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Sullivan Award Recipient Kylie Stottlemyer Supports Survivors of Rape and Domestic Violence

Kylie Stottlemyer is the first-ever criminal justice major to graduate with an honors degree from Sullivan Foundation partner school Mary Baldwin University (MBU). She was also the student recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for 2021, along with Professor of Philosophy Roderic Owen, who received the faculty award.

Stottlemyer exemplifies the Sullivan qualities of noble character and unselfish service,” according to a statement on MBU’s website. “She is regarded as an outstanding leader whose daily life exhibits love and helpfulness to others and whose service is marked by sincerity, humility and integrity, and personification of service above self. Her engagement across her four years at Mary Baldwin spans student leadership positions including SGA treasurer and president of the criminal justice and social work clubs, and many hours of volunteer service with the Rape Aggression Defense Group, Samaritan’s Purse International and CASA. Her academic achievement is also exemplary as a Baldwin Honors Scholar graduating in criminal justice and a Capstone Festival award winner.”

Related: Sullivan Award recipient Dr. Marsha Walton leaves meaningful legacy at Rhodes College

Stottlemyer’s senior thesis won a top honors award at the Capstone Festival this year. It presented the results of her partnership with a small Shenandoah Valley police department to investigate the complex relationship between law enforcement, the community and victims of crime. Though her thesis is complete, she continues to work with the department to create better training opportunities for their officers.

Kylie Stottlemyer

Stottlemyer also serves as a court and community collaboration coordinator for survivors of domestic and sexual violence at Response, Inc. She served in leadership roles for nine student organizations on campus, including the SGA Executive Committee, and received the President’s Award in 2020 for excellence in leadership.

She is also the first person in her family to earn a college degree. “Being able to continue my education after high school was a goal that I set out to achieve, and I can proudly say that I have now accomplished it with the guidance of my faith, my family and my friends,” she said.

After graduation, Stottlemyer will begin a master’s program in homeland security and emergency preparedness at Virginia Commonwealth University.

MBU President Pamela Fox and Sullivan Award recipient Roderic Owen

Roderic Owen, the faculty recipient of the Sullivan Award, is “beloved and universally respected by the entire Mary Baldwin family in commitment and connections spanning 41 years,” according to the MBU website.

Related: How Sullivan Award recipient Issy Rushton guided her University of South Carolina campus through the pandemic.

“In my more than 40 years in higher education, I can sincerely affirm that I have not been privileged to work with a more exemplary colleague and citizen,” said MBU President Pamela R. Fox, who bestows the Sullivan Awards each year.

“Owen has left an integral mark on his colleagues, thousands of students, and the founding and developing of signature Mary Baldwin programs in education, the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership, the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, the adult degree program, the Spencer Center, and the Coalition for Racial and Social Justice. He is a champion of the MBU mission and of the centrality of the liberal arts, international studies, diversity and inclusion, and much more.”

Sullivan Award Recipient Sandra Reid Was a ‘Tremendous Force for Good’ at Elon University

Sandra Reid, a lecturer in human service studies, recently received the 2021 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award from Sullivan Foundation partner school Elon University for her decades of selfless public service.

Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley presented the annual award at a recent ceremony, calling Reid “a tremendous force for good at the university and in the community.”

“Sandra demonstrates the highest standards of character, integrity and leadership in service to others and the community,” Dooley said.

Related: Lucy Burch, a “unicorn” at Huntingdon College, honored with Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award is presented each year by more than 70 colleges and universities in the American South. At Elon University, the award is presented to two students and one faculty or staff member who demonstrate the highest standards of character, integrity and service to others and to their community.

This year’s student recipients were Yannick Twumasi, a political science and international relations double-major, and Jubitza Figueroa, a political science major.

Sandra Reid

A 1985 Elon graduate in human service studies, Reid spent nearly two decades working in juvenile justice in Alamance County, Guilford County and the Triad area before joining Elon’s faculty full time in 2006. She earned her master’s in counseling from N.C. Central University in 1999.

