Sullivan Flashback: Margaret Pickard Sirvis

Sirvis at the age of 90 at Camp Graham in Vance County, North Carolina

When Margaret Pickard Sirvis recently visited Camp Graham of the Girl Scouts’ North Carolina Coastal Pines council, she met lots of young girls with whom she had something in common—they were all girl scouts.

What set Sirvis apart, however, was the length of her commitment, which runs from her joining the organization in the mid-1930s all the way up to today. Not many of the campers had ever met a 90-year-old girl scout.

Sirvis’ capacity for commitment isn’t limited to scouting, however. She won the Sullivan Award at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill as a student in 1944. Her award citation noted her accomplishments: vice president of the YWCA; a member of Valkyries, UNC’s highest women’s honorary group; a member of the coed senate; and a member of the student legislature.

Sirvis (foreground) at Camp Shirley Rogers in Roaring Gap, North Carolina, in the mid-1930s

Sirvis’s undergraduate career was only a springboard into a lifetime of good work, however. She parlayed a college interest in social justice and activism surrounding racial equality into a lifetime of dedication to improving the world around her. She worked on mental health and urban youth issues. She has been active throughout her life in the Presbyterian church, the American Association of University Women, and, of course, the Girl Scouts.

Even at 90, Sirvis is still actively supporting and inspiring others, whether it’s through her philanthropy, her stories, or simply her visits to young girl scouts. For them, she’s a walking example of a life well lived.

Did you know?

Mary Mildred Hammond Sullivan spent her life serving the poor

Top: Mary Mildred Hammond Sullivan at the age of 19. Below: An artist’s rendition of the Nursery and Child’s Hospital. The hospital was located at the corner of 51st Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City

Mary Mildred Hammond Sullivan, social activist and wife of Algernon Sydney Sullivan, engaged in many efforts to assist the downtrodden. Sullivan worked tirelessly for nearly forty years as the director of the Nursery and Child’s Hospital of New York in the late 19th– and early 20th-centuries.

The hospital was founded by Mrs. Cornelius DuBois as the Nursery for the Children of Poor Women in 1854. DuBois realized that many children in the city were left unsupervised while their parents worked, so she organized this new asylum to function as the country’s first day care center. Sullivan first became involved as Board Secretary before taking over as director of the hospital, which was renamed the Nursery and Child’s Hospital of New York.

Unlike most people who attempted to better the welfare of children during this era, Sullivan understood that the best way to impact the life of a child at risk was to also benefit that child’s mother. Sullivan also felt that service was the best way to improve one’s own life—an idea she put very well when she said,  “. . .  through this work it has been given to us to realize how elevating to oneself is the loving effort to help others.”

The sole fundraiser for the Nursery and Child’s Hospital was the annual Charity Ball, an event that was not only successful financially but also an important society event among the city’s elite. Sullivan first attended the ball as a new bride in 1857. By 1883 she was chairing the event, a role that lasted until 1919.

Did you know?

The New York Southern Society gave birth to the Sullivan Award

Southern gentlemen of the 19th century who happened to find themselves in the unfamiliar territory of New York City—whether to live or merely to visit—often found themselves missing the comforts of home and the conversation of their fellow Southerners. In fact, Southern homesickness was prevalent enough in those days that an entire club was formed to ameliorate it.

The New York Southern Society was that organization. According to its own constitution, the society aimed to “promote friendly relations among Southern men, resident or temporarily sojourning in New York City, and to cherish and perpetuate the memories and traditions of the Southern people.”

The Society’s first president? None other than Algernon Sydney Sullivan.

A yearbook from the 1911-1912 year of the New York Southern Society. Yearbooks would recount speeches from society meetings, list the society’s membership, and alert those members to changes in the society’s bylaws

Though he died just a year into his tenure, Sullivan had already made such an impression on his fellow expatriate Southerners that they established the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at 15 universities in 1889. The award was conceived as a way to honor his legacy of service by recognizing college students of “noble character” who had made service a priority in their own lives.

The society boasted a membership representing 16 Southern states as well as the District of Columbia, and hosted galas and other social events throughout the year. The gatherings provided members a chance to reminisce about their homeland and were major New York social events. However, they also served frequently as fundraisers for concerns back in the South.

The Sullivan Foundation was established in 1930 and began jointly administering the awards with the New York Southern Society. The society was disbanded sometime in the 1970s, but its wish to honor Sullivan and lift up students dedicated to serving their communities lives on.

