We Are ND https://weare.nd.edu en Mon, 18 Feb 2019 11:00:00 -0400 Storyteller Brings Digital Savvy to Sharing Vocations ND alum draws on faith and technical expertise to support the church he loves Mon, 18 Feb 2019 11:00:00 -0400 https://weare.nd.edu/stories/storyteller-brings-digital-savvy-to-sharing-vocations/ https://weare.nd.edu/stories/storyteller-brings-digital-savvy-to-sharing-vocations/ <p>As much as <strong>Isaac Garcia ’08, ’10 M.A.</strong> enjoyed the theology and computer education courses he took as an undergraduate at Notre Dame, the most important moments of his education unfolded outside the classroom.</p> <p>Daily Mass and nighttime prayers helped the Austin native deepen his faith, and his desire to give back.</p> <p>“Most nights before I would go to bed I’d zip down to the chapel for a quick five or 10 minutes in front of the tabernacle at Keenan Hall,” Garcia recalls. “To me, having the ability to go to Mass every day in your dorm, being able to plan my day so that would be the end of it, was a great advantage. It was complementary to what I was studying, of course, but it formed me in a more holistic way than just learning about something in a textbook.”</p> <p>Garcia drew on that formation—as well as his technical and communication skills—in 2013, when he began working with the <a href="https://www.sistersofmercy.org/">Sisters of Mercy</a>, helping the order revamp its approach to recruiting for new vocations. That meant translating the order’s rich history—one that includes its founding in Dublin and its 1843 start in the United States—for a 21st century audience that expects user-friendly websites and responsive social media.</p> <p>“The sisters themselves viewed the work I was doing—and still do—as valuable,” Garcia says. “They know that they need to be present in these relatively new arenas, and so if you’re going to be present, you need to be good wherever you are. You need to make sure that if you’re present, what’s there is authentic to who you are. From their founding in Dublin, the sisters were known as the walking nuns, the walking sisters, because they were out and about, they were not cloistered, which was different at that time. I would say that continues with their being on social media. They’re there with the people and the mess that is social media, trying to respond to what’s going on in the world.”</p> <p>Garcia began his work as a social media specialist, training sisters on how to use Instagram and Twitter to share their stories. He kept a close eye on the Sisters of Mercy Twitter account, and began responding when radio stations and music fans reached out to it, confusing it for a rock band with the same name—something that gave the account more of a personality and helped it grow over time.</p> <p>And as Garcia moved into a new role as marketing manager, he kept an eye out for stories to tell. Often, these came from the order’s regional offices across the United States.</p> <p>“In Pittsburgh for example, there are sisters there, and there’s communication help available,” Garcia says. “So I would try to say ‘OK, what sort of resources do we have on the ground? How can we partner with people there on the ground to tell the story in an interesting way?’ Usually it would come out in a longer-form blog post, allowing a sister to use her own voice to tell her own story.”</p> <p>Garcia also took on larger storytelling projects. One focused on the order’s immigrant history, and its embrace of immigrants. Working with archivists, he discovered journals from sisters who had recorded their early years in the United States, sharing quotes and photos on social media. And he uncovered interesting snapshots from the order’s history, including a mid-19th-century moment in Rhode Island where, amidst anti-Catholic sentiment, local Catholics stepped up to head off threats of violence against the sisters after they recruited a local woman to join the order.</p> <p>“We just tried to give a snapshot of how the Sisters of Mercy either lived as immigrants or lived with immigrants and advocated for immigrants,” Garcia says, adding that what began as a social media campaign blossomed into a website. “This is a great way to share that what the Sisters of Mercy are saying now about immigrants comes from more than 175 years of experience of being immigrants and living with immigrants and immigrant communities.”</p> <p>In 2015, when Pope Francis announced the year-long Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Garcia helped with another initiative.</p> <p>“That was a big project—to help them think strategically, how can we be mercy in the digital era?” he says. “How can we ensure that what we show online ties into who we are, and how do we do that better?”</p> <p>In 2017, Garcia transitioned to freelance work after he and his wife, Desiree, welcomed their daughter, Cecilia. The move has allowed him to stay home with Cecilia while continuing to do work for the Sisters of Mercy. He sees his support of the order’s mission as part of his ongoing journey to support the church he loves.</p> <p>Before working for the sisters, Garcia, who earned his master’s degree from the McGrath Institute for Church Life’s <a href="https://mcgrath.nd.edu/service-learning/echo-graduate-service-program/">Echo Graduate Service Program</a>, had worked as a director of religious education at a parish in Vienna, Virginia. He remains active in RCIA education at his parish in Austin and hopes to return to parish ministry full-time down the road. Meanwhile, he is grateful he can continue his work with the sisters.</p> <p>“I still wanted to have a way to stay connected with this community that I have worked with for a number of years now,” Garcia says. “I wanted to continue that, and I continue that to this day, and I’m happy about that.</p> <p>“It’s been edifying to be welcomed by a community, even though you don’t look like them, even though you’re not one of them, so to speak. But to be embraced with open arms has been very rewarding. In some ways just being present with the sisters for so long is a gift in itself, just being able to enter into a small part of the work they’re doing and help them do that better, because there still is such a need for mercy in the world.”