MBU Alum Brings “Journey Inward, Journey Outward” Philosophy to White House

Christian Peele, an alumnus of Sullivan Foundation partner school Mary Baldwin University (MBU), will be returning to familiar environs when she joins the new Biden administration’s White House staff as deputy director of management and administration for personnel.

Peele, who graduated from MBU in 2005, previously served in two White House positions under President Obama: director of the White House Internship Program and deputy director for White House operations.

Most recently, she was deputy lead for operations in the Biden-Harris transition team. She also founded a consulting practice supporting operations for social impact organizations. And she has held roles as director of operations for Stop the Spread at ImpactAssets and as executive director of institutional advancement at the historic Riverside Church in New York City.

Originally from North Carolina, Peele came to MBU as part of the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted when she was just 14 years old. After graduating in 2005, she became the youngest person to earn a master of divinity degree from Duke Divinity School at age 20.

Related: Service is a top priority for students in Mary Baldwin University’s Program for the Exceptionally Gifted

After graduating from divinity school, Peele spent six years in ministry positions in Washington, D.C., an experience she has described as “deeply formational.”

“To this day, nearly everything about how I live into being a pastor bears the mark of what I learned and lived in that post-seminary season in the district,” she wrote in a 2017 essay for the Faith and Leadership website.

In the essay, she drew parallels between her ministry work with the progressive Church of the Saviour and her subsequent experiences in the Obama White House. “At first glance, the two couldn’t be more different,” she wrote. “The plots of ‘Touched by an Angel’ and ‘The West Wing’ have a lot in common—said no one ever. And while a church makes sense as a pastor’s training ground, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building feels like more of a stretch. Yet my experience of pastoral identity suggests that the things I learned in those two spaces are more connected than not.”

Christian Peele in 2015

During her stint at the Church of the Saviour, she “had responsibilities for pastoral care, worship leadership and teaching in various ministries ranging from a hospice home that serves the poor to a coffee shop church called Potter’s House.”

“My day-to-day work tutored me well in a host of ministry how-tos, including a particular principle that the community holds dear and that still informs my work: journey inward, journey outward. That is to say, the journey of faith for myself and those I’m called to serve is cultivated, sustained and expressed within and outside ourselves; faith is the process of inward cultivation that leads to outward transformation, and one without the other is incomplete.”

Once in the Obama White House, she learned that “the quality (say, excellent or mediocre) and nature (say, intentional or ill-considered) of an organization’s operations always accurately reflects the organization’s values. The way budgets are built and talked about, the policies that shape staff culture, who sits where and in what kind of office, and how technology preserves or tears down silos all reveal organizational and even theological assumptions about power, access, hierarchy, inclusion and life together.”

Related: Mary Baldwin University names first Social Entrepreneur in Residence

At Riverside Church, Peele served in a senior clergy role and oversaw four operations-related departments, including finance and human resources.

“Living fully into the role requires that I do more than use my various skill sets as though they were mutually exclusive, sometimes using what I know about parish ministry and at other times using what I know about business,” she wrote in 2017. “That kind of code switching would assume that some skills are for pastoring and some skills are for management, when, in fact, all the parts of my training fold into one another to create a richer pastoral palette of approaches and ideas.

Christian Peele headed up the White House Internship Program under President Obama, who is shown here addressing the Spring 2012 class of interns.

“Taking seriously the fullness of my leadership training in those very different contexts means understanding that my work as a leader in operations is deeply pastoral. One of the outward expressions of a dynamic spiritual life, for me, is managing with excellence the operational systems of my very large church context so that they exemplify the values of our faith.”

Peele added, “There is no better classroom than the world around us, and a pastor’s ability to think creatively and critically across the lines of context only enriches the nature of call and fruit of the church.”

Returning to MBU in 2015 as the Commence keynote speaker, Peele encouraged graduates to live their lives with openness and perspective.

“In every adventure that matters you’ll be challenged to choose the way you will see,” she said in her address. “Keep your eyes wide open to understand furiously and intensely the right now and to see, with your mind’s eye, the yet unseen frame of what can be, the possibility of justice, the possibility of change, the possibility of our world renewed.”

This article was adapted in part from a press release appearing on the Mary Baldwin University website.

Retiring Flight Surgeon from Ole Miss Looks Forward to Serving Local Community

By JB Clark, University of Mississippi

Retiring flight surgeon Col. Dr. Paul “Voodoo” Nelson said he joined the U.S. Air Force “for all the wrong reasons.” But since then, Nelson, who was recently honored for his 31 years of military service at his alma mater, the University of Mississippi, has done a lot of things right, serving both his nation and people in need and placing service above self in the finest Sullivan Foundation tradition.

