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Acting Director of Service Learning
4200 54th Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33711
toll-free: (800) 456-9009
local: (727) 864-7512
Profiles in Service
Graduation Year: 2011
What types of service/volunteer activities are/were you involved with at Eckerd?
During my time at Eckerd I participated in Into the Streets, a spring break service trip to Immokalee, Florida, ECHO, and a January service trip to Ethiopia and Rwanda. During my senior year I volunteered at the Pier Aquarium, to get some more experience in the field I planned on pursuing after I graduated. I also volunteered at all the Ronald McDonald House Charities in St. Pete my freshman, sophomore, and junior year.
In what ways did your service experience change you or cause a transformation in your thinking, values or degree/career choice?
Prior to coming to Eckerd I was actively involved in volunteer activities at my church and school. It seemed natural to participate in Into the Streets and find an outside organization to help out with on the weekends. I think one of the most inspiring and transforming moments in my life happened in 2010, my junior year, when I went to Rwanda and Ethiopia on a service learning trip.
Let me back up by saying, during the summer prior to my junior year I became a victim of a disturbing crime. The crime committed against me made me feel like I was no longer important in the world, and that I had been stripped away the opportunity of having a life worth living. Now that I look back at that year, I realize my trip to Africa was more crucial than ever. It gave me the opportunity to see that I could give back, that I was important, and that everyone deserves happiness.
Please describe your most significant or important service experience while at Eckerd.
One particular organization sticks out in my mind when I think of Africa. In Ethiopia we worked at a blind school where we helped build supports for a water holding tank, as well as other miscellaneous projects. It was at the blind school I met a 14 year old student named Frewnei. She was blind most likely from small pox or another preventable illness. She would read me Braille books and loved to sing the song "Umbrella" by Rihanna. Now, looking back at my journal, after my second day of meeting Frewnei, I wrote "She is very shy and quiet but has a heart of gold. She is so intelligent and is constantly surprising me!" I remember her being so happy and having such a big smile on her face even though she lived in one of the poorest countries in the world, was blind, and her family lived too far away to ever visit her. I really had to take a step back and realize that what I thought were some horrible things that had happened to her, still didn't define who she was or set limitations on who she could be. This experience allowed me to look within myself and challenge my thoughts and beliefs about my struggles. I am no longer a victim, but a survivor, because like Frewnei, I won't let that event define who I am or consume my thoughts and control my actions.
If you are a graduate, what sort of service do you now do?
I currently still help out at my church as a high school youth group leader, and I am also still involved with the Akilah Institute when events are hosted in Chicago. I recently became involved with Link Community Development, an organization that strives to improve the quality of education in Africa.
Service and justice are two topics that can generate stimulating thought and discussion. Describe a time, event or interaction that really engaged your thoughts on service and justice.
During our last week in Africa, we traveled to Rwanda. We volunteered at the Akilah Institute, the first all girls university in Rwanda. We were blessed with the opportunity to hear inspiring stories about how these girls not only survived the genocide, but how the country has started to come together to grow and prosper. I remember having a discussion one evening after visiting a genocide memorial and one of the other group members asked "What are your viewpoints on God during the genocide, where was He?" That's when a lot of this came full circle for me. I struggled with that very question in regards to the event the prior summer. Where was He and why wasn't He there to protect me? How could He let a nation turn against it self and kill innocent people? I still don't have that answer figured out, and I don't think I ever will. I do know that it has led me to this point. It has been a blessing in disguise.
I now work as an assistant naturalist at for the Kendall County Forest Preserve District as well as the Bolingbrook Park District. I was just recently accepted as an intern for an NGO called Hope For The Day, which teaches teens to utilize music and the arts as a defense mechanism to suicide through education, prevention, and hope. I feel very honored to work for such an outstanding organization. I always thought my passion was to care for the environment and animals, which I do still love, but maybe my calling is to help others find their path and their light at the end of the tunnel, just like my experience in Africa did for me.
What advice would you give to other current or entering Eckerd students about participating in service?
If you are an Eckerd student or considering coming to Eckerd I strongly believe that you can benefit from service learning. Eckerd provides you with opportunities to help others in a way that no other school can. The possibilities are endless, and adventures await as you give back to your community. You will forever be changed by the people you meet, you will grow and learn more about yourself, you will see what amazing wonders the world has to offer, and your courage, confidence, and willingness to make a difference in this world will spread like wild fire.