</p> Children Flee Violence. She Helps Them Navigate A New Life. ND lawyer represents immigrant and refugee children Mon, 11 Feb 2019 11:00:00 -0400 https://weare.nd.edu/stories/children-flee-violence-she-helps-them-navigate-a-new-life/ https://weare.nd.edu/stories/children-flee-violence-she-helps-them-navigate-a-new-life/ <p>Several years ago, <strong>Ginny Mikita ’91 J.D.</strong> realized she could no longer continue her work, which left her hurting.</p> <p>Years of representing children in domestic abuse and neglect cases had taken its toll on the Rockford, Michigan attorney. She saw children who, despite their circumstances, wanted nothing more than to return to their parents.</p> <p>“I did that work in the domestic foster care world for 14 years, and I got to a place where it was just too challenging for my heart,” Mikita says. “For me, the issue was what we did with those kids once they were made wards of the court. I felt like we were re-victimizing them by placing them in multiple foster homes, in broken adoptions, and oftentimes in homes that were really just a hair’s breadth better than their homes of origin. So for me it was more about what happened once they were in the system that was absolutely killing me.”</p> <p>When she told a local judge she would no longer take these cases, the judge asked her if she would consider working with refugees and unaccompanied minors. That question led Mikita to find a new calling, one that would allow her to help children who had suffered greatly—hundreds so far—find a fresh start and move forward with their lives.</p> <p>“The difference in where these children are at, despite what they’ve been through,” Mikita says, “is that their future is so much brighter than their past.”</p> <p>Mikita makes sure of that. She works with a fairly even mix of refugees— from countries like Eritrea, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Myanmar—and unaccompanied minors, mostly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.</p> <p>“They’re coming from places where they’ve witnessed the gruesome murders of their parents, or they’ve been on the run,” she says of the refugees. “What they go through is unimaginable to us in this place of privilege that we inhabit.” And the unaccompanied minors, she notes, “are making these horrendous journeys through the desert and on trains and on buses and with coyotes,” or smugglers.</p> <p>But once the children are in her community, Mikita makes sure they have the representation they need to navigate their new lives. That can mean getting a name corrected on state documents so it doesn’t negatively affect immigration proceedings. It can entail fighting for court orders that allow children to get surgeries or travel out of state with their foster families for spring break. It has involved meeting with school principals about educational needs, getting in touch with a case worker after children were wrongfully stopped for shoplifting, and helping a young woman deal with discriminatory remarks at her job. She has represented children as young as five, but her typical clients are teens.</p> <p>Mikita works with a family services agency that handles treatment plans for children. Such plans cover everything from their living situation to their education and medical treatment to their cultural and religious needs. “We have to look at their cultural identity. Is it being nurtured?” she says. “Are there things we can do to preserve this child’s ability to speak his or her native language or to worship in their faith tradition?”</p> <p>After just a few years, she is already seeing the fruits of her work.</p> <p>“In terms of outcomes, my kids are just starting to graduate and move into their young adult years,” she says. “I have a few now who are in college and doing extremely well. I’m just so delighted.</p> <p>“They stay in touch. I get texts periodically. They’ll just check in and see how things are going. It’s pretty incredible. I’ve had a couple of kids who have had the most horrendous backgrounds, and they’re asking about my children. And I’m thinking, how unbelievable that these kids can see beyond themselves at this young age, and be able to be empathic when they have been through so much themselves. So it’s pretty special.” </p> <p>And the work continues to energize her. Mikita, who practices in a law firm with her husband, Robert Kruse, says she has a hard time imagining how she would someday retire from what has become a calling.</p> <p>“I love my work,” she says. “It’s hard for me to imagine not doing this. It’s just not on my radar. That’s one of the beautiful things about this, is that I’ve managed to land in a place where I’m so deeply happy. </p> <p>“I feel like it’s such a privilege. I am so deeply honored to be able to represent these kids, and so humbled by them.”</p> Working to Abolish Private Prisons Attorney focuses on criminal justice reform issue Mon, 04 Feb 2019 13:00:00 -0400 https://weare.nd.edu/stories/working-to-abolish-private-prisons/ https://weare.nd.edu/stories/working-to-abolish-private-prisons/ <p><strong>John Dacey ’73</strong> has a clear mission.</p> <p>The Phoenix-based attorney, who has spent most of his career on various legal aid and Medicaid cases, wants to abolish private prisons.</p> <p>It’s a big task—one he hopes will lead to a case before the United States Supreme Court—but Dacey’s vision, much like his mission, is unambiguous.</p> <p>“If everything went according to plan,” he says, “we would file a single lawsuit in federal district court in Phoenix and challenge the actions of government in delegating incarceration—the punishment function of government—to the marketplace, and challenge the validity of the laws that allow it.”