“I thought I would look cool in a flight suit and that chicks would dig me and I would get to fly in cool jets,” Nelson reflected at the ceremony in UM’s Grove in Oxford, Miss. “I went to medical school because you could be your own boss and live in a fancy house with a cool car.”

Related: University of Mississippi’s Lauren Graham honored as one of the nation’s top student veterans

“While some of that did happen, and I indeed got the girl of my dreams, those are terrible reasons to choose a career,” he continued. “And while I drive a used SUV daily, I live in the house I grew up in, which is pretty cool!”

Nelson and his wife, Betsy Moore Nelson, both graduated from Ole Miss, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, in 1989. Their three-decade arc of service to their country has taken them around the world and right back where they began. A graduate of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program’s Detachment 430 at UM, Nelson was commissioned more than 31 years earlier in the very same location in the Grove where the recent ceremony took place. His retirement celebration beneath the Walk of Champions arch included family, friends, members of the community and fellow service members.

“Paul is one of the few doctors who believes that, when he becomes your doctor, he is all in; you got his personal cellphone and email because he takes the patient-physician relationship seriously,” retired Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Kory Cornum said. “He epitomizes the whole-person concept: good doctor, aviator and airman, but also good husband, father, son, and good friend and neighbor.”

Retired Brig. Gen. Dr. Kory Cornum (left) presents Betsy Nelson (middle) with a certificate of appreciation from the U.S. Air Force, which recognizes her service alongside her husband, Col. Paul ‘Voodoo’ Nelson. Photo by Logan Kirkland/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Joining the ceremony was another Ole Miss AFROTC alumnus, retired Col. Orville Robertson, who served as Nelson’s first AFROTC commander in the mid-1980s. Robertson and Nelson compared notes about service, with Nelson relaying stories about his service as Civil Air Patrol senior mentor faculty adviser, working with organizations across Montgomery, Ala. and the Alabama River Region.

Nelson described an entire community team that developed a program to introduce underprivileged students in the Montgomery area to aviation. Experienced military aviators and leaders worked with young people in the community as mentors, even taking them on orientation flights and offering further flight lessons.

Related: Col. Elizabeth Steadman: A hero in peace and in war

“The goal was never just to have the kids join the military, although certainly we were all very proud that some former students have gone on to enlist or competed successfully for ROTC or service academy scholarships,” Nelson said. “Rather, the team’s objective was to provide support and mentorship for these kids and give them the opportunity to see the world and all of its possibilities, their possibilities, from a new lens.”

“Whether it was at the controls of an airplane while flying for the first time, learning how to come together as part of a team, or participating in STEM activities with mentorship from successful adults they could look up to … it was about paying it forward to those kids less fortunate than we were,” Nelson recalled.

 

Retired Col. Paul ‘Voodoo’ Nelson speaks about the importance of service and the mentors who helped his career during his retirement ceremony in the Grove. Photo by Logan Kirkland/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

In the early days of his retirement, Nelson finds himself reflecting about the way the Oxford community and UM faculty members, specifically within the AFROTC program, put him on the path to public service that has defined his past three decades. Remembering Jerry Lexa and Don Faulkner, two veterans who retired into civilian service as Oxford schoolteachers, Nelson cannot help but feel a duty to find a new service role. Those two men were special mentors to Nelson growing up, he said.

“All these leaders had a service ethic, and they passed it on to kids like me who looked up to them,” he said. “That was the powerful thing growing up in Oxford—the service ethic of our mentors and teachers and coaches and community members.”

“Further service in uniform has given me an opportunity to get to know people I never would have known and see and do things I never would have been able to see and do,” Nelson added. “Now I have the honor of coming to my hometown and sharing some of that.”

More than 20 years after his commissioning, Nelson found himself in southern Afghanistan, caring for 650 wounded Marines. Most of these young men and women were having the worst day in their lives.

It was during that time in 2010, in the depths of the Marjah Offensive, that Nelson received a clipping of Lexa’s obituary.

“When I got that obituary, I felt on some level like I was standing on Jerry’s shoulders,” he said. “I was over there to be a part of his legacy. That stewardship and responsibility helped me get through it.”

Related: Winthrop University freshman leads charity supporting veterans

As Nelson begins his next life chapter as a civilian back in his hometown, he hopes to be that experienced guide for young people in Oxford—the link between Robertson and Lexa’s generation and Oxford’s next legion of public servants, those who want to go on to be a part of something bigger than themselves, something they never dreamed they could be.

Just because he’s hanging up his flight suit doesn’t mean he’s finished serving. Nelson said he’s not sure what’s next, whether it involves applying his infectious disease experience from the H1N1 crisis to the COVID-19 pandemic, working with veterans on campus, finding a way to mentor young people, or simply practicing medicine in the community.

