When I attended high school at Notre Dame in Peoria, students were required to complete 100 hours of community service before graduation, and most fulfilled this requirement with an annual canned food drive. I decided to go a different route, though, and completed 40 hours of education with the Mental Health Association so that I could become a volunteer with the Teens Need Teens hotline, where I talked with kids who had parents divorcing or who were battling depression.
It was through this early experience that I realized the impact of serving others in unique and meaningful ways.
Through my banking career, I have taken advantage of opportunities to give back to the community – through leadership roles such as serving as Board President for the Hult Center for Healthy Living to serving directly like becoming a Wish Granter for Make-A-Wish Illinois and a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children. Over the years, I have also been a Peoria North Rotarian as well as a member of Impact Peoria, where I get to ring bells for Salvation Army, build trail ways for Camp Big Sky, and set up a gift room for the Children’s Home.
Each of these experiences of community service has shaped me and hopefully impacted my community for the better, but it was when I had the chance to go abroad that my heart was changed forever.
In 2009, my sister’s husband lost his battle to cancer. My brother-in-law had a bucket list for his life, and when it ended far too soon, it inspired me to create a bucket list as well. I wanted to incorporate my interest in giving back and my desire to travel, which landed me on mission trips. A local church, Richwoods Christian Church, was assembling a team to go to Brazil, so I signed up.
I sent out around 300 letters to family and friends to raise funds, and God provided every dollar I needed to embark to South America with 16 people I had never met before. We strung hammocks with mosquito netting along the entire width of a small boat and took an 8-hour ride into the jungle, where we helped build a church, handed out Bibles in Portuguese and distributed clothes and 50-pound food packs and toothbrushes.
Even though we didn’t speak the same language, the language of love is beautiful and easy to share.
Since that first trip, I have been to Kenya, Haiti and back to Brazil, and most recently, I just returned from India. I’ve been able to give aid at orphanages, help run kids’ camps, provide school supplies to children, and share about Christianity. You’ll see me pictured here tying string around the wrist of a little boy. He was one of 300 children who got to come to our Christmas in July where every child received back pack, pencils, crayons, erasers and note books. They even got to pick out an outfit to take with them.
Each trip continues to remind me of the importance of giving back. Even just a smile, hug or genuine greeting can be so meaningful to someone else. As you can see in the group picture here taken in India, I get as many smiles in return.
Personally, it was also eye-opening as to how much stuff we have in our culture that we don’t need. Now I strive to live a life that focuses on, as I call it, “back to the basics.” The basics were all that Jesus had, and all that we need, but we are always wanting more.
Because of the ways I’ve been able to give back, both locally and globally, I have realized that instead of acquiring more things, I’d rather be doing something or helping someone. Both within my career in banking for INB and through community service, I’ve been grateful to live out this passion.