</p> <p>In 2015, Dacey started a nonprofit with a name as straightforward as its goal: <a href="https://www.abolishprivateprisons.org/">Abolish Private Prisons</a>. Last August, he left his private law firm to focus on the nonprofit full time. </p> <p>But before 2011, Dacey did not even know private prisons existed. During a six-month sabbatical from his firm, Gammage and Burnham, an old friend asked if Dacey would volunteer to mediate lawsuits filed by people in Arizona prisons against the state’s Department of Corrections. He accepted, and as he began to research for this new pro bono work, he first encountered the concept of private, for-profit prisons.</p> <p>“I had no idea they existed, and as soon as I read the words, at a visceral level, I thought, ‘Oh, this can’t be. This is the government’s responsibility,’” Dacey says. “So I decided to look into it, and I spent a lot more time reading about them. And the more I read, the more I became convinced that this was a modern form of slavery—that incarcerating people for profit was just a horrible idea. In turning over incarceration to the marketplace, government has abdicated a responsibility that belongs to government alone and created huge financial incentives that sustain our societal addiction to mass incarceration. Taking away an individual’s liberty should never have any relationship to corporate profits.”</p> <p>Since then, Dacey has dedicated himself to putting together a legal challenge to the constitutionality of private prisons. But for him and those who have joined his mission, the issue goes further than that.</p> <p>“It’s not just a constitutional issue for us. It’s a moral question,” he says. “It’s about what kind of a country are we, what kind of a country are we going to be? Are we really going to put these perverse incentives into our criminal justice system?”</p> <p>Those perverse incentives, Dacey says, lead prison corporations to prioritize shareholder profits over criminal justice and taxpayers’ interests.</p> <p>“Private prisons are like hotels. They get paid to have their beds full. And they spend a lot of money lobbying to get their beds full and to keep them full,” Dacey says. “An inmate who stays for a long time is more valuable to a prison corporation than one who gets out quickly. And an inmate who fails on return to their community and comes back to prison is more valuable than one who successfully re-enters their community.</p> <p>“These incentives are perverse. We have to do something about it. This is treating people as human inventory. It’s a violation of human dignity.”</p> <p>Since founding the nonprofit, Dacey has had to focus more time on fundraising and development than actually compiling his legal challenge. Abolish Private Prisons has one staff attorney, and plans to grow its legal team as it continues to compile its case.</p> <p>“The constitutional issues are complex, and it takes some serious legal research and writing, which is why we’ll be doing some serious fundraising to grow our legal team,” Dacey says.</p> <p><em>Brown vs. Board of Education</em>, the landmark school desegregation case, provides a good model for the type of case Dacey hopes to bring to federal court, he says. And while he hesitates to predict exactly when he will file the challenge to private prisons, he hopes it will be soon.</p> <p>“The issue will be before the Supreme Court at some point,” he says. “And sooner is better, because in our view, incarceration for profit and the embedding of other profit motives in criminal justice, is a cancer in our legal system that jeopardizes the very legitimacy of criminal justice.”</p> <p>And this cancer, Dacey says, is spreading.</p> <p>“It’s spreading not only in terms of the growth of the number of prisoners in the United States housed in private facilities, it’s spreading globally,” he says. “And the prison corporations are creating subsidiaries to go into for-profit probation, parole, bail, ankle bracelets, community corrections, selling specialty services to police.” </p> <p>All of this creates a sense of urgency that motivates Dacey to push forward with fundraising, legal research and writing and recruiting more people to his cause.</p> <p>“The time to do something about it is now,” he says, “not when this industry becomes too big to fail, when government becomes so dependent on the private sector that perhaps some judges lack the courage to make the kind of ruling that’s necessary.”</p> <p>Dacey has brought his mission back to Notre Dame several times, giving presentations for the Center for Social Concerns over the past few years. He says his work focuses on a specific criminal justice issue, but connects to the broader social justice aims of the University and the center.</p> <p>“It’s not disconnected to the bigger issues of mass incarceration and the people most affected by that, in this sense,” he says. “If government can no longer use private prisons, then they have to look at different issues, such as, ‘Should we really be putting this many people in prisons?’”</p> In a New York Minute Ed Gavagan '86 reflects on the random attack that almost took his life Thu, 24 Jan 2019 09:45:00 -0400 https://weare.nd.edu/stories/in-a-new-york-minute/ https://weare.nd.edu/stories/in-a-new-york-minute/ <p><strong>Ed Gavagan '86</strong> reflects on the random attack that almost took his life and the emotions he confronted in its aftermath.</p> <p><em>Each week, We Are ND publishes a new profile of a member of the ND family who is doing good in the world. <a href="http://my.nd.edu/s/1210/myND/interior-2col.aspx?sid=1210&amp;gid=1&amp;pgid=41792&amp;cid=80992">Subscribe to get a weekly email</a> with a direct link to our most recent story.