The one thing he knows for sure is that he wants to pass something on to the next generation of public servants.

This article has been edited and condensed from the original version appearing on the University of Mississippi website.

George Mason University Senior Works With Children Impacted by Cancer

When Charlottesville, Va. native Clare Yordy was looking at colleges, she knew she wanted an experience that was different from her high school years.

There was a lot she liked about Sullivan Foundation partner school George Mason University—it was a few hours from home, its proximity to Washington, D.C.—but what really sold Yordy was the Honors College.

Clare Yordy

“I liked the idea of being in a smaller community while still being at a large university,” she said.

Yordy also appreciated the flexibility the Honors College provided, and she was able to keep progressing toward degree completion as she experimented with several majors: theater (“I really enjoy being creative.”), government and international politics (“In the aftermath of 2016, I felt the need to switch.”), and finally human development and family science, from which she is graduating this month with a bachelor of arts degree.

Yordy has always enjoyed working with children and families and plans a career along those lines. She has worked with children throughout her time at Mason.

For most of her life, Yordy has been involved with Camp Kesem, a national nonprofit that provides free summer camps for children impacted by a parent’s cancer. After losing her mother as a young child, Yordy said she attended these summer camps for 10 years and has wonderful memories of those trips.

“It was always a week of total fun,” she said.

“The campers and counselors there are basically a second family to me,” Yordy noted. “Camp Kesem gave me a place where I wasn’t alone and where I could just have fun.”

this photo shows a girl at George Mason University's Camp Kesem event getting a bunch of goop poured on her head
The camps are run by college students with more than 100 chapters across the country. Upon arriving at Mason, Yordy worked to start a chapter there, which she directed for two years and continues to be involved in. She said the Mason chapter has run a camp each summer for 50 children.

But getting Camp Kesem to Mason was no easy feat: There was a voting competition in which Mason was up against multiple other schools fighting for a spot to host the camp, Yordy said. Yordy got the word out about the competition by going into lecture halls and urging classrooms of hundreds of students to vote. She also started a Facebook campaign that was shared around the community. Ultimately, Mason secured a spot, along with eight other schools, which increased Camp Kesem’s outreach to more than 5 million affected children.

“The Mason community was incredibly helpful during the voting campaign,” Yordy said. “I needed help getting votes, and both students and faculty helped spread the word and get enough votes for a camp. The determination and all-around helpfulness of the Mason community also made me realize that GMU is the perfect place for a Camp Kesem.”

this photo shows a female participant at Camp Kesem at George Mason University in August 2019
“It is really important for those campers to have the chance to just be kids for a week,” she added.

Yordy said it was the “constants” that helped her make the most of her time at GMU, even during the pandemic. Those constants are the Camp Kesem chapter, the Honors College and her mentor, School of Business Professor Lisa Gring-Pemble.

Yordy first worked with Gring-Pemble in HNRS 110 Principles of Research and Inquiry in the first semester of her freshman year. It was Gring-Pemble who urged Yordy to apply for the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program through the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities and Research, where she continued her research.

Clare Yordy has been researching the portrayal of bisexual people in the media.

Yordy was one of the Mason students selected to attend the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in 2017, where she presented her paper on how bisexuality is portrayed in film and television. She also served as a research assistant to Gring-Pemble.

“Clare is the epitome of a scholar at her finest,” said Gring-Pemble. “She is inquisitive, creative, diligent and accomplished. She has a brilliant future ahead, and it has been a privilege to share part of her academic journey.”

As Commencement neared, Yordy said she was grateful for all the opportunities Mason has provided. She posed for photos in her cap and gown and planned a virtual party in an effort to “make graduation as normal as possible” during the pandemic.

“This year has been all about flexibility,” Yordy said.

This story has been adapted from two articles appearing here and here on the George Mason University website.

 

Elon University Planning Freedom Scholars Program for High Schoolers

By Michael Abernethy, Elon University

Elon University, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, is planning a new Freedom Scholars Initiative to support the study of freedom, citizenship and democracy by rising seniors from area high schools.

The new initiative launches in 2022. It seeks to develop young citizen-leaders from underserved populations in the surrounding community through a new residential summer institute and year-long program culminating in a symposium showcasing their research and work.

Related: Elon University students learn how to “make a mark in the world” at Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat

“So many of our young people recognize the challenges that lay ahead for them and for their offspring—from climate change, healthcare, policing, racial and economic disparity and on down the line—but they don’t always have the resources to put those ideas into action,” said Associate Professor of English Prudence Layne, who is leading the project. “Freedom Scholars would be positioned to put their knowledge and readings about freedom and democracy to practice in a way that impacts their community. They would be paired with an Elon undergraduate mentor and work with faculty and with a civic leader throughout their senior year while implementing their project.”

