Dustin Hale sits down at the Monroe County Public Library and clasps his trembling hands. He keeps his head down for a minute, only making eye contact with the Peyton Manning face on his t-shirt. He rubs his fingers above his lip and tugs on the few short hairs he missed while shaving.
"I'm a little nervous," he admits.
Hale is not nervous because he is in an unfamiliar place. The 21-year old has autism and is nervous because he likes his routine and gets flustered when it changes. A typical day does not include a sit-down interview.
Hale spends his time job searching, hiking, reading or watching the Indianapolis Colts on TV. A diligent worker, he is focused on finding an employer who will hire an applicant with special needs. It is a task that proves difficult for any adult with autism. Hale pushes onward, however, and tries his best.
Steve Cotter, the natural resources manager for the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department, is at home in Bryan Park. He walks to the creek and leans against the wooden fence that protects the little-known but ecologically important wildlife habitat that exists in and around the creek.
"We had a problem with the creek here, it was badly eroded and very difficult to maintain," Cotter said. "It had steep, vertical slopes where every time it rained, the creek would undercut the bank, and then the bank would fall into the creek and go downstream. It's bad for the water quality, and it's not good for the park, either."
Part of the remedy was the Bryan Park Creek Naturalization Project, which was also one of the first steps toward Bloomington's certification as a Community Wildlife Habitat.
The project involved vegetating the creek bank, with the emphasis on native plant species, using the plants' natural abilities to protect the creek.
Jordan Bleckner leans back in his office chair and looks over paperwork at his desk. The phone rings, and he swivels in his chair to pick it up. The 21-year-old IU junior from Woodcliff Lake, N.J., is the 2008 Union Board Live From Bloomington (LFB) director.
Bleckner's job this day in April was to ensure everything was ready for this year's LFB Club Night, an annual fundraiser for the Hoosier Hills Food Bank (HHFB).
Club Night is one of many charity events for local organizations that add a touch of creativity. These types of fundraising events have been around for decades, like LFB's 22-year run, offering residents chances to help out in ways other than the typical walk-a-thons and marathons.
"I just wanted to be in charge of doing something good for Bloomington because I just love this town so much," Bleckner said. "Whether it be big programs or little ones, they're still great for students and the community."
Collaboration between organizations, such as LFB's with Hoosier Hills, has allowed these out-of-the-ordinary events to grow in number and variety.
Sitting on a stool behind a 20-inch Macintosh monitor, Steve Volan towers above most customers who approach the checkout counter with movie in hand. A navy-blue hat rests lightly on top of his ruffled brown hair. Clenched in his right hand is a Subway foot-long sub.
The Cinemat's laid-back atmosphere creates a comfortable smile on the lips of customers and employees alike. Soft sounds of movie dialogue resonate from the TV hanging in the corner, and a serene silence floats through the air, except when disrupted by Volan's bellowing laugh.
"What really got me involved in politics?" Cinemat owner and City Councilman "Tall Steve" Volan asks with a sly smirk and squinting eyes. "It was the cuckoos. You've heard 'em, 'Cuckoo! Cuckoo!'"
Jill Stowers runs on a tight schedule. While her office is located on Bloomington's East Miller Drive, she finds that her job takes her all over central Indiana.
As program manager for Bloomington Hospital Positive Link, the regional AIDS medical service, Stowers says she travels around Monroe and surrounding counties for Positive Link outreach events every week.
Despite a hectic agenda, Stowers is happy to give time to discuss the change she jumpstarted in Positive Link -- its transformation from a care site for AIDS patients to a comprehensive service focusing on HIV prevention.
Elizabeth Hannibal's at-attention posture softens slightly as she puts into words why she chose her line of work. She sits in the dimly lit consultation room, which has seen countless women and children jarred by domestic violence. Their pain and possibilities splayed across the worn armchairs and children's toys have only Hannibal's calming voice to guide them.
Hannibal, the 24-year-old crisis intervention services coordinator at the Middle Way House, cannot imagine another occupation. Her multi-tasking role for the nonprofit domestic violence shelter is always evolving. From taking calls from rape victims to organizing volunteer orientation programs, more can always be done toward creating social change.
Hannibal doesn't see the job as overwhelming. For her it's the little things that matter most.
"The progress we see in the children we serve," she says, "the mom who gets a job, who moves into her first apartment for the first time in her entire life, those are the everyday things that make my work worthwhile."
Rick Barbrick has Bloomington "in his blood." After attending IU in the early '70s, he returned to his college town in February 1997 to open Dharma Emporium, a "psychedelic museum, gift shop and fashion boutique."
Now, 10 years later, he has decided to close his store. The Kirkwood Avenue building where Dharma Emporium is located changed hands about a year ago, and since then Barbrick's rent has been hiked from $1,200 to $1,600 a month.
"I'm closing in October of next year when my lease expires," Barbrick said. "I'm just convinced my rent would go up again by a considerable amount if I renegotiated with the new landlord."
When IU senior Brian M. Frange came to IU in 2004, the improvisational comedy group Awkward Silence was born. Frange, along with six other IU students, performs every Thursday at 9 p.m. at the Indiana Memorial Union.
"Improv is all made up on the spot," Frange said, "but there are a lot of rules that must be followed."
Frange teaches his cast that to form a strong bond with one another and to perform well, everyone must give "relentless support, no matter what somebody does onstage," he said, "and consider every idea the best you've ever heard."
Monroe County Jail Commander Bill Wilson has faced the same challenge every day for the past nine years -- jail overcrowding.
According to Wilson, this issue is not unique to Monroe County or to Indiana. "Probably a majority of jails across the country" are facing this challenging situation, he said.
Wilson's challenge affects his job, his staff, his inmates, his department's budget and all of the citizens of Monroe County.
"It is an entire system problem that is going on," he said.
If David Baas had lived his life according to what other people told him to do, or followed a typical societal timeline, his life would look very different. After all, a biology professor couldn’t keep 12 dusty guitar cases lining the perimeter of his new office. Nor would it be professional to keep a cherry-wood acoustic leaning against his desk for easy access.
His walls would be adorned with diagrams of the DNA double-helix structure and magnified images of the HIV virus rather than a vibrant watercolor portrait of Ringo Starr.
Baas’s office, in the back of Roadworthy Guitar & Amp, has a sort of systematic disorder to it. Loose papers threaten to consume the desk space, music magazines pile up in the corner, and thumbtacks hold countless stray notes to a cork board, far above eye level. If it were neat, Baas joked, he’d never find anything.