</em></p> Empowering Young Women to Change the World School president builds opportunity for lower-income students Mon, 21 Jan 2019 10:00:00 -0400 https://weare.nd.edu/stories/empowering-young-women-to-change-the-world/ https://weare.nd.edu/stories/empowering-young-women-to-change-the-world/ <p><strong>Marikris (Dalum) Coryell ’88</strong> had enjoyed a business career that included running a family business, leading a startup, and turning a company around. But she was ready for a new challenge. </p> <p>As she considered what she might do next, she thought about her longtime volunteer work in education—from her involvement in a tutoring program as an ND undergraduate to her leadership roles at places like her old high school and her children’s school. </p> <p>And when a mentor alerted her to an opportunity to lead <a href="https://www.saintjoanantida.org/">St. Joan Antida High School</a> in Milwaukee, she quickly realized it was the right fit. The all-girl school, run by the Sisters of Charity, serves students from primarily low-income families, teaching a rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum that promotes critical thinking and builds opportunity.</p> <p>“One of the things I fell in love with about the school is the vision,” says Coryell, who became the school’s president before the start of the current academic year. “It’s to embrace young women and empower them to discover their God-given potential, give voice to their passion, and change the world. It had all the elements of what I believe in.”</p> <p>Now, Coryell is working with the school’s faculty and her leadership team to enhance the school’s educational offerings while improving its extracurricular and service opportunities—all with the goal to form young women who will change the world.</p> <p>“In some ways it’s like running a business, so I can use all my skills from all my other positions in the family business, the startup, the turnaround,” she says. “But at the end of the day, when these girls come in and they give me a hug and say ‘thanks, Ms. Coryell, we’re so excited about what you’re doing here and so excited for you to be here,’ I think, yes, that’s it! So it’s exhausting and exciting and energizing all at the same time.”</p> <p>Enhancing academic offerings is a big part of the job. Several years ago, St. Joan Antida transitioned to an International Baccalaureate curriculum, which challenges students to take initiative, ask questions, and make connections across disciplines. The school’s juniors and seniors choose between two tracks: a career-oriented track that emphasizes STEM, and a classic liberal arts track.</p> <p>“It’s independent learning and it’s teaching the women how to learn for themselves. The challenge that we have is that we draw from 52 different grade schools in in the Milwaukee area, so all of our kids coming in are at different levels,” Coryell says, adding that she is considering expanding a summer academy the school offers to help incoming students start strong. “So we are melding everyone together and putting them into this more rigorous curriculum. We need to provide some more supplemental learning and support to make sure the girls are successful.”</p> <p>Coryell is also looking at ways the school can partner with local colleges and universities on dual enrollment programs that allow students to earn college credit—and get a better sense of what they might do after high school. She sees it as an important way to build opportunity for her students, since 98 percent of them come from families at or below the poverty line. Such a program might allow one young woman to discover a future as a doctor, she says, while it might help another see the option of working as a medical tech—a job that doesn’t require a four-year degree and the debt than can come with that.</p> <p>“This allows us to augment what we offer to our students, so that they get this taste of college or university, which will then just transition them into their next educational experience, Coryell says. “It’s offering another pathway to education and the work environment.”</p> <p>Coryell is also expanding the school’s extracurricular activities, a challenge because most of its students rely on bus transportation and don’t have the flexibility of having parents pick them up at various times after school. So on Fridays, students will have the opportunity to participate in clubs that interest them. She is also working to expand service opportunities so students can enjoy volunteering experiences.</p> <p>As she continues planning for the future at St. Joan Antida, Coryell is grateful she can make a difference leading the school.</p> <p>“I just feel blessed to have this opportunity,” she says. “I feel blessed to be able to have an impact on these women and to be able to use the talents of everyone else who has been working with them. I add in what I know, and then together we’re creating something awesome.”</p> Reimagining Princess Stories For Today Alum has rewritten classic tales to be empowering for girls Mon, 14 Jan 2019 08:00:00 -0400 https://weare.nd.edu/stories/reimagining-princess-stories-for-today/ https://weare.nd.edu/stories/reimagining-princess-stories-for-today/ <p>When <strong>John Drumm ’97 M.B.A. </strong>reads to his daughter, Gabriela, at bedtime, it’s more than likely a book about a princess. And while his daughter loves these fairytale stories, Drumm noticed a troubling theme in the books, one that he didn’t want his daughter to internalize.</p> <p>“They were so focused on relying on the prince, appearance, and things like that, so I started ad libbing,” he says. “When the book would say, ‘Cinderella dazzles,’ I would say something like, ‘Cinderella loves science.’”</p> <p>It worked well, until Gabriela started noticing if dad mixed up the details—she’d remind him that Cinderella loves science, while Belle likes math. So he started writing his edited version on the pages of his daughter’s books, to help keep the story straight.</p> <p>“That led to me saying, ‘I should write the whole story,’” says Drumm, the author of the <a href="http://smartprincesses.com/">Smart Princess series</a>, which reimagines traditional fairy tale and princess stories with empowering messages. “It was a collection of moments, just looking at her and thinking that I don’t want her to think that she needs to wait for a prince or that her options are limited.”</p> <p>Gabriela, now 6, is an integral part of the editorial process for the Smart Princess series. Drumm writes the stories and then illustrates them himself with a computer animation program, and his daughter gets to weigh in throughout the process and give the final approval.