Indiana State University Newsroom

Fall breakers help Courageous Kids, beautify national park in Kentucky

November 25, 2015

Some Indiana State University students took advantage of the Thanksgiving week break in classes to help families with osteogenesis imperfecta, or "brittle bone disease."

The Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation describes the condition as a genetic disorder characterized by bones that break easily, often from little or no apparent cause, due to a gene mutation that affects collagen production. The foundation says an individual with the condition can suffer several hundred bone fractures in a lifetime. The mildest and most common type is marked by weak joints and muscles, colored sclera (the whites of the eyes), brittle teeth, tendency for spinal curvature, and possible hearing loss after age 20. Osteogenesis imperfecta affects 20,000 to 50,000 people in the United States alone.

The Center for Courageous Kids is a medical camping facility in Scottsville, Ky. that offers weekend retreats and summer camping sessions to families whose children have osteogenesis imperfecta so they can have fun as a family and escape everyday worries in a safe, accommodating environment. The center is funded solely by donations and has served more than 20,000 campers free of charge since opening in 2004.

"When I found out that we'll be working with kids with OI, I was a little apprehensive," Corry Smith, a senior human development and family students major from Richton Park, Ill., said, "because I have a big heart and I get really emotional working in situations that I can't change, but it was really inspiring to be able to work with them and have the opportunity to hear their backstories, to learn a little bit about them and their families."

Mandy Allen, a master's degree student in education, said she just has a heart for children in general.

"Being a little bit out of my comfort zone, doing something I've never done before... being away from home and my family for a few days was really the only thing holding me back," Allen said, "but I just persevered through it and hung out with these kids and these families, and it was a life-changing experience."

The students sat through an orientation session that taught them that the prescription was "fun", but the campers had to be handled with extra care due to their conditions. It wasn't long before the camp began to feel like any other for the students and their excited new families, who trusted the students completely.


As Smith feared, he had his emotional "moment" before orientation had even finished. A girl Smith guessed to be around eight years old rode her wheelchair to the gym full of students and shouted, "I'm free! I'm free!"

Smith said, "That moment was very emotional for me, because they still are kids and they like to have fun. All of that fun has to be modified sometimes, but it was nice to see that they felt comfortable at that camp. The camp says it prescribes fun and I can see her reaction that she was going to have a great time. That was a tear-jerker for me."

Smith and Allen's camping trip came complete with memories and new friendships. Taking the children to the swimming pool on Saturday is Allen's favorite memory.

"They were jumping around and swimming, and trying to hold their breath under water, and wanting us to do it with them-it was just so much fun to see them light up and have the time of their lives."

Smith's favorite memories were the meals spent with his Courageous family. Every member of that particular family had osteogenesis imperfecta.

"I really love food, so any of the times we got together and ate with our families. I enjoyed that because we talked and got to hear a little bit about their stories, and get to know each of the kids. I enjoyed the experience, all in all, but eating with them was my absolute favorite part."

Allen and Smith both added their families on Facebook. Smith hopes to reconnect with his Courageous family on the next alternative fall break trip to Kentucky. As a 29-year-old with a family of her own, Allen found it especially easy to relate with the mother of her Courageous family. She also noted the closeness of the alternative fall breakers, who played cards with each other at night and connected by the campfire. Smith said that serving with the students that he didn't know or knew little allowed him to come to know them better.

Smith and Allen returned home with material and immaterial souvenirs-keepsakes purchased at the center, numerous photos, friendships, and memories among them. Allen plans on organizing the many pictures she took in an album.

"This is definitely a memory I will keep forever and I will share with others, to convince them to volunteer as well," Allen said.

The students said goodbye to their Courageous families on Monday, which Allen found difficult.

"We spent 40 hours with these families just face-to-face doing things with them and I wasn't expecting anything, but a little girl that I worked with she just came up and gave me a hug and was like, ‘keep in touch with me, I had a great time'. As little as we thought we were doing, we made an impact on these kids' life."

They then headed to Mammoth Cave National Park to perform some trail maintenance in exchange for a Tuesday tour of the park. Smith and Allen used "loppers" to cut down twigs and overgrowth in a cemetery, among gravestones dating to the 1700s. The students worked for six hours to clear the cemetery area and then had a tour of parts of the cave that tourists don't visit. They also removed wire from caves dating from the 1930s so it could be replaced with energy efficient LED lights.

The alternative fall breakers boarded the bus home Tuesday afternoon with plans for their next alternative breaks. Smith and Allen are both southbound for Fort Worth, Texas, for Alternative Winter Breaks, but on different trips. Smith is looking forward to serving animals at the Humane Society, while Allen will help build homes for Habitat for Humanity, and has decided to participate in Alternative Spring Break as well.

Smith thinks the alternative break service opportunities encourage individual growth. Allen wishes she could have taken advantage of the trips during her undergraduate studies and Smith wishes he could have started participating earlier in his undergraduate experience. Students may be hesitant to leave home over break when so many are rooted in home lives and obligations, but Allen's family supported her decision to serve over fall break and encouraged her.

"Get outside your comfort zone and just pick one!" Allen said. "There are so many opportunities here and certainly one of them will relate to something that you're passionate about."

Photo: - Indiana State University student Corry Smith of Richton Park, Ill. plays skee ball with children from the Center for Courageous Kids during an alternative fall break trip to Kentucky. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Photo: - Rashad Crawford of Chicago thumb wrestles with a child as fellow Indiana State University student Mandy Allen looks on during an alternative fall break visit to the Center for Courageous Kids in Somerset, Ky. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Photo: - Indiana State University senior nursing major Valerie Taylor of Pendleton and junior athletic training major Breena Miller of Indianapolis help with clean-up at Mammoth Cave National Park during an alternative fall break trip to Kentucky. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

"Fast Facts on Osteogenesis Imperfecta", OI Foundation:

Center for Courageous Kids:

Contact: Jennifer Christian, alternative breaks coordinator, Center for Community Engagement, 812-237-7900 or

Writer: Kristen Kilker, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3773 or

Story Highlights

Some Indiana State University students took part in an alternative fall break helping out at a center for children with bittle bone disease and at Mammoth Cave National Park.

See Also:

North American Lighting funds student success center at State

Writer, activist to speak at ISU on Oct. 22

ISU Foundation board welcomes new members

$2.38M grant aims to strengthen student support

School of Music to present Fall Choral Showcase