Positive Communication

Wofford College student brings the power of art to a Spartanburg, South Carolina jail

Wofford College student brings the power of art to a Spartanburg, South Carolina jail

Students in Katie Harmon’s Therapeutic Arts Program at the Spartanburg County Detention Center are given the opportunity to not only learn about art, but to create it themselves

As a Bonner Scholarship recipient, Wofford College senior Katie Harmon is required to spend 10 hours a week in community service. She never imagined herself working in a jail, however, until she got an unexpected request from one of her professors.

“I worked in the Northside of Spartanburg for three and a half years, mostly with an after-school program at the Northwest Recreation Center,” says Harmon, who is an art history major and studio art minor. “This past fall, Haley Guss, the AmeriCorps VISTA (worker) at the Spartanburg County Detention Center, asked for Wofford students who were potentially interested in working with therapeutic arts. Dr. Karen Goodchild (an associate professor of art history and department chair) referred me to Haley, and from there, we began corresponding and eventually started the program.”

Harmon and Guss’s Therapeutic Arts Program brings the arts to inmates in the form of both art history lessons and art therapy. Harmon held her first class in November 2014 in conjunction with four marriage and family therapists. The purpose is to help inmates work through the ideas of restorative justice.

“Restorative justice is more forgiveness-based as opposed to the standard retributive justice, which is punishment-based,” says Harmon. “We’re focused on helping inmates find some positive means of communication so that they can more positively deal with the crime that they’ve committed and learn about forgiveness. We try to show them that, yes, you did something wrong, and you’re working with the consequences, but you have a future beyond this.”

The overarching focus of the program is personal development and forward and positive thinking. The eventual goal is to lower inmate depression and anxiety rates. The art history aspect provides additional lessons on people and events from the past that can serve as models of behavior.

“The majority of the inmates are below a high-school reading level and have never been exposed to artists like van Gogh or Matisse. We’re building this base of artistic and cultural knowledge that they can recall and use,” says Harmon. “Now they know of people like Nelson Mandela. The inmates have especially been inspired by the Mandela quote, ‘Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.’”

Currently, the Therapeutic Arts Program is raising money in order to sustain the program. Many of the inmates have donated their work for a benefit auction. A portion of the proceeds will go toward the purchase of supplies for the program. The rest will support the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network. The SCVAN provides funds to victims of crime so that they can have access to advocates and other necessities.

“The most important thing I’ve taken away is that everyone is human, and even though you’re incarcerated or have done something wrong, you’re still a person,” says Harmon. “So many people commit crimes because of other circumstances. They aren’t inherently bad, they’re just trying to get by and don’t know how to do it in the right way.”

Sullivan Flashback: Bishop Will Willimon

Bishop and Professor Will Willimon boasts some impressive stats. That he’s written 60 books is amazing on its own. That he has managed, at the same time, to pastor seven United Methodist congregations, serve on the faculty at Duke University for a total of 23 years, and preside as Bishop of Northern Alabama for the better part of a decade is astounding.

Following a career in the church that started in 1971, Willimon has been enjoying retirement since 2012 (a “retirement” that still involves a faculty position at Duke, naturally). Looking back at that career, it’s no surprise that, as a young student graduating from Wofford College in 1968, he was a Sullivan Award recipient. His record of reaching out to others through his intellect and pastoral skill runs deep.

A young Will Willimon poses for a photo

A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Willimon’s early exposure to the church was at Buncombe Street United Methodist. Shortly after his college career at Wofford, he married his wife, Patsy, before moving on to Yale Divinity School for his master’s degree and Emory for his doctorate. Will and Patsy went on to have two children.

Willimon also went on to become one of the most influential preachers and religious writers in America. Among his extensive catalog are inspirational books for Christians, instructional books for clergy members … even novels. He was even identified as one of the “twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world” in a 1996 survey by Baylor University.

Through his direct ministry as well as his writing and preaching, Willimon has always stayed focused on one primary goal — and the impact it has had on generations of students, parishioners, and readers is hard to understate. That goal, as articulated by his former student Michael Turner in the book A Peculiar Prophet, is this: “First and foremost Willimon is a pastoral theologian whose primary message is that the God revealed in Jesus matters for everything in life.”

Willimon’s newest novel, “I’m Not From Here,” was released in November 2015. It’s the second he’s published since stepping down as bishop. If past performance is any indicator, he’s probably in for a busy retirement.

Did you know?

Sullivan’s newest school is also, in a way, its oldest

The first chapter in the story of the Sullivan Foundation really begins in southern Indiana, in the town of Madison. It was there that Algernon Sydney Sullivan was born and spent his formative years.