Among many roles with state, regional and local civic boards—often focused on services that impact youth and the community’s most vulnerable—Reid has served in various capacities on the Governor’s Crime Commission since 2007, as chair of the Alamance County Community Services Agency Board of Directors, and as chair of the Positive Attitude Youth Center Board of Directors.

Reid is currently serving as a member of the Alamance County Community Coalition of Remembrance, working with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., to memorialize the lynchings that occurred in Alamance County at the EJI national museum and monument.

“As an alumna of Elon University and the human service studies program, Sandra Reid demonstrates on a daily basis what it means to work to improve her community and the lives of those who are often excluded from it,” said Bud Warner, associate professor and chair of the Human Service Studies Department. “Sandra is an outstanding role model for our HSS students. She inspires them to tackle the difficult and challenging issues facing us today.”

“I’ve always felt like [serving others] is the purpose of my life, and I am honored to be recognized for something that’s such a part of who I am,” Reid said.

Related: How Sullivan Award recipient Issy Rushton guided her University of South Carolina campus through the pandemic.

Reid found her calling within juvenile justice while completing a high school senior seminar course in Greensboro for students interested in social work. She realized early on how broader societal and community issues can lead to trauma that results in criminal behavior, and that those root causes need to be addressed, along with individual rehabilitation and support.

While serving on the Governor’s Crime Commission, she was part of the task force that worked toward raising the age of majority within the state’s criminal system from 16 to 18 years old. North Carolina was the last U.S. state to raise that age when it did so in December. Along with research-based interventions, she hopes that change will decrease the “revolving door” of youth and adults in the criminal system.

“It’s hard for a system to be a family for children,” Reid said, “so if I can influence students who are interested in the field now and train them to work with communities and systems, they will be able to provide the support for individuals and families that is needed so much in this profession.”

At Elon, Reid teaches numerous courses, including juvenile justice, criminal justice, working with groups and communities, and the African-American family. Her civic roles and responsibilities continue to inform her teaching.

“You can’t separate a community in tatters from individual trauma,” Reid said. “That’s the core of what we teach in the Human Service Studies Department, from the micro piece of families and individuals, to services at the advocacy and community level, to the macro level of policies and systems—and we are able to teach students interested in working at all of those levels.”

She is involved with the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education’s DEEP program, providing opportunities to learn about, reflect on and apply concepts of social justice with a foundation in racial equity. In 2018, students selected Reid as the recipient of the Wilhelmina Boyd Community Service Award, presented at the Phillips-Perry Black Excellence Awards.

Angela Lewellyn Jones, associate dean of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, and associate professor of social justice, noted the many community organizations, boards, commissions and nonprofits to which Reid lends her time and talent.

“She has been a reliable and inspiring presence in these organizations, just as she has been for her students here at Elon,” Lewellyn Jones said. “We couldn’t be happier that she has been selected as the recipient of this year’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.”

Reid recently served on Elon’s History and Memory committee, examining untold aspects of the university’s past, including anti-Black racism and unheralded achievements by Black students, and guiding steps to ensure the committee acts in culturally appropriate ways going forward.

“I see the work I do in the community, in the classroom and on Elon’s committees as interconnected,” Reid said. “If we can get people to understand root causes, our solutions will make better sense.”

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

Sullivan Award Recipient Dr. Marsha Walton Leaves Meaningful Legacy at Rhodes College

In her 41 years at Sullivan Foundation partner school Rhodes College, retiring Professor of Psychology Dr. Marsha Walton has successfully merged outstanding scholarly achievements with a dedication to mentoring students, helping them to open their eyes to opportunities and navigate new experiences. That’s why she was honored as the non-student recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Rhodes College’s commence ceremony earlier this month.

Walton has authored or co-authored more than 90 conference presentations and 30 research publications and book chapters. As part of her research, she has collected stories from thousands of children describing their own experiences with peer conflict and with social relationships. This work has contributed to an understanding of conflict resolution, friendship and moral development.

Related: King University honors two students and minister with Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards

Walton has mentored more than 75 undergraduate researchers whose work has resulted in publications and national and international conference presentations. More than 40 of her research students have gone on to earn doctorates in psychology, and many more have formed successful careers in education, public health, medicine and allied health professions.