The new initiative is supported by a $25,000 planning grant from the Teagle Foundation, which focuses on strengthening teaching and learning in the arts and sciences while expanding educational opportunity. The grant is offered under the foundation’s Knowledge for Freedom initiative, which supports programs that invite students to college to study humanity’s deepest questions about leading lives of purpose and civic responsibility.

Under the plan, up to 20 Freedom Scholars would gather on Elon’s campus each year for a two-week seminar during which they would study freedom, citizenship and democracy in sessions taught by Elon faculty while being mentored by Elon undergraduates.

Programming would continue throughout the scholars’ senior year of high school, through the college application process and during implementation of their own civic projects. The experience would culminate in the Freedom Scholars Symposium, an event offering them the opportunity to present their year-long civic work to the public and the next incoming cohort of Freedom Scholars.

Related: Elon Innovation Challenge brings together college students to solve complex social issues

The faculty team will use the planning grant to solidify the program’s structure, identify materials and campus support, and begin promoting the program within the community. The team will apply for an additional, larger Teagle Foundation grant to launch the program in 2022, according to Layne.

“The program’s mission of creating civic engagement and access to higher education among area high school students works seamlessly with Elon University’s Boldly Elon strategic plan as we continue to connect and partner with our surrounding communities to transform the future,” said Jean Rattigan-Rohr, Elon’s vice president for access and success and a professor of education.

Promising students selected for the program must come from low-income households or ethnically marginalized groups or be first-generation college-bound students. The Freedom Scholars Initiative complements summer programs run by the Center for Access and Success, including the residential Elon Academy, which supports Alamance County high schoolers, Rattigan-Rohr said.

“Year after year, there are high school students who apply to the Elon Academy but are unable to gain entrance because of the number of students we can effectively support,” Rattigan-Rohr said. “This program gives us an opportunity to engage with some of those students we could not admit to the Elon Academy. Additionally, we typically have 40 to 50 high school students in our ‘It Takes a Village’ Project. In looking at the work they have been undertaking lately, it seems clear that continued focused efforts to build interest in humanistic writing and civic engagement would also be very beneficial for our high school Village students.”

Faculty from the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Political Science and Policy Studies, the Department of World Languages and Cultures, and the Department of English would teach during the summer seminar and serve as teacher-scholar-mentors to members of each cohort. The planning team consists of assistant professors of philosophy Ryan Johnson and Lauren Guilmette; Associate Professor of Classical Languages Kristina Meinking; and Assistant Professor of Political Science and Policy Studies Joel Shelton.

“This grant offers an invaluable opportunity to broaden the work to which we at Elon are so committed: teaching, mentoring and encouraging students as they seek paths for meaningful change in local communities,” Meinking said. “As a classicist, I’m particularly excited for the ways in which students can critically engage with ancient texts and ideas in a modern context.”

This story has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Elon University website.

 

W&L Students Partner With Domestic Violence Nonprofit to Create Life Skills Book

By Lindsey Nair, Washington and Lee University

To the students in the Principles of Public Relations class at Sullivan Foundation partner school Washington and Lee University (W&L), the life skills book they created for clients at Lexington, Va. nonprofit Project Horizon is so much more than a how-to manual.

“This is a book of empowerment and independence,” said Jackson Monroe ’21.

Monroe is part of the fundraising team for the community-based learning project, an integral part of Professor Dayo Abah’s course this term at W&L. The finished books were delivered last week to Project Horizon, which provides 24-hour crisis response to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault along with a 16-bed shelter. They will be distributed to Project Horizon clients who have escaped abusive relationships and are ready to leave the shelter and embark on new lives.

Related: Professor and student at Washington and Lee University co-direct domestic violence documentary

The book is intended to help clients who have never had the opportunity to learn basic yet important life skills, such as how to change a flat tire or open a bank account. It offers instructions and illustrations on a variety of topics that range in complexity from how to make a grilled cheese sandwich or do a load of laundry to how to budget money or apply for a job.

“After people stay there for a month to three months, Project Horizon prepares them to live independently,” Abah said. “But that becomes challenging because a lot of them go straight from abusive relationships into the shelter. This is something they can hold onto while they go into their new life and try to remember those lessons they have learned.”

Professor Dayo Abah talks to her Principles of Public Relations class about their community-based learning project with Project Horizon.

Working with clients from the Lexington/Rockbridge community is not unusual in Principles of Public Relations, but the COVID-19 pandemic meant the class would have to approach that work differently this term. Students could not tour facilities or meet in person with clients, so Abah and Kaitlyn Kaufman, operations and volunteer coordinator for Project Horizon, developed a project that could be handled virtually.

