“It was a good decision”–Braves who serve
“We live in a time where people want to do things.”
Sarah Tarlini ’04 graduated with a health science degree, but chose instead to follow a path of service that led her to AmeriCorps. “I saw what I wanted to do with my life, and the direction I was heading was not going to take me there,” Tarlini said. While acknowledging her health science education can lead to great service opportunities, Tarlini said she wanted to focus more on developing relationships. “I wanted to be a resource person,” she said. “I’m better at working on the emotional side of service. That’s what I’m passionate about.”
During her one-year term of service with AmeriCorps, an organization she calls the “domestic Peace Corps,” Tarlini worked in a school district in Commerce City, Colorado, to help students develop reading skills. “The Colorado Reading First School has a large population of immigrant families,” Tarlini said, “so the students were working on their second language.” An average day began at 7 a.m., as many children needed pre-school supervision. “I loved being with students and their families,” Tarlini said. “They didn’t want someone to change their lives or feel sorry for them.”
Working to improve the quality of life for others was another part of Tarlini’s giving. Including her literacy class, she completed more than 1,700 hours of community service during her term. Working under strenuous conditions and receiving a bare bones salary was stressful, but Tarlini found relief not only in gratitude from those she was helping, but also the support of her family and her late physics professor, Dr. John Freim. “Dr. Freim knew about the things I volunteered in, and he always told us how proud he was of young people who go out and help,” Tarlini said.
“At the Job Fair, nothing excited me as much as Peace Corps.”
After graduation, Charlie Shields ’04 needed an adventure. Applying for the 27-month Peace Corps service term seemed like a good decision. “America would still be here when I returned,” Shields reasoned.
His choice to join the Peace Corps and dedicate more than two years to teaching English in Azerbaijan, a mountainous country located on the Caspian Sea, is one Shields called satisfying. “I knew I should give something back,” he said. “In comparison to Azerbaijan, America is relatively taken care of”
In Sheki, the ancient city where Shields lives at the base of the Caucus Mountains, life is a great deal slower than what the English major is accustomed to. Noting the language barrier contributes to a sense of isolation, Shields said Azerbaijan has a “closed” society. “Adjustment to a foreign country is a process,” he said, “and I’m still not done adjusting.”
Shields extended his tour with the Peace Corps for another year and returned to Azerbaijan in July. Two years is not a lot of time to make a sustainable transformation, he said. “Now I feel really able to get in and change things. Friendship is a major factor in impacting peoples’ lives.”
“My faith has become my own.”
To Laura Bazyn ’05, life as an English teacher in the Czech Republic is not much different than life at Bradley. College involvement with RoadMarcs (a mentoring program for Peoria-area youth), student teaching, and Bradley Residential Life staff served as preparation for Teach Overseas, a Christian group whose members share Christ’s love through teaching.
“During my senior year, I was unsure about the future,” Bazyn said. “I was not ready for a normal job.” Through her senior thesis, which included opportunities to spread the Christian gospel through education, Bazyn discovered Teach Overseas.
Teaching English for a private Christian language school in Ostrava means “every day is different.” Bazyn works from two to 11 hours each day, and will travel to different places like businesses, schools, or private homes for lessons. Teaching in Ostrava is vastly different from Bazyn’s experiences in the States. “In the Czech Republic, the students are paying for these lessons, so they’re clearly motivated.”
Being a member of Teach Overseas fulfills Bazyn’s desire to teach as well as experience personal spiritual growth. “I always wanted to live overseas,” Bazyn said. “I wanted to travel, but also contribute to the place I was going.”
“The best thing is finding something that really energizes you and gives you joy.”
Kellen “Ace” Cenek ‘93 said being a civilian employee for the United States government gives him “a sense of accomplishment.” Cenek’s degree in business and computer systems allows him to give back to his country in a variety of ways.
“It’s a combination of knowing databases and software, and combining this with skills like business management,” Cenek said. “I enjoy seeing projects from beginning to end…and just knowing I made a difference.”
In addition to government service, Cenek has given more than 3,000 hours to Riverwoods Christian Center in St. Charles as a special services volunteer.
“Our biggest project was moving the computer lab to a brand new building,” Cenek said. “Building from scratch, keeping the computers safe…it’s up to me to make sure things keep operating. The best part of this work is knowing I’m helping people do something they’d otherwise have to pay someone to do.”
During his time at Bradley, Cenek enjoyed volunteering with Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity he now advises. “Service has been a big part of my life,” Cenek said. “It’s something I’ve always felt in my heart I need to do.”
“Now I know what it’s like to sacrifice to help other people.”
For many college students, the words “spring break” conjure images of sun, beaches, and the chance to be carefree. Vacations with Habitat for Humanity International allowed Veronica Stewart ‘06 to build homes in coastal locations with other students. “I worked with AmeriCorps members while doing spring breaks with Habitat,” Stewart said. “Through this program, I became a construction crew leader for Habitat of Lee County, Florida.”
Now serving with Habitat has become a profession for the business management major, who redirected her focus from learning and classes to helping those who “need a hand up in life.”
“I’ve dedicated a year to building homes, as well as getting to know the people who will be the recipients of these homes,” Stewart said. “It’s not all about learning from textbooks and projects. It’s learning about people and applying what I’ve learned to make Habitat’s mission come to life.”
Service with Habitat meant Stewart had to master skills not included in her formal education. “It was difficult to learn how to build a home,” she said. “I also had to learn to work with a variety of people. Without the leadership opportunities available through Bradley’s Habitat chapter, I wouldn’t have the experience to do my job.”
“It is so touching to know I’m helping make these people’s dreams come true,” Stewart said. “These families make the job completely worth the sweat, blood, and tears that go into building their home.”
“I felt a lack of purpose. I got frustrated and felt like I was going nowhere.”
For Brady Grant ’02, the journey to his dream job took a few unforeseen twists. After graduation, the business management major worked at a variety of jobs, including his family’s business, before deciding he needed a change.
Now working for Goodwill Industries in Denver, Colorado, Grant says the best part of his job is working with students who need his help. “Seeing them honest about where they are in life, and then seeing them improve from there is great,” Grant said.
During the school year, Grant visits select Denver schools where he teaches career skills such as resume writing, interviewing for jobs, and completing scholarship applications. He also matches mentors and students, recruits speakers, and maintains an ethics club. Grant is able to “fulfill any need” he sees, and this freedom has opened his eyes to a larger world.
“It has helped me grow as a person,” he said. “There will never be a time in my life when I won’t want to help.”