I am only one, but I am one
Wondering how to respond to the university’s call to service?
By Joni Moths Mueller
Our alumni and university community show it takes one hand, one heart, one dog — just about one anything — to change a life, change a day and change ourselves. Read Marquette Magazine’s selection of alumni stories to see there is no one way to answer this call.
Rev. Erik Neider, Arts ’99, says his time as a Marquette student “continues to inspire me to live a life of service to God and His world among the poor and homeless.”
Neider’s Sunday evenings reconnect him to student-lived memories and inspirations. That’s when he lays out mattresses and makes up beds for homeless women and children at a shelter sponsored by McHenry County and his church, Immanuel Lutheran, in Crystal Lake, Ill. On Monday morning, he wakes the guests, serves breakfast and then takes down the beds to store them for the next week.
“As one of seven rotating sites, we are only open Sunday from 8 p.m. to Monday at 7 a.m.,” Neider says. “We have three shifts of two people each. Over my 13 years as a Marquette alumnus, the thing that I have most often talked about was the constant reminder of the responsibility of education. Every day at Marquette, as you walk around campus and up and down Wisconsin Avenue and at the bus stops, you are confronted with people who did not have the same opportunity for education that you did. It is a privilege and honor to serve God and His world with all the gifts that He has given me.”
Michael Derrick, Ed ’11, says that’s what Marquette University is all about. “I was impressed that in a short amount of time Father Pilarz was able to capture the soul of the university and present it as a challenge to the entire Marquette community,” he says, referring to Marquette’s new president.
Derrick is an Americorps VISTA volunteer at Elizabeth House Family Life Center Inc. in Wilmington, Del. He helps young people ages 16–21 earn their GEDs, the equivalent of a high school degree.
“Every day is a battle as the students I work with have been all but forgotten by their parents and society,” Derrick says. “We battle drug abuse, criminal charges, homelessness, mental illness and many other factors. I am inspired at the resiliency of my students, who fight against the pull of the streets, take several buses, use computers at the library and do whatever it takes to get back on the road to success. Recently one of my students was diagnosed with cancer. Despite this fact, he calls in every day to find out what he missed in class in hopes of keeping up on the assignments.
“Many of my students think back to their high school days with regret and longing for a chance to go back and change course,” Derrick says. “For all, earning a high school degree is a chance to rectify a mistake they made in the past. I’m proud to help Be The Difference in these students’ lives.”
Marquette mom Christine Weingarth and her daughter, Hilary, a biomedical sciences freshman, employ the special talents of Max and Bailey, to bring smiles to the faces of hospital patients. The pups are the attraction, but they couldn’t be a hit without Christine and Hilary walking them through the corridors and to the bedsides of patients at Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital Ozaukee in Mequon, Wis.
“Many of the patients have had surgery or are quite ill, but when they see a therapy dog walk into their rooms with bright eyes, a big happy grin and a wagging tail, they all brighten up,” Christine says. “The touch of her soft fur and her warm kisses lower their blood pressure and relax them. I have had many patients and family members thank us and tell us our visit was the best part of their day.”
It’s often the best part of Christine’s day, too.
“I work full time during the day as an engineering manager,” she says, “and after a long stressful day, it’s nice to switch gears and do something that feels so rewarding.”
The preservation of precious places in Montana, especially in the state’s capitol city of Helena, is a worthy passion for Dick Alberts, Eng ’62 — and how he answers the Ignatian call to serve.
“Helena was founded as a result of a gold rush to Last Chance Gulch (now the site of Main Street) and, unlike other gold rush cities, it didn’t just fade away into a ghost town. Helena at one time had more millionaires per capita than New York City, so you can imagine the architecture and history in this town. I think it is well worth preserving,” says Alberts, who chairs the city-county historic preservation board. “I have to admit that the biggest task of our commission is addressing the historic preservation issues at the local level and integrating them into local, state and federal planning and decision-making processes.”
Alberts’ work on preservation activities for Lewis and Clark County is personal. “I grew up here and returned in retirement,” he says. “I feel that I can contribute something to the area by being involved in these activities.”
The call to service that was part of the inauguration festivities for Father Pilarz excited Rebecca Knight, Arts ’10, because of its outreach to alumni. In Knight’s mind, it asks alumni to copy something Marquette students already do so well. “I hope the call to service allows Marquette alumni to realize that we can all continue to serve and work for the greater good for those around us,” she says.
As an Americorps volunteer at Amate House in Chicago, Knight works with the National Immigrant Justice Center’s Undocumented Children’s Protection Project. “I work with unaccompanied minors in detention centers in Chicago,” Knight says. “We visit the kids at the detention centers and explain their rights in the United States and in removal proceedings, as well as accompany them in court when they go in front of a judge, do intakes and advise the kids on potential legal relief options they have to stay in the United States.
“Most of the kids I serve are from Latin-American countries — Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador — as well as a large population from India,” she says. “All are under 18 years old, and all are in this country illegally. This is a very vulnerable population. They may be orphans, or sent by their families to seek work or running away from poverty or abuse. They may be victims of trafficking. Most of the kids don’t speak English, have varied levels of education, don’t understand the legal processes and have little family support. The kids need help navigating U.S. systems, and they need to be treated with respect and dignity.”
This is Knight’s second year of service. After graduating from Marquette in 2010, she joined the Vincentian Service Corps in Los Angeles and worked at an alternative high school with at-risk teens.
“I suppose I was called to dedicate two years of my life to service,” she says. “It has been difficult, and I know I could have done a lot of different things that I would have gotten paid for. But it’s not about me. It’s about the clients I serve. I have been given so much, and it’s only right that I give what I can to others who haven’t been as lucky as me.”
These members of the university community shared their responses to the call to service. Make sure your story is part of the archive at marquette.edu/calltoservice.