For Nick Kietzman-Greer, BA’04, DPT’07, Creighton’s service-learning opportunities have had a lasting, life-altering impact.
So much so that he and his wife, Laurie – both physical therapists – now call the Dominican Republic home.
For the last six and a half years, the Kietzman-Greers have been living and volunteering in Santiago de los Caballeros, the second-largest city in the Dominican Republic. They teach physical therapy students at the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra.
Nick was introduced to the Caribbean nation and its people as an undergraduate studying Spanish at Creighton. He made his first trip in 2002 through the University’s Institute for Latin American Concern (ILAC) program. He and Laurie would return several times from 2007-2010 for physical therapy service trips through Creighton.
At the time, he did not realize just how much these trips would change his life.
“The experience of studying abroad kind of reshapes how you see the world,” he said. “It allows you to see the world through a different lens.”
Spring Break Service & Justice Trips through the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ) also shaped him, he said. These trips, which took Nick to both Oklahoma City and St. Louis, spurred his involvement with the Catholic Worker Movement.
The couple made their decision to move to the Dominican Republic in June 2011.
“We recognized that we needed to make a greater commitment to the communities we were visiting and build deeper partnerships in order to foster lasting change,” Nick said. “Our interest was in approaching service from a development perspective, which would require us to be a part of the communities we serve so that we could identify their needs and assets.”
The decision wasn’t easy. But after much prayer, discernment and talking to former missionaries and church workers, he said, they decided it was the best way for them to live the life of service they had chosen.
Nick said it’s the couple’s faith that keeps them serving.
Whether teaching students, treating patients or coordinating faculty-training workshops, he said that Christ’s message of unifying love, and sharing with their neighbors what they’ve been given, has helped guide them.
“Whether it is in the Dominican Republic, the U.S.A., or any other place, there is a need and Christ calls us to find those in need and show them God’s love and compassion.”
The couple have accomplished some big things during their time in Santiago. They helped rework the therapy curriculum at Pontificia and implemented two new courses. They also spearheaded an effort to create a conference for physical therapists in Santiago, securing Marilyn Moffat, then-president of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy and professor at New York University, as a key speaker. Her presentation filled Pontificia’s auditorium and inspired the physical therapist community in Santiago.
Moffat also provided feedback on the Kietzman-Greers’ curriculum development, which Nick described as a welcome affirmation.
Meanwhile, Nick maintains a strong connection to Creighton. In April, he will help oversee a trip to the D.R. for fourth-year physical therapy students as part of their final rotation. His role on these trips is as much guide as it is clinical instructor: He guides them through a new culture and helps them handle the language barrier since many of the students have little or no Spanish-speaking experience.
Outside of work, both Nick and Laurie spend their time volunteering in the community. Julie Hoffman, PT, DPT, a physical therapy professor who has known the Kietzman-Greers for several years, notes that they have helped to construct churches, translated for medical mission programs, and regularly provide food and companionship for two young boys who frequently roam near their home.
“They have nurtured the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of those they encounter every day.” Hoffman said.
Their day-to-day work, in addition to their volunteering, makes for hectic schedules and plenty of challenges. Nick said self-care and balance are important to him and his family.
With two young children at home – Daniel was born in 2014 and Mateo two years later – he said it’s important to occasionally disconnect and just take time for themselves, which is something he said he wished they knew earlier in their journey.
Nick recalled something a mentor once said to him that helped them get through some stressful times – a saying that has helped the Kietzman-Greers during times where they have struggled with the challenges of living in another country: “If you can get one thing done in the morning and one thing done in the afternoon, it’s a good day.”