In fact, even today, at the corner of 2nd and Poplar Streets, sits a beautiful and beautifully restored brick house originally built in 1818 by Jeremiah Sullivan, just four years prior to Algernon’s birth.

Hanover College students participate in the Community Stewardship Initiative’s Spring Service Day

Now, nearly two centuries after Sullivan’s birth, the latest news from the foundation that bears his name comes from just around the corner. Hanover College, in the town of Hanover only a few miles away, is where he began his college career (ultimately graduating from Miami University of Ohio). It is also one of two new members of the Sullivan Foundation family.

The historical connection between Hanover and Sullivan is not the only reason the two institutions are coming together, of course. Hanover has a proven commitment to service and has, in recent years, doubled down on that commitment.

A standout among Hanover’s service offerings is the recently established Community Stewardship Initiative (CSI). The organization takes aim at integrating students into the larger community by partnering with local service organizations.

“Each student assigns themselves to an organization in the Jefferson County area,” says David Harden, Hanover’s Director of Experiential Learning. “They get to know them, they spend time with them. They get to know what some of their needs are. Then they bring those needs back to our organization and we find out what we can do as a college.”

Students take part in a poverty simulation exercise

That emphasis on true engagement is the cornerstone of the initiative. Harden and others at Hanover want to build face-to-face connections, both to better serve the organizations and to break down the invisible walls that often exist between academic institutions and the communities that surround them.

That type of division is particularly common for schools like Hanover, an elite liberal arts college in a county of less than 40,000 where more than half of all families receive some kind of public assistance. CSI promotes service not for the purpose of scoring points on a CV, but for creating a dialogue between the college and the community.

“We don’t decide what they need,” says Harden, “we listen to what they need. And then we go serve.”

The focus of CSI is broad. Student groups have worked with the United Way, Habitat for Humanity, and a local food pantry called House of Hope, among many others.

At Madison Consolidated High School, for example, Hanover students have helped high schoolers with their community garden, even making sure it’s maintained during summer vacation and assisting in the distribution of the food it produces.

Since the founding of CSI, the pivot toward experiential service learning at Hanover has only increased. The 2015 arrival of the college’s new president, Dr. Lake Lambert III, brought with it a challenge: to complete 1,827 hours of service work (commemorating Hanover’s 1827 founding) before his inauguration as president.

“That was from the first of September when he arrived here until the first of October,” says Harden, “and we were able to do that, which was really cool.”

Hanover promotes the future of the area as well, through collaboration like the one it has with Envision Jefferson County, a community development organization. Envision’s chairperson, coincidentally, is Valicia Crisafulli, a Sullivan Award recipient. One of those collaborations promises to create an online portal and database to track Hanover students’ service work all over the county to better understand the impact their efforts are having.

Efforts to help students understand the kind of conditions less fortunate Jefferson Countians must face every day can also happen at the theoretical level, but there is always a hands-on component. Many students recently participated in a poverty simulation in which they “live” for a month facing daily responsibilities. Each week was represented by a 15-minute period, during which they had to go to work for seven minutes, pay bills, take care of their children, all on whatever small budget they were earning.

Hanover student Audrey Masterson found the simulation changed her view significantly.

“I thought I already had an idea of how hard living in poverty is, but it turns out I had no clue at all,” says Masterson. “No matter how hard I worked to get money, there was no way to get out of poverty. It made me think about the stories people have outside their jobs. It was a wakeup call.”

Whether in the classroom or in the field, experiential learning is not just a buzzword at Hanover. The more ties made to the world outside the campus, the better for Jefferson County, the college, and the students, whose educations are as much a benefit to them as their work is to the community.

Hanover’s exemplary efforts to keep improving on its service record make it a valuable addition to the Foundation’s network. That they will be bestowing Sullivan Awards at Algernon Sydney Sullivan’s alma mater and just a few miles from where he was raised makes for a nice historical symmetry.

The Jeremiah Sullivan House, as the home is known today, is now a museum open to the public. It ought to make the perfect place for future Hanover Sullivan Award honorees to visit after they receive their medallions on graduation day.

Alumni Spotlight: Julie Malloy Copeland

Julie Malloy Copeland joined the Sullivan Foundation family back in 1998, when she graduated from Wofford College with a Mary Mildred Sullivan Award. Since then, her professional life has taken off—she’s now Vice President of Talent Management & Development at HRD Strategies, Inc., a human capital management consulting firm.