</p> <p>Smart Cinderella, the first book in the series, came out in March 2018, and the pair are putting the finishing touches on the next two books: <em>Smart Little Mermaid</em> and <em>Smart Sleeping Beauty</em>. In Drumm’s version of the Little Mermaid, the main character wants to protect the ocean, so she needs legs to get on land and convince humans to stop pollution. Smart Sleeping Beauty is creating a scientific antidote to the spell that the evil fairy, Maleficent, put on her. Plans are also in the works for future books featuring Belle from Beauty and the Beast as well as Rapunzel.</p> <p>The princess stories that Drumm is reimagining are part of the public domain—with their roots in the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales—so no specific company or author has exclusive rights to the stories.</p> <p>“I stick to the basic elements of the original story, but then, with my additions, show that this princess is taking her destiny into her own hands,” Drumm says. “And, in many cases, the prince is the benefactor of her expertise and brain power.”</p> <p>In <em>Smart Cinderella</em>, the protagonist still goes to a ball in a beautiful gown, but it isn’t to win the heart of a prince. She wants to show the king and queen her plans to make the kingdom a better place for all who live there. And what about that famous glass slipper? Smart Cinderella still leaves her shoe behind in the rush to get home before midnight—but this time it is on purpose. She writes a math problem on the shoe, and the solution reveals her address, so the prince can find her after the ball. When he does, they get to work improving the kingdom. Cinderella becomes a princess whose brain inside her head is as important as the crown on top of it.</p> <p>Drumm, whose day job is as a management analyst with the United States Department of Agriculture in Davis, California, works on the books in his spare time. He used to write screenplays, which he says was more time-consuming. With these shorter children’s books, he can make progress on the story or illustrations in smaller chunks, 15 minutes in the morning, or a half hour after bedtime.</p> <p>He is inspired by the growth mindset philosophy, which has shown that children and adults who believe they can improve intelligence through hard work and effort find more success than those who believe intelligence is fixed.</p> <p>“I wanted Gabriela to see a princess who was making her own wishes comes true and taking action, through this concept that anyone can learn anything,” he says. “I’m hopeful that the message in there for the people who read the books—both children and the parents who are reading to them—is seeing girls who are exercising their brains, learning, taking on challenges, and not giving up. That’s the way we can all get smarter and move forward in life. The goal of our stories is to show empowering role models to young girls who are drawn to these classic stories.”</p> <p><em>To learn more about the Smart Princesses series, please visit <a href="http://smartprincesses.com/">smartprincesses.com</a>. A free download of Smart Cinderella is available at <a href="http://smartprincesses.com/free">smartprincesses.com/free</a>. </em><br>  </p> Rector Mentors Rising Generations of ND Alumni Drawing on counseling background, she asks questions, starts conversations Mon, 07 Jan 2019 18:00:00 -0400 https://weare.nd.edu/stories/rector-mentors-rising-generations-of-nd-alumni/ https://weare.nd.edu/stories/rector-mentors-rising-generations-of-nd-alumni/ <p>Several years ago, <strong>Elaine DeBassige ’92 </strong>was looking for a new way to make a difference when a late-night chat with the rector of her former residence hall changed the course of her life.</p> <p>DeBassige was on campus to meet with fellow members of the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors, and after the day’s activities had finished, she met Layla Karst, the outgoing Lewis Hall rector, to discuss ways she could help give back.</p> <p>Their conversation, which stretched into the wee hours of the morning, soon turned to DeBassige’s job. After working as a licensed therapist for years, she found private practice isolating, and wanted to transition to something else. That’s when Karst asked DeBassige if she’d ever considered working as a rector at Notre Dame.</p> <p>“I burst out laughing,” DeBassige recalls. “But as I learned more about the position, I realized, oh my gosh, this could be the next thing.”</p> <p>And it was. After a quick interview process, DeBassige returned to campus—this time, as the rector of Farley Hall. No longer isolated, she finds herself intimately involved in the lives of the young women she guides and mentors.</p> <p>“My door is always open,” DeBassige says. “It’s the coolest and most complicated job I’ve ever had.”</p> <p>While DeBassige oversees activities and makes sure the hall is running smoothly, much of her job is just being available to talk to her residents about whatever is on their minds.</p> <p>“I’m having conversations with the women about everything under the sun,” she says. “It’s everything from how do you talk to a boy and get a date, or helping them figure out if they are dating somebody, because they don’t know, to how to get gum out of a sweatshirt. I don’t know what topic we have not talked about.”</p> <p>And DeBassige is happy to to help. Drawing on her counseling experience, she helps Farley’s young women navigate the challenges they’re facing, something she sees as an important part of transitioning to adulthood.</p> <p>“My background really helps because I know how to ask questions,” she says. “I have found asking them questions instead of fixing things is one of the most helpful things for them. Because they want the answer, and they’re still young enough that they don’t understand that in life, many times there are not easy answers.”</p> <p>Given the busy lives Notre Dame students lead, the conversation often turns to the activities the women have taken on, and why they’ve chosen them.