By Jane Harrigan
All COCE students essentially have two majors, school and life. Course work, job, family, friends, home — that’s a lot of plates to keep spinning. But some COCE students also happily spin another one: community service.
For these active volunteers, success means not only performing well academically and professionally, but also enjoying the fulfillment that comes from helping others. Their education wouldn’t feel complete, they say, unless they were engaging with their physical community as well as their online community.
Across the country, COCE students volunteer to help children and seniors, work for animal rights and human rights, staff soup kitchens, promote the arts, coach sports teams and lead professional organizations.
To those who ask, “How do you have time?” the volunteers’ answer is simple: When you make service a priority, you find a way to fit it in, just like everything else that matters.
Christina Tyler believes in business, so it’s natural that she volunteers to teach business concepts to second-graders near her Chicago-area home. She believes in the Cub Scout motto “Do your best” and also volunteers as a den leader.
Above all, she believes that her young daughter and son benefit from activities that connect family and community. Thus, neither traveling for her job as a public relations manager for McDonald’s USA nor studying for her MBA in Corporate Social Responsibility (she’s two courses from finishing) has deterred her from volunteering.
“I don’t think of the things I do as community service,” Tyler says. “My volunteering is simply an outcome of my core values as a mom.” Just as CSR helps drive business and strengthen brands, she says, individual responsibility helps us create the kinds of communities where we want to live.
When she’s not on the road, Tyler works with second-graders staffing a simulated donut shop in their classroom. They’re learning first about methods of production, and later about the need to contribute part of their play-money salary as taxes to pay teachers and police officers.
This program, established by Junior Achievement, addresses a need she’s noticed in 13 years working in corporate communications: Many young people enter the workforce without a real understanding of how the economy functions.
Telling the story of business is her profession. Previously she explained property insurance as a spokesperson for Allstate; now she helps dispel misconceptions about McDonald’s food through a “national brand transparency program.” She also serves as president of the Chicago chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.
Tyler sees the tenets of social responsibility woven through everything she does. Volunteering feels simply like making great memories with her neighbors and family.
Sattan Acharya arrived in the U.S. in 2005 with a wife, two young sons and advantages many immigrants would envy: a master’s degree from his home country of Nepal, management experience with an international corporation and a visa that guaranteed a green card.
Still, starting over in a new culture proved daunting. He has spent the last decade building not just a successful American life, but also a support system to help other newcomers.
Acharya is one of the founders of the New Hampshire Nepali Community and of Gyan Jyoti Kendra (Knowledge and Light Center), which promotes Nepali culture and advocates for the Nepali-speaking community across North America. He works in New Hampshire as director of sales for OYC Americas, a California-based subsidiary of a Japanese biotech company.
Ten years ago, when he could find only hourly jobs in New York, he heard New England was a good place to raise children. So he applied to SNHU and got on a bus to New Hampshire with his family. “We didn’t know a single person,” he recalled. “We were looking for connection, something to be part of.”
A relative of a relative offered them a place to live. One day Acharya nervously walked in to the Manchester Community Resource Center, where he began learning such useful tips as “Don’t carry that fat CV. Americans like short resumes.” Eventually he got a job as an instructor at the center while taking master’s courses in marketing at SNHU.
“School was not just for a degree; it was to make friends and learn the culture,” he says. “SNHU and the resource center became my community.”
Acharya’s children have never had to live without community as their parents did, but they understand its importance. They are Boy Scouts, and each year his older son chooses one school in Nepal and collects money to build a science lab.
“Giving back, opening your heart — that’s what makes a person great,” Acharya says. “And diversity is what makes this country great.”
In Long Beach, California, Ray Irvine is known as a longtime Special Olympics coach
and the winner of a Dedication to Youth award for starting a technology training center. When he meets new people, however, they usually recognize something else: “You’re David’s dad!”
Irvine’s son David — “the most positive, outgoing person I know” — entered a Special Olympics swimming event 18 years ago, when he was 10. He hasn’t stopped competing since. Having won about 200 medals, David now focuses on running. Both his parents have been involved with Special Olympics as long as David has; Irvine is now head track coach.
The family enthusiasm that began locally has gone global. In November the Irvines traveled to Shanghai, China, for an international track event billed as a warm-up for this summer’s Special Olympics World Games, in which teams from 177 countries will compete at the University of Southern California, not far from the Irvines’ home.
By the time those opening ceremonies start, Irvine expects to have finished his SNHU bachelor’s in technology management, meeting his goal of getting his degree before his daughter does. “I should have done it a long time ago, but her starting college gave me a deadline,” he said.
Even with online courses and his job as a network specialist for the Long Beach Unified School District, he’s never been tempted to give up his almost daily volunteer work with Special Olympics. Beyond the bonding time with his wife and son, the organization provides something unique.
“Special Olympics is a place where effort equals success, where doing your best is enough,” Irvine said. In Shanghai, where athletes with and without intellectual disabilities came together for events like a 13-legged race — think of a three-legged race, but with 12 connected people speaking different languages — he discovered that the “applaud, don’t judge” ethic transcends boundaries.
“We may be different in abilities, language and culture, but our similarities as human beings instinctively drive us to conquer those obstacles,” Irvine said. “To watch this unfold before our eyes was simply amazing.”
At first, working in banking seemed to pull Jenn Bradbury-Wilson away from her passion for the arts. But the community service efforts she began through her two bank employers have brought her full circle.
Bradbury-Wilson, who started out in fashion merchandising, is an assistant vice president at Citizens Bank and has four courses left to complete her international MBA at SNHU. She studies online, although she lives close to campus, because it works with her schedule leading a team of 30 scattered around New England.
“Banking has shown me what an impact a corporation can make in its area, and what an impact I can make,” she says. She has volunteered for a soup kitchen and other organizations supported by United Way, and she’s wrapping up a term as treasurer of the Merrimack Chamber of Commerce.
But it’s her five years on the board of the New Hampshire Philharmonic that are closest to her heart. “It’s such a wonderful organization, I will stay there as long as they’ll have me,” she says. As tough economic times have hurt even established nonprofits like “the Phil,” Bradbury-Wilson has been glad to discover that her work experience plus her graduate courses and SNHU bachelor’s in finance provide resources that can help.
Both the corporate social responsibility focus of her MBA and the impending birth of her first child have her looking ahead. “Someday I’d love to be in charge of CSR efforts at a large company,” she says. Meanwhile, “I want my baby to understand that not everything is handed to you, and not everyone has what they need. You have to help your neighbors.”