A look at her resume might lead you to believe that her job is just a side project, however—it reads as though her real title should be ‘professional volunteer.’

Copeland’s engagement with her community—Greensboro, North Carolina—is simply amazing. Just last year, she was named a recipient of a 2015 North Carolina Governor’s Volunteer Service Award, given each year to 20 people whose remarkable volunteer work has done the most to enrich North Carolina cities.

Copeland sees her outreach as simply part of a benevolent cycle.

“Each of us can look back upon someone who made a great difference in our lives; henceforth, making a difference has always been a very important charge to me,” she says. “Volunteerism has given me a profound sense of personal purpose, and has gifted me with fulfillment beyond measure.”

A great deal of Copeland’s work is through the Junior League of Greensboro, a women’s organization focused on building a better community through civic engagement and volunteerism.

One of Copeland’s most visible projects has been a partnership with Cone Elementary School in Guilford County, a Title I school that consistently performed low on testing and had 98% of its student population requiring free or reduced lunch. Copeland personally helped to train over 100 volunteers to dedicate their time there and generated funding for projects at the school for 3 consecutive years.

Copeland also served a term as president of the Junior League, and led it through a major step in realizing its mission of developing women leaders. The league’s Women’s Leadership Summit began to draw national-level speakers and participants during her tenure.

“The Junior League of Greensboro is so fortunate to have Julie Malloy Copeland serve as not only a volunteer but as a leader in our organization,” says Paige Butler, who succeeded Copeland as league president in 2014. “Her dedication to our mission is visible in all that she does and we are so proud of her.”

Copeland is always on the lookout for other ways to serve. She recently joined the Greensboro Historical Museum’s Board of Trustees and is an active volunteer with Junior Achievement of Central North Carolina, which pairs entrepreneurs and businesspeople with schools to prepare students to be active citizens and members of the workforce. She’s also a Director with the National League of Junior Cotillions.

As a Sullivan alum, Copeland has fully lived into the spirit of the Award, proving that no matter how full one’s life may be, there is always time to serve others.

“Giving back is both a great privilege and honor,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to share one’s time, talent, and treasure for the benefit of others and for the betterment of the community. In return, countless unexpected blessings often abound.”

Letter from the president

With this seventh issue of Engage, we enter the fourth year of the magazine. This issue, as usual, features some colleges and people we’ve seen before as well as some new perspectives on our thriving network. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing what the Sullivan Foundation and its members have going on.

The Foundation is always striving to grow so we can take the valuable impact we have in communities and expand it to affect even more lives. In the coming months, we’ll be introducing even more ways for you to connect with us—through media as well as through new programs. We’re also looking at ways to not only increase our financial resources but also how to use those resources more efficiently to support students and faculty and make real change in the world. I hope to have an update on that in the spring issue.

We’re also committed to our existing programs and continuing to improve on them. Our Ignite student retreats continue to thrive, but we’re working on ways to keep students engaged once the weekend is over. Our Faculty Summit is building momentum and increasing the number of involved faculty in our network.

The more we connect, the more we can accomplish. I am as proud as ever of the work we do, and we want to make sure you stay connected to us, so feel free to reach out, to let us know how we can help you as you help others. As always, remember to engage.


Stephan L. McDavid
President, Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation

A legacy of service

One family makes a 15-year mark on the University of Virginia

Kate Whelan was the last of five siblings to attend the University of Virginia in a row. Her older brother, Kevin, received a Sullivan Award in 2001

When students decide to attend a college following in the footsteps of a relative who attended previously, they are known in university admissions-speak as a ‘legacy.’ It’s a bit of a grandiose term for a pretty common occurrence. Not so, however, in the case of the Whelan family at the University of Virginia.

The family consists of parents Pam and Will Whelan—who moved the family to Vienna, Virginia 30 years ago in part because of the excellent public education system in the state—and their five children: Matthew, Kevin, Elizabeth, Joseph, and Kate.

The siblings took full advantage of that educational system. All five attended the University of Virginia and created a streak in which at least one Whelan was a student over a span of 15 years, from 1996 to 2011.

The commitment to U.Va. is not the only thing the Whelan children have in common. The family has always emphasized service. In fact, Kevin, the second oldest Whelan, received a Sullivan Award upon his graduation in 2001.

“Service has always been important in our family,” says Will Whelan. “As a father that really makes me proud. That tells me that Virginia is a good place, an outstanding university, where service is cultivated.”

Fifteen years in five careers

Matthew, 33, graduated in 2000, majoring in religious studies and English. After graduation, he worked for the Peace Corps in Honduras and earned a master’s degree in agriculture in Costa Rica.