</p> <p>“We have this conversation about being a human doing vs. a human being,” DeBassige says. “So then we talk about what kind of human being they want to be. When they finish their four years here, what do they want to be most proud of? And the other conversation we have is about not living a mile wide and an inch deep, and about what it is that most fulfills them. So we talk a lot about fulfillment and who it is they want to become. And I think sometimes that’s the first time they’ve taken the time to think about that, because they’ve been on this treadmill and everything’s been so automatic and programmed, and this is the first time that they have choices.”</p> <p>DeBassige is also eager to help students from various backgrounds learn from each other and navigate differences.</p> <p>“Sometimes I feel like a unicorn,” she says. “There’s not a lot of women here from the southwest. So many times, I’m the first either Mexican-American or Native American that they’ve met. I’ve had so many interesting conversations with women who have just had questions that they were afraid to ask anywhere else. And so I’ve really tried to create a space where if people want to learn, please ask questions. And that has been really amazing.</p> <p>“We talk about these differences. I usually use myself as an example, to take the edge off. I think because I have purple hair, there are just naturally more things that pop up, because I’ve just extended the world of what is normal. I’ve really tried to encourage opening the boundaries of what people can talk about.” </p> <p>As Farley’s rector, DeBassige is also intimately involved in planning and putting on the hall’s various events. Highlights include Pop Farley Week, which honors Father John “Pop” Farley, C.S.C., a Notre Dame graduate and longtime campus rector for whom the hall is named. The week begins with Mass in the Log Chapel with Father Edward A. “Monk” Malloy, C.S.C, ’63, ’67 M.A., ’69 M.A., a former Farley resident. It includes a skit night, ice skating, and hall decorating leading up to a dance. The week concludes with another Mass, usually offered by University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C, ’76, ’78 M.A. </p> <p>Other hall traditions include Sisterhood Week in February to honor the late Sister Jean Lenz, O.S.F., ’67 M.A., a former rector, and Be Fine Day in the spring, which encourages conversations about femininity. DeBassige has also helped Farley partner with other residence halls to bring Las Posadas, a Latin American tradition that celebrates the Nativity story, to campus. And she helped the hall’s residents start Cafe Far-Far, which gives them an opportunity to run a business that sells a variety of ever-popular waffles. </p> <p>Ultimately, DeBassige finds her work as rector deeply satisfying, and she enjoys helping to mentor rising generations of Notre Dame alumni.</p> <p>“To know that I have helped to guide a journey of a little pocket of all the other people who will become my fellow alumni, it’s a little bit overwhelming at times, in a really amazing way,” she says. “I wake up and I can’t believe I’m here. I feel like I won the lottery in being able to help this group be better. We talk a lot at Notre Dame about being a force for good, and when I see the women—where they start and where they end—then I can’t help but believe that our world is going to be better. And to know that I had one tiny part of that just makes me feel so grateful.”</p> Helping Communities Fight Crime Retired lawyer makes a difference with Crime Stoppers Mon, 17 Dec 2018 12:00:00 -0400 https://weare.nd.edu/stories/helping-communities-fight-crime/ https://weare.nd.edu/stories/helping-communities-fight-crime/ <p>Two decades ago, after violent crime and drugs hit too close to home, <strong>John W. Nelson ’64, ’67 J.D.</strong> decided it was time to move out of Phoenix.</p> <p>His closest friend, a cop, had been shot and killed just half a mile away from Nelson’s law office. And police had busted two meth labs within just blocks of the office.</p> <p>So Nelson moved to Ouray County, Colorado, just outside the small town of Montrose. The area is known for its beautiful mountains and trout fishing. And he quickly became involved in a host of volunteer and civic activities.</p> <p>Then, about four years ago, he saw an ad in a local newspaper asking for volunteers to start a Crime Stoppers program in the area. Crime Stoppers allows people to report criminal activity anonymously and offers cash rewards for information that leads to an arrest or conviction. Nelson was intrigued, and after attending a couple of meetings in Grand Junction, Colorado, he started the Montrose Regional Crime Stoppers.</p> <p>Since then, the local program has led to approximately 50 arrests and helped solve more than 100 crimes. And for the past two years, Nelson has served as a regional director for <a href="https://www.crimestoppersusa.org/">Crime Stoppers USA</a>, helping to educate and train volunteers with programs in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.</p> <p>“It’s really helpful not only in major cities, but particularly in smaller communities, because most smaller communities do not have enough law enforcement,” Nelson says. “So it’s been extremely rewarding.”</p> <p>A month ago, for instance, a Crime Stoppers tip enabled Montrose police to arrest a fugitive who had several outstanding warrants, including some for weapons and assault charges.</p> <p>“You have a couple of those, and that’s what keeps us all going,” Nelson says. “Because we know we have a grossly underfunded and understaffed police department. And that leads to burnout, and it leads to officer safety concerns. And Crime Stoppers has been a major factor in instigating some changes.”</p> <p>As a regional director, Nelson is eager to help advise volunteers with Crime Stoppers programs on how they can fight crime in their communities. He participates in conference calls and has presented at Crime Stoppers USA’s national conference, all in an effort to share what works.