Alessandra Del Conte Dickovick, associate director of community-based learning at W&L, said the university was fortunate to again partner with Project Horizon for a project that provides experiential learning for students. “Project Horizon is an incredible community partner,” she said. “They are widely respected and possess not only expertise on domestic violence but also our local community. They have been generous to welcome our students with open arms and have played an important role as co-educators for generations of students.”

When Abah’s students learned they’d be putting together a book from start to finish in one semester, they were excited to take on the challenge.

“I was happily surprised when we first heard about the project because, typically in public relations classes, we’re doing writing and social media work, and I’ve had experience in that,” said Courtney Berry. “But I’ve never created a book before, so this has been a really exciting opportunity.”

Related: Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner MaKayla Lorick shares untold stories of African-Americans at Washington and Lee University

Before they started, Kaufman gave students a virtual tour of the facility so they could get a sense of the homey, welcoming environment there. Abah divided the students into three teams: fundraising, content, and layout and design. Ayo Ehindero, a member of the fundraising team, created a detailed schedule with weekly deadlines.

The content team started with suggestions from Kaufman but expanded the topics to include additional lessons that had not been initially considered. They wrote content at a reading level that would be accessible to any client. AP Smith, who was on the content team, said that, because many college students find themselves in the position of living independently for the first time, she learned a few things herself.

“The financial section and auto section were ones that required a little more of ‘maybe I need to figure this out myself, too,’ which is good because I’m about to graduate and hopefully have a job, so I’m going to need to know how to budget, too,” Smith said.

Students in Professor Dayo Abah’s class work on their book project together in the Lemon Reading Room at Washington and Lee University.

Berry, who is pursuing a double major in psychology and strategic communication, said she loves making art but doesn’t have much time to do that because of her classes. She and others on the design and layout team made more than 127 different illustrations for the book using their laptops, iPads checked out from the library, and new-to-them software. Berry also enjoyed learning about bookmaking basics and working toward a common goal with her classmates.

While the content and design teams worked on producing the book, the fundraising team researched printing options and figured out how to pay for it. They employed several fundraising methods, including partnering with Lexington businesses Blue Sky Bakery, Pronto Gelateria and Tonic Restaurant on special deals for which a percentage of the profits went to the book. They also promoted the campaign on social media and sent letters to potential donors in the community.

“There’s always the classic route of sending a letter to ask for a donation,” Monroe said, “but if you can get more people involved, it feels like a bigger contribution from the community and the school. You can get a lot of little donations and support from a multitude of people by being more creative with your options.”

Related: This bioplastics entrepreneur from Washington and Lee University is helping save the world from plastic waste

The fundraising team’s goal was $650, which, at $7.50 per book, would allow them to print about 85 books. Several weeks before the end of term, they had already raised more than enough to print the books and pay for shipping, with a bit left over to donate directly to Project Horizon.

The entire class carpooled to Project Horizon on Nov. 12 to deliver the books, and everyone saw the finished product for the first time. Kaufman considers the project a success and looks forward to sharing the books with clients.

“I wasn’t sure how daunting this project would be for the students, but I was impressed. I couldn’t believe that they took something we’ve been working on for a while and truly expanded on it, including things I would never have thought of including,” Kaufman said. “They really went above and beyond what I was expecting them to do, and they are just so hardworking. They took the information I gave them and used it to make a wonderful book that’s really going to enhance the lives of the people I work with.”

For the students, the project greatly enhanced the lessons they learned in the class, but it was also personally fulfilling.

“I’ve been challenged and learned to do things I’ve never done before, so it’s been a great learning experience,” Berry said, “And it is an amazing cause. It feels like we’re doing really important work, so I’m proud of that.”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Washington and Lee University website.

UVA Employee Runs Feel Better Farm for Rescue Animals in Charlottesville Area

Sarah Osborn Barwick got the call from the Greene County Sheriff’s Office before Thanksgiving. More than 100 animals were languishing, some near death, in a dismally unkempt property littered with debris, and with little to no food or fresh water.

Working on a tip from the community, deputies were planning to raid the property and seize as many animals as they could. They called in four local animal rescue organizations to help with the operation.

Related: Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award recipient Neely Griggs keeps puppy tails wagging for pet rescue organization

Barwick, an Australian native and computer software expert at the University of Virginia, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, runs Feel Better Farm Equine and Farm Animal Rescue with her husband, Jason. Their outfit ended up taking in the bulk of the 131 animals rescued, including two pigs, a goat, some sheep and several different types of birds.

In this picture Sarah Barwick visits with a rescue horse named Mia at Feel Good Farm

Sarah Barwick visits with a rescue horse named Mia at Feel Better Farm. (Photo by Dan Addison, UVA)

She and representatives from the other rescue outfits gathered with authorities at a meeting site near the property in Dyke at 10 a.m. on a mild November day. The warrant “was to seize a largely unknown number of animals because, in a seizure case, it’s always unknown,” she said. “You never really know what you’re getting until you get there.