Kevin, 32, graduated in 2001 from the honors program in government and foreign affairs. He won the Raven Award in addition to his Sullivan Award, recognizing in particular his deep involvement in Madison House volunteer service programs. In the summer of 2000, he had a fateful internship with the policy-planning unit in the office of former Secretary of State Madeline Albright; he now works as a lawyer for the State Department.

Elizabeth, 29, was a Phi Beta Kappa English and religious studies major in the class of 2003. A passion for photography began in high school and led her to do several U.Va. photography projects, including documenting the Kasisi Orphanage in Lusaka, Zambia where many of the children have AIDS. Funded by a Harrison Undergraduate Research grant, she documented the role of religion in a remote village in Honduras struggling to recover from Hurricane Mitch, with the resulting photos and related poems and essays eventually published in U.Va.’s undergraduate research journal, Oculus, and the Women’s Center’s journal, Iris.

Joseph, 25, earned his bachelor’s degree in 2007, majoring in religious studies and anthropology, then joined the Peace Corps. He now works as a ranger at Denali National Park in Alaska. He does interpretive work and interacts with visitors in three languages.

Kate, the last Whelan to graduate, worked with the Catholic Student Ministry group and lived in and worked for a Catholic shelter in New York City for women and children facing domestic abuse or homelessness. Her first job after college was with the Innocence Project, which works to exonerate those wrongfully convicted of crimes and pushes for other reforms that might prevent future wrongful convictions.

A lasting impact

While this group of siblings certainly has a great deal in common, each of them found their own way.

“None of us felt as if we were conforming or following in footsteps,” Kate said. “It was a coincidence in a way.”

And just as U.Va. had a profound impact on the Whelans, the family left quite a mark on the university.

“My gratitude to the Whelan parents, Pam and Will, is enormous,” says Vanessa Ochs, a religious studies professor. “They have raised up the kind of young people that teachers dream of educating: smart, focused, compassionate, self-critical, and always aware of the big picture.”

Ochs and her husband Peter, also a religious studies professor, taught all five of the siblings at one point or another. The families have become close friends.

“I would be altogether bereft,” says Ochs, “if not for the fact that there are tiny Whelans who may one day come our way.”

Did you know?

George Sullivan, son of Algernon and Mary, was the founder of the Sullivan Foundation

When Algernon Sydney Sullivan died on December 4, 1887, he was mourned by many, especially in New York, where the family had lived for more than three decades. Mary Mildred Sullivan outlived her husband by many years, dying in 1933 at the age of 96, and left behind a tremendous legacy of service in her own right.

It’s possible, however, that the Sullivans would be mostly forgotten had it not been for the efforts of George Hammond Sullivan, who, with his mother’s help, created the Foundation in 1930 and went on to define its purpose and ensure its continued existence.

While the charter for the Foundation was granted in 1930, it remained inactive for several years as George cared for his dying mother. After her death, however, he took an active role, serving as its first vice-president and determining how its resources would be put to use.

The first two grants made, at a meeting in November 1934, were $85 to Rollins College for prizes for the three best student essays on the life and character of Algernon Sullivan and $200 to Peabody College for four scholarships to be awarded to students picked by the faculty for their “character and meritorious service.” The beginnings of the Foundation as it is known today can be seen even that long ago.

The Foundation was tasked with continuing to bestow Sullivan Awards after the decline of the New York Southern Society, which created them. George Sullivan took it upon himself to expand upon that singular task and define the Foundation’s culture.

The Sullivan House, on West 11th Street in New York City, depicted during the Sullivans’ time in New York in a drawing by W.E. Mears on the left and in a modern-day photograph of the Sullivan House courtesy of Google at right.


One of his most important acts was the writing of a letter on the direction the trustees should take in the future, which he read aloud at a meeting. He told them he and his mother had always felt that “perpetuating the influential usefulness of (Algernon Sullivan’s) character would be of great value to others” and that he wanted the Foundation to draw on its income to grant scholarships and student-aid funds in “as many colleges or universities as possible.”

Many of the most identifiable traits of the Sullivan Foundation today—the focus on Southern schools, the inclusion of mostly small colleges and universities, and the focus on service over all other criteria in the handing out of awards and funds—are largely due to the work of George Sullivan.

Despite a lifetime filled with bouts of poor health, Sullivan lived a long and consequential life. He died on November 15, 1956, at the age of 96—the same as his mother—and lived in the same house he had shared with his parents until his death.