</p> <p>“The real concept is, through trial and error, good stories and bad, we’ve developed a set of best practices for running an organization,” Nelson says. “Here’s what you do to have a good board. Here’s how you run good meetings. Here’s what you do to ensure your program will be successful. And that’s really the best part of Crime Stoppers USA, because it’s strictly a volunteer organization. If we can keep programs from folding and encourage new programs, that’s what Crime Stoppers is all about. We put a lot of effort into it.”</p> <p>In addition to serving with Crime Stoppers, Nelson has gotten involved in a variety of civic activities and volunteered extensively. Several years after moving to Colorado, he partnered with a retired fire chief on a ballot referendum that enabled Montrose to build, equip, and staff two new fire stations. He has worked with the Court Appointed Special Advocates program, which advocates for abused and neglected children within the legal system. He has served as a volunteer first responder, a volunteer firefighter, and a county election judge. But his involvement with Crime Stoppers continues to be special for him.</p> <p>“It’s amazing how this particular concept has aided law enforcement, and by aiding law enforcement, has made every community safer,” he says. “Because let’s face it, you can have all the beautiful mountains and trout-filled streams, but if you don’t feel safe, the community is not going to be where you want to live. That’s why we do what we do.</p> <p>“We have something here that is making a positive difference. It makes you feel good. You can change the world, maybe not on a national level, but you sure can change the world where you live.”</p> Born Without Three Limbs, Speaker and Author Inspires Others He shares his story and challenges people to make a difference Mon, 10 Dec 2018 13:55:00 -0400 https://weare.nd.edu/stories/born-without-three-limbs-speaker-and-author-inspires-others/ https://weare.nd.edu/stories/born-without-three-limbs-speaker-and-author-inspires-others/ <p><strong>Alex Montoya ’96</strong> was born without arms or a right leg, but he doesn’t spend a lot of time lamenting what he doesn’t have. Instead, he focuses on what he does have: three prosthetic limbs that help him live a mobile, independent life, and a platform to help others by sharing his story.</p> <p>“My whole belief and my whole purpose is to show people not to take for granted the life that we have. Most people that I encounter have two arms and two legs, and I honestly think that we get so caught up in our deadlines, responsibilities, issues, and challenges that we sometimes don’t stop to think that not all of us have that: two functioning arms and legs,” Montoya says. “Me being in the position of wearing three prosthetics, I look at people who are in wheelchairs and need help getting out of bed in the morning and think about how good I have it. We need to pause and thank God for the little things, things that we probably don’t give a second thought to every day.”</p> <p>Montoya was born in Colombia, his disabilities a side effect of the drug thalidomide, which was used to treat nausea in pregnant women before it was found to cause birth defects. He came to the United States at age 4 to receive prosthetics at the Shriners Hospital for Children in San Francisco and Los Angeles, staying with his aunt and uncle. Later, he went on to attend Notre Dame, earn a master’s degree at the University of San Francisco, and work on the corporate side of Major League Baseball for a decade. Today, he is a sought-after motivational speaker and author, and has shared his story nationwide, speaking at the likes of Google, NASA, and Harvard, focusing on overcoming adversity and living an inspired life.</p> <p>Montoya, who worked for his hometown baseball team, the San Diego Padres, had always done public and motivational speaking as a side gig, but decided to pursue it full time in 2015. He says he saw it as his way to do something positive for the world.</p> <p>“I felt like it was what I was called to do,” he says. “I had been doing enough on the side as a passion project that I decided I wanted to try it full time, partially because I wanted to get better at it by devoting more time to it, and because I saw that’s what the world needed. We live in a very divisive world right now, and I felt like the world needed a little inspiration to remind people of what their true purpose and calling is. I have my physical adversity and disability, and those are my challenges that I live with daily, but everyone I know has something they are carrying with them—whether it is physical, mental, emotional, financial, you name it—everybody has something that is challenging, and I wanted to break through that and take a stab at making the world a better place.”</p> <p>So <a href="http://a-motivational.com/">A-MOtivational Communications </a>was born, offering motivational literature and presentations and coaching on writing and public speaking. Monotoya’s clients include schools (from the university level all the way down to kindergarten classes), corporate groups, nonprofit organizations, and churches.</p> <p>All of his talks include a component of disability awareness: showing how his prosthetics work and how they help him in his daily life. He uses two prosthetic arms that connect to his shoulder and have an elbow joint, with hooks on the end that have a grasping mechanism. His right leg is a prosthetic that fits onto his thigh, with a hinge knee joint. It took about three years of physical therapy to learn how to use each of these limbs most effectively, but he says that he reached a point where the prosthetics became a part of him. For instance, he uses his left prosthetic to take the back end of a pen and type utilizing a hunt-and-peck style. Montoya says that while some people look at his three prosthetic limbs and feel pity, for him, the prosthetics represent freedom.</p> <p>“If I don’t have them, I can’t get around. I couldn’t have gone to Notre Dame or carried the Olympic Torch in ’96” he says. “I can’t write books or give speeches without them. My work shows other people that they have the same opportunity in their lives to be liberated—they just have to think the right way.”