“We went in and we seized what eventually ended up being 131 animals, who were living in just absolutely horrible conditions.”

Related: Hotel for dogs lets guests foster or adopt stray pups

It took the team about six hours to identify, tag and load all the animals for transport. Some of the sheep had to be carried to waiting trailers because they were too weak to walk, and one of the two pigs was badly injured and not expected to survive the night. Barwick rescued 114 animals, and her farm had already been prepped to feed and shelter them as soon as they arrived home on that Nov. 6 evening.

Barwick and her husband founded Feel Better Farm Equine and Farm Animal Rescue in 2018. A self-proclaimed “horse girl,” Barwick said she’d always wanted to form an animal rescue. Learning about horse slaughtering in 2016 was the push she needed. She rescued her first horse from slaughter that year and never looked back.

Feel Better Farm is located on 20 acres of mostly pasture in Esmont. It has five stall barns, two additional outbuildings and a 600-square-foot chicken coop.

In this photo Sarah Berwick is shown visiting a pony in the stables at Feel Good Farm

Sarah Barwick visits with Tony, a 30-year-old Hackney pony, at Feel Better Farm. (Photo by Dan Addison, UVA)

Barwick’s husband had been the lead server at Charlottesville’s Downtown Grille but became unemployed when the restaurant closed permanently in April because of the coronavirus pandemic. He is now the farm manager. “He takes care of everybody. And I get to come in and play on the weekend after work,” Barwick said.

The goal with most of the animals on her farm, including horses, ducks and peacocks, is to eventually place them in qualified adoptive homes, where the animals will be treated as family pets. “Anyone who does not find a home stays with us,” Barwick said.

Feel Better Farm runs entirely on donations, from veterinary care to food and hay. Anyone interested in donating food can purchase it through Charlottesville’s Southern States Cooperative. You can also make a PayPal donation to Feel Better Farms here.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of Virginia website.

UA Graduate Student Plans to Use Her New City Council Seat to Create Social Change

After 16 years of working in the child welfare system, Holly Barnett had maxed out her options for moving up in the field.

With hopes of advancing her career, Barnett, a social worker who lives in West Blocton, Ala., decided to go back to school at the University of Alabama, a Sullivan Foundation partner school. Little did she know that she’d be inspired by her college courses to run for—and win—a city council seat.

Related: University of Alabama creates free program to help children with disabilities and developmental delays

“I wanted to help license foster homes, and in order to do that, I had to have a higher degree,” said Barnett, who holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of West Alabama. “I was encouraged by a former supervisor to pursue a master’s degree. When I applied to UA, I honestly didn’t think I’d get in because it had been so long since I was in college. But UA worked with me.”

Barnett enrolled at UA in the fall of 2019 in the Master of Social Work distance learning program.

“I’m a married, 39-year-old, working mom of a two-year-old daughter,” said Barnett. “So even though UA is basically in my backyard, going to in-person class is not feasible for somebody like me. Even though I don’t see my professors face-to-face, they’ve been great with answering all my questions. And I’ve received a ton of support from my online classmates. I’ve gained more knowledge in the field of social work while taking online classes at UA than I have in all my years of working in the child welfare system.”

this is a picture of Holly Barnett, city council member in West Blocton, Alabama, with her husband and daughter

Holly Barnett brought her husband and daughter along when she was sworn into office.

Last spring, Barnett took two social work courses that would change the direction of her life: social work practice with community, taught by Dr. Carol Drolen, associate professor of social work, and advanced social welfare policy analysis, taught by Dr. Karen Starks, assistant professor of social work.

Through research required for the courses, Barnett discovered there was an exceptionally high poverty rate in West Blocton, a small town of 1,239 people, in addition to a particularly high disability rate.

Related: University of Alabama honors two students, one administrator, with Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards

When she started looking into the city’s laws and attending town hall meetings (also required for the policy course), she realized that some important issues, such as food security and bill assistance, were not being addressed.

“People are struggling to even pay their water bills,” Barnett said. “There are areas that need to be brought to light in my town, with the poverty and disability rate so high, only having one food bank in town that requires individuals to show proof they need assistance, not having a grocery store, no dentist. There are things I want to help my town do, to create resources to better ourselves, to better our town.”

This photo shows Holly Barnett on the day she was sworn in as a city council member in West Blocton, Alabama

Holly Barnett

Even though holding political office was far beyond what she had planned for her life, she decided to run for a city council seat in July of 2020, with a vision to help strengthen the town’s current assets and develop new ones to address its challenges. She ran her campaign with just $150 and the help of her husband, daughter and a few family members and friends. She spent hundreds of hours in her neighbors’ living rooms, conveying her vision to bring needed help and change to their town.

