 130 individual planters, one for every single resident in the Indiana Veterans Home.

Since then, Ayala and five Span Plan student coaches have been painting the pots and gearing up for Span Plan’s “Give a Little Love” event, which is when they’ll gather to finish painting pots and plant the succulents. The event takes place from 2:30-4 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 11. Due to social distancing guidelines, individuals who would like to participate should RSVP. 

Beyond giving back to the community, Ayala hopes the project will create yet another opportunity for nontraditional students to connect with each other. It’s the same reason Ayala created the student coaching position last semester; to increase student engagement and provide nontraditional students with an avenue to get involved, develop leadership skills, and gain professional experience.  

“Building community is an important part of the Purdue experience, but it can be difficult to do that as a nontraditional student, and even more so during COVID because so much has shifted to virtual,” Ayala says. “On a campus this size, nontraditional students easily become invisible, and no one wants to be on an island.  Span Plan provides an outlet for nontraditional students – those who are coming in at different stages of life, with different sets of challenges, opportunities and goals – to have a voice and a community, and to have support that is specifically designed for them.” 

Purdue junior Jerica Drew gets a head start on painting pots ahead of the Feb. 11 Span Plan "Give a Little Love" community service event.

Jerica Drew, a junior in Purdue’s Polytechnic Institute, decided to become a Span Plan student coach after finding her own community among other Span Plan students.  

“Coming to Purdue from the military, we didn’t have social media or student clubs, and we didn’t get to go home,” says Drew, who’s studying aviation management and aerial systems. “Socially, I think Span Plan allowed me to adjust a little bit more easily. And then, when I felt like I was more comfortable, it gave me an opportunity to be available to newer students as they came in, to help take the stress off of being the ‘old lady’ in the classroom, because it really does feel like that sometimes.” 

Members of this semester’s Span Plan cohort range in age from 20 to 70. The student coaches, too, represent diverse backgrounds, ages, experiences, and academic goals. And yet, Drew says, they share many commonalities.  

“We’re used to having to operate in chaos,” she says. “We understand as adult students, as nontraditional  students, that things don’t ever really go according to plan. And I think that times like these give us an opportunity to shine. Now, while so many others are still adjusting, we’re figuring out new ways to push forward and give back to the community. And I think that just shows how resilient nontraditional students really are.” 

Drew hopes others will help spread the word about Span Plan as a resource for Purdue’s nontraditional students. Individuals can learn more on the Span Plan website, or follow Span Plan on Facebook and Instagram to learn about upcoming events.  

“We’re an available resource for nontraditional students, whether they need us every day or only every once in a while,” Drew says. “But I think that once they come and see what’s going on at one of our events, they’re going to come back. That’s how they got me.” 


Writer: Andrea Mattingly, communications director for Student Success Programs, andrea@purdue.edu  

Source: Malissa Ayala, director of Span Plan, ayala15@purdue.edu  

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