</p> <p>For Montoya, thinking the right way means not letting challenges or supposed limitations hold you back. He tailors each of his speeches to the unique audience, but that is the overarching theme of everything he does, whether it is encouraging nonprofit employees in fundraising or motivating salespeople to make more sales.</p> <p>Fittingly, his most recent—and fifth—book is called <em>Living Inspired</em>. He says it is his call for people to focus on the things in life that inspire them and use that to live life in a way that inspires others. His own inspiration for the book is his late father, Hernan, who filled their house with music every day. The music inspired Hernan and enabled him to live life with a reputation for being “gregarious and jovial,” according to his son. Montoya hopes his book can show others the key to living a joyful, inspired life, no matter the challenges people confront.</p> <p>“At the end of my life, God’s not going to look at me and say, ‘You’re the one who was born without this or that.’ He’s going to ask, ‘What did you do with the things I gave you?’” he says. “I want to challenge people to figure out how they can make the most of what they have, be inspired by that, and hopefully inspire other people.”<br>  </p> Warm Clothing For Children Wards Off Winter Former newspaper publisher started program to help young people Mon, 03 Dec 2018 11:25:00 -0400 https://weare.nd.edu/stories/warm-clothing-for-children-wards-off-winter/ https://weare.nd.edu/stories/warm-clothing-for-children-wards-off-winter/ <p>Late one night, as he struggled to fall asleep, <strong>Mack Stewart ’55 </strong>wondered what he was going to do with the rest of his life.</p> <p>He had just been let go from his job managing <em>The Middletown Press</em> after failing to reverse the Connecticut paper’s economic woes. But as he pondered his future, he realized something: he didn’t really need a paycheck. After all, his home, and his children’s education were both paid for, and he was in his early 60s. His own financial needs, he realized, were fairly modest.</p> <p>That’s when Stewart’s mind turned to <a href="https://warmthechildren.org/">Warm the Children</a>, a nonprofit he’d started several years earlier to help buy winter clothing for young people in need, and he decided to devote the rest of his life to it.</p> <p>“I thought, this program does a great deal of good for a lot of people who need help in the communities I’ve served,” Stewart recalls. “Maybe I can interest other newspaper publishers in embracing the program.”</p> <p>That decision has enabled Warm the Children to expand and grow. Its almost 30 programs now raise $1 million each year, providing some 13,000 children with winter clothing and footwear. Each program’s money stays in the local community, and every dollar donated goes to buy clothing—something Stewart insists on anytime he helps launch a new program.</p> <p>In many communities, a local newspaper runs the initiative, partnering with a civic group or charitable organization. In others, groups like Kiwanis or Rotary have taken over. But the goal is the same: to make sure children have the clothing they need to weather the winter months.</p> <p>That’s the idea that led Stewart to start Warm the Children 30 years ago. At the time, he was working as a newspaper publisher in Torrington, Connecticut.</p> <p>“I was driving to work one November, and I think it was the first snowfall of the year,” Stewart recalls. “I saw children waiting for the school bus, and they just didn’t have good winter clothing on at all. When I got to work that morning, I talked to one of my associates about how it’s really a shame that in a community like that, in the richest state in the country, we had children who couldn’t go to school with proper clothing.”</p> <p>Stewart knew his newspaper could use its platform to publicize the need. The previous paper where he’d worked had had an initiative aimed at clothing children, and he realized he could build something similar in Torrington. And it worked—in the first year, the program raised $20,000.</p> <p>“The community really responded,” Stewart says. “ It was really heartwarming.”</p> <p>As Warm the Children has grown to include new programs in multiple states, Stewart has kept a simple recipe to ensure success. Newspapers publicize the need for donations and partner with a local nonprofit to ensure donations are tax-deductive. Schools and social service organizations identify families in need, and people in the community donate as they can. A total of about 2,000 volunteer shoppers (including Stewart and his wife, Natalie) meet families at local stores to buy clothing, and the stores bill Warm the Children.</p> <p>These volunteer-run efforts serve a variety of people in need, Stewart says. Some are single parents trying to make ends meet. Others are scraping by on low-wage retail jobs. And still others are recent immigrants who are rebuilding their lives. On Stewart’s most recent shopping trip, he assisted a family who came to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo as they picked out clothing for their three children.</p> <p>Now, three decades after he made that fateful late-night decision to dedicate himself to Warm the Children, Stewart continues to find his work deeply fulfilling.</p> <p>“When the people who run a program tell me about their experiences serving children, and how it’s absolutely the best thing that ever happened to the community, that warms my heart, that’s my paycheck,” he says. “But it isn’t any bigger than the smile on the faces of a mother and her child when I take them shopping and that child has never had a new coat or a new pair of boots in their life. We get through and they say ‘thank you’ and give me a big hug. That feels good.</p> <p>“That’s my own personal experience. But I know that it is happening in a lot of different places to a lot of different people every day. And that is very rewarding.”</p> <p><br>  </p>