Barnett won the election in August and was sworn into office at the beginning of November.

She will graduate from UA in May 2021 and hopes to continue using her knowledge of social work to benefit the residents of West Blocton. “To me,” she said, “that’s the ideal social worker: to help, encourage, empathize and support those in our community to be the change and to advocate for a better community.”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of Alabama website.

The Great Cat Migration Gets Underway at Lincoln Memorial University

The “Great Cat Migration” got underway in late November as faculty and student volunteers at Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) helped get more than two dozen cats ready for their “furever” homes.

LMU, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, recruited veterinarians, veterinary technicians and undergraduate students from the LMU Veterinary Health Science and Veterinary Medical Technology programs to help with the project. They dedicated a recent Friday to care for 28 shelter cats headed for adoption just in time for the holidays.

Related: Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award recipient Neely Griggs keeps puppy tails wagging for pet rescue organization

The volunteers provided surgeries and/or physical exams and health care for the cats, getting them ready to be transported up north with the help of the LMU College of Veterinary Medicine’s Shelter Medicine Club.

The effort was part of a collaboration with the Remote Area Medical (RAM) veterinary program, which facilitated the air transport of the cats from Tennessee to Schenectady, New York, over the Thanksgiving weekend.

this photo shows a beautiful white cat up for adoption at Kitten Angels in Schenectady NY

A kitten at Kitten Angels turns on the charm for the camera.

Transporting shelter animals from southern states to facilities in the northern U.S. has become a common practice. Whereas the South has an ongoing problem with stray cat and dog overpopulation—which all too often leads to euthanization in overcrowded shelters— animal lovers in the North have a harder time finding pets to adopt.

Related: Hotel for dogs lets guests foster or adopt stray pups

This is the second year LMU has assisted with what students call “the Great Cat Migration” to Kitten Angels, a non-profit organization in Schenectady dedicated to the rescue of kittens and cats. “It is always a pleasure to volunteer our time so that we can spay/neuter these cats so we can get them to [rescue facilities] and, ultimately, make sure that they find their forever homes,” said Dr. Jay F. Miles, assistant professor of LMU’s undergraduate veterinary programs.

Headquartered in Rockford, Tenn., RAM is a major nonprofit organization that operates pop-up clinics delivering free quality dental, vision, medical and veterinary services to underserved and uninsured individuals who do not have access to or cannot afford care. RAM has a robust veterinary program, which aims to lower the health risks and lessen the financial and psychological burden to families caused by the sickness of an animal. By partnering with local and national organizations, RAM treats both domesticated pets in the U.S. and working animals around the globe. To date, RAM has provided vaccinations, spay/neuter surgery and microchipping to more than 68,500 animals.

this photo shows a pair of cats curled up together on a blanket at the Kitten Angels shelter in Schenectady, New York

This dynamic duo, named Batman and Robyn, were up for adoption last month at Kitten Angels.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Lincoln Memorial University website.

How Warren Wilson College Stayed COVID-Free in the Fall Semester

Warren Wilson College, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, has finished the fall semester with no positive on-campus cases of COVID-19. Warren Wilson was the only college in Western North Carolina to have no positive cases within its residential community this semester.

“The fact that we were able to have zero cases this semester is mind-blowing,” said Justin Gildner, director of safety and risk management at Warren Wilson. He led the school’s Pandemic Response Team of 13 staff members from across multiple departments. “Every week I told the team to hold their breath and keep doing what they’re doing. We took it one day at a time.”

Warren Wilson College’s free tuition plan results in record freshman enrollment

The college had extensive health and safety measures in place, including daily temperature checks and a modified academic schedule that ended classes by Thanksgiving and moved finals online. Throughout the semester, most classes were partially taught online. Many classes that met in-person utilized the school’s 1,150-acre campus for outdoor classrooms.

Warren Wilson College was the only college in Western North Carolina that canceled all competitive athletics at the beginning of the fall semester. “It was disappointing not to play this semester during my senior year on the team, but it was the right call,” said Ethan Vanderbleek, a student who serves as captain of the men’s soccer team. “I would have liked to play, but I’m glad the school put our safety first. It was decisions like these that made it possible to keep us at zero cases.”

Warren Wilson College’s Student Health Ambassadors played a key role in keeping the campus COVID-free.

Five Warren Wilson students served as Student Health Ambassadors through a program with the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) and other regional colleges. They completed rigorous COVID-19 training and supported the community by planning wellness programming, distributing information, supporting students who were feeling anxious or in quarantine, and facilitating a pen-pal program with students from other colleges.

