Kevin Rahill ’12 likes challenges. He liked them when he was on the swim team at Notre Dame, and he must have especially liked them when he decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in 2013. But he didn’t attempt the feat for the physical challenge alone.
Rahill was raising money for Open Arms Home for Children, an orphanage founded by Sallie and Bob Solis ’84, where Rahill lived and worked for an entire year after graduating from Notre Dame. He defines this accomplishment as the summit, both literal and figurative, of his time in South Africa.
“It was a personal celebration for me and a way to give back before I came back to the United States,” he says. “Being able to raise that money for the orphanage was wild. I definitely summited it a little too quick, so I got pretty lightheaded when I was at 19,000 feet or so.”
Given his duties at the orphanage, it’s a wonder Rahill wasn’t lightheaded all the time. He oversaw staff changes, helped make meals, got the kids to school, homeschooled the others, helped them with their homework, got them ready for bed, took them to get checkups, administered medication, and managed the finances. His responsibilities likely sound familiar to parents, but most have maybe up to four or five kids to care for, not 55.
This kind of ceaseless work, however, was exactly what Rahill was seeking when he moved to South Africa.
“I felt this insatiable urge, a really strong calling, to devote myself a full year, seven days a week, twelve hours a day, and also at the same time experience a new culture to widen my own horizons,” he says.
Learning to Make a Difference
It was through the Center for Social Concerns that Rahill found out about Open Arms, which turned out to be exactly the kind of experience he was looking for.
“This was really a great opportunity for me to challenge myself in a whole new culture as well as really give back to a community that needed it, a community that was really devastated by the HIV epidemic,” he says.
While in South Africa, Rahill discovered how challenging himself could mean using his strengths in ways that he would not have expected. There was one moment in particular when that idea crystallized for him.
“I was driving the children back from school, and all the kids in the car were very quiet that day, which was unusual, since they were never quiet,” he says. “The kids at Open Arms were always singing, always laughing, always talking, and the fact that they were so quiet was concerning to me. And I just remember asking them, ‘Hey guys, what’s up? What happened?’ And they told me that one of their friends at school had drowned over the weekend. And that really impacted me. One, just because you never want a child to die. Two, I spent seven years as a lifeguard, and I swam at Notre Dame, so knowing that a child died from drowning is something that to me is totally preventable, since I’ve always been around the water. And at that moment, I realized what I had to do, and I started going to the local school every single week and teaching every child swim lessons.”
That spring, Rahill spent two and a half hours each week at the school pool, having realized that he was uniquely qualified to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.
“I think to me that’s utilizing your strengths and your background to try and make a difference. I was very proud of that,” he says. “I could walk away knowing you can’t always control these horrible things that happen, but you can control your response to it and make change for the future.”
Rahill no longer lives in Africa, but he brought what he learned there to his current home in Chicago. He mentors public school students, serves on the board of a non-profit, runs triathlons to raise money for charity, and helped organize a day of service at PwC, the company where he works when he’s not spending his free time volunteering.
With what little time he has left, Rahill has been applying to business school. There, he hopes to take the strength that is his financial knowledge and business acumen and apply it to socially minded investing, which balances making a profit with community and environmental impact.
“It’s not about just giving money away,” Rahill says. “It’s about enabling individuals to create self-sustaining change.”
Rahill says he’s motivated by that desire to create change, a value he owes in large part to his alma mater.
“I’m just so happy that I graduated from a place like Notre Dame,” he says, “because I really feel like it helped shape who I am and what I want to do in the world in terms of trying to make a difference.”
To learn more about the the work Open Arms for Children does to help meet the emotional, physical and developmental needs of orphaned, abandoned and disadvantaged children in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, please visit openarmshome.com.