March 11, 2008

Push America volunteers return to Touch of Nature

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — College students from all over the United States will donate their spring break to improve a Southern Illinois University Carbondale facility that serves children and adults from a widespread area.

A group of 40 Push America undergraduate student volunteers from eight universities will be working at the Touch of Nature Environmental Center from Saturday, March 15, through Thursday afternoon, March 20. They'll be reconstructing an outdoor amphitheater and renovating the nearby stone cabin. This is the fourth consecutive year students from across the country have contributed their time and labor to enhance Touch of Nature, which is utilized by people of all ages, including those with disabilities.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to cover Push America's philanthropic venture at SIUC. To arrange a visit, call Bruce W. Francis, facilities superintendent, at 618/453-1122, ext. 246 or Susan C. Edgren, acting director of the SIUC Division of Continuing Education, at 618/536-7751.

"The various projects the Push America volunteers have constructed for Touch of Nature Environmental Center give true meaning to the phrase 'labor of love,'" said Susan C. Edgren, acting director of SIUC's Division of Continuing Education. "I would like to express the gratitude of the Touch of Nature staff and all the campers and visitors who are the beneficiaries of the Push Grant projects. We welcome the Push volunteers once again this year for a new and exciting project."

This spring break volunteers are coming to the SIUC facility from Colorado State University, Georgia Tech, the University of Iowa, the University of Illinois, Illinois Institute of Technology, Bradley University, Miami University and the University of Tennessee. They are participating in a "Push Camp," a Push America construction grant program. Pi Kappa Phi, a non-profit organization serving people with disabilities and promoting lifelong service by members, operates the program.

The Push America effort in Jackson County includes a $5,000 cash grant to help cover the cost of construction materials, according to Bruce W. Francis, facilities superintendent at Touch of Nature. He said two local partners are also instrumental in the project's success. Wright's Do-It Center in Murphysboro is assisting with materials acquisition and SIUC's Plant and Service Operations is contributing materials and supervision for the work. Francis praised Phillip S. Gatton, PSO, director and the PSO union members for their help and cooperation.

For more information about Push America, look online at or contact Chad Coltrane, chief executive officer, at 704/504-2400.

The Touch of Nature Environmental Center is about seven miles south of Carbondale on Giant City Road. The facility hosts a variety of very successful educational and therapeutic recreational programs throughout the year, including very popular summer camps for special populations and children, Edgren notes. The co-educational residential Camp Little Giant is the nation's first university-affiliated residential camping program for those with disabilities.

The camp is also home to the ever-popular Eco-U children's summer camp experience and numerous other events and activities benefiting those of all ages and interests. To learn more about Touch of Nature or its programs, visit the Web site at