Partway through the semester, also in partnership with MAHEC, Warren Wilson began offering regular testing to student athletes. Last week, in conjunction with a program sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, the college started offering students and employees the opportunity to have an antigen COVID test before leaving campus for Winter Break.

Related: Warren Wilson College delves into industrial hemp research

“I am grateful for our community, for the ways we have demonstrated courage and resilience during this challenging semester,” said Lynn Morton, Warren Wilson College’s president. “I am exceedingly grateful that we made it to this week without the outbreaks of COVID that have so seriously affected other campuses. In the end, we were able to ensure the health and safety of our campus because of the students, faculty and staff who took the virus seriously and followed our health and safety protocols. We are extremely grateful for the sacrifices everyone made to prioritize safety this semester.”

The college remains dedicated to exploring all avenues and partnerships for testing to continue to ensure the health and safety of students next semester. “We believe that our rural location in the North Carolina mountains, combined with our small population, low student-to-faculty ratio, and large 1,150-acre campus, will continue to enable us to minimize risks while providing a safe place to live and learn,” Morton said.

This story has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Warren Wilson College website.

University of South Carolina Students Create Podcast Sharing Refugees’ True Stories

By Chris Horn, University of South Carolina

Jack Gabel was a changed man when he returned from Cyprus in 2018. That was the year the former Truman Scholar finalist from the University of South Carolina, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, spent time living on the tiny Mediterranean island as part of a U.N. project to create a medical clinic for orphan refugees. While he was there, he got to know some of the refugees pouring in from war-ravaged Syria and beyond.

“When I came back home to South Carolina, I was inspired by these resilient people, and I wanted to continue working for the refugee community,” said Gabel, an Honors College biology major who graduated earlier this year. “I felt we could really make an impact by handing a microphone to a refugee or someone who spent a lot of time working with them and providing a platform where they could tell their own stories.”

Related: Angel investment group VentureSouth Sullivan launches affiliate group for eight colleges and universities in South Carolina

It was a noble idea that might have gone the way of most good intentions, but Gabel connected with David Snyder, faculty principal of the International House at Maxcy, and with other students in the Carolina Global Scholars program at Maxcy, a living-learning community that focuses on global perspectives. Before long, he and Kevin Gagnon, a recent Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner, and a handful of other students had launched a podcast called Seeking Refuge, which shares stories from around the world about refugees and those who advocate for them.

Kevin Gagnon, who recently received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, cofounded the Seeking Refuge podcast with Jack Gabel and other UofSC students.

“I think there are a lot of people who have a monolithic idea of refugees,” said Gagnon, who, like Gabel, has graduated but continues to collaborate with the current students running the podcast. “Their situations vary widely, and they are not a concept—they’re real people.”

“This has really opened my eye—I didn’t even realize that Columbia has a sizable refugee population,” said Aidan Thomason, a junior from Knoxville, Tenn., majoring in international studies and history and one of the podcast’s co-founders and current leader. “It’s been a process of learning about the stories of people who are right next door and all around you.”

That’s not to say that Seeking Refuge has focused only on those in its own backyard. The second season of the show was devoted to Clarkston, Georgia, which has been called the most diverse square mile in the U.S. because of its refugee population. The students drove there before the pandemic and captured a season’s worth of stories in one long day.

Recent episodes of the podcast, now in its third season, have featured interviews with individuals in South Sudan, Venezuela and Syria.

Related: This college student’s class assignment on mental health inspired a new law in South Carolina

Jackie Burnett, a member of the Seeking Refuge podcast, records narration for an episode on the UofSC campus.

The Seeking Refuge production team, which has grown to more than half a dozen students, wants to do more than merely present engaging stories about refugees.

“It’s a rare opportunity, at least in the United States, to hear about refugees beyond just a short segment in the news,” says Gabel, who continues to advise students working on the podcast while he works on the COVID-19 response. “Our hope is not only for people to be inspired by refugees, but also to change hearts and minds about refugees themselves.”

The podcast recently passed 1,500 downloads and perhaps appeals most to other college students interested in global issues. “And that’s good because we’re at the beginning of having some influence on politics—and it’s good to change hearts and minds now,” Thomason says.

With some 70 million people having been forced from home by conflict and persecution around the world, Seeking Refuge won’t ever lack for stories to tell. The challenge will be to keep passing the baton to the next group of students. Thomason and Tyler Jackson, an international studies major and another podcast co-founder, are planning to study abroad when the threat of COVID-19 has passed.

“So I can’t say what will happen once we’re all gone,” she says. “But for the foreseeable future, we have a pretty sustainable podcast, and we’re going to keep amplifying the voices of refugees.”

This story has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of South Carolina website.