One of those mentees was Dr. Sherry Turner, vice president of strategic initiatives at Rhodes. “Rhodes is committed to cultivating a lifelong passion for learning among its students,” Turner said. “Marsha Walton’s investment in me as a student has certainly yielded life-long impact. Working with her was the high point of my experience at Rhodes. She was an outstanding professor and mentor.”

“When I was a student, she saw my potential, held me to high standards, invited me to join her research team, and encouraged me to pursue graduate studies as a developmental psychologist,” Turner added. “She has continued to inspire me at every phase of my professional career. When I was a graduate student, she invited me to return to Rhodes to teach and complete my dissertation research. When I returned to Memphis three years ago, she invited me to visit the campus. At the time, I could not have imagined that I would become the vice president of strategic initiatives. Rhodes has been fortunate to have had a member of its faculty whose very presence has enhanced the lives of its students in extraordinary ways. I am delighted to salute Marsha’s career at my alma mater.”

A collaboration between Walton and Alice Davidson, a 2002 graduate of Rhodes College, resulted in the book, “Conflict Narratives in Middle Childhood: The Social, Emotional, and Moral Significance of Story-Sharing,” which was published in 2017. The book examines nearly 3,000 narratives from children about their own experiences with interpersonal conflict. Davidson, now an associate professor and chair of psychology at Sullivan Foundation partner school Rollins College, emulates Walton’s approach to mentoring by including students in her community-based research.

Related: Trio of servant leaders receive Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards at Queens University of Charlotte

Dr. Walton works with a baby in her early years at Rhodes College.

Walton, who joined the Rhodes faculty in 1979, has encouraged students to think broadly about the intersections between psychology and other disciplines. She has taught interdisciplinary courses with faculty in biology, economics, English, history, mathematics, gender and sexuality studies, philosophy, religious studies, sociology, educational studies, and theatre. Walton also was an early adopter of service-learning pedagogies, having her students work in settings off campus.

In 1999, when Rhodes formed a partnership with the Memphis Non-Violence Education and Advocacy Network to increase community involvement in creating peaceable schools, Walton participated. She currently collaborates with Dr. Kiren Khan, an assistant professor of psychology, to study narratives of preschoolers, and with Dr. Elizabeth Thomas, a professor of psychology at Rhodes, on the Community Narrative Research Project, in which participants of Bonner Scholars program at Rhodes shared stories about their experiences serving in Memphis communities as part of their scholarship.

For the breadth and depth of her work, Walton won the Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Activity in 2018. When the Council on Undergraduate Research named her a recipient of its Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research in the Social Sciences Award in 2020, Walton commented, “It is amazing to be given an award for doing something this intrinsically rewarding.”

In retirement, Walton plans to spend more time in nature, canoeing, biking, and hiking, but she will continue her research and writing, seeking to learn more about how children and adults make their lives meaningful as they share stories about their everyday experiences.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Rhodes College website.

King University Honors Two Students and Minister With Sullivan Awards

King University, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, recently presented the 2021 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards to students Kiayana Roberts and Megan Hagy and community member the Rev. Dr. W. A. Johnson for their high standards of character, integrity and service and commitment to creating positive change in their communities.

Crestview, Florida native Kiayana Roberts graduated from King University in December 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. While there, she served as the president of the Student Government Association, chair of the Student Life Activities Committee at King (SLACK) and resident assistant. She also volunteered in numerous clubs, ministries and campus organizations. She is currently pursuing a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy while working as an area coordinator as part of King’s residence life staff. She plans a career in the juvenile rehabilitation sector of criminal justice.

“Kiayana is an amazing student with strong faith and character, representative of the values and standards held by King University,” said Chase Arndt, director of student life at King University. “She lives out her faith in Christ by her devotion and care to those around her, and she is always looking for new ways she can serve or reach out to those in need.”

Related: How Sullivan Award recipient Issy Rushton guided her University of South Carolina campus through the pandemic.

“Among the various ways that Kiayana was engaged in campus life during her time at King, the thing that consistently stood out was her strong sense of ethics and her care and concern about those with whom she was working,” said Dr. Matt Peltier, King’s dean of academic services and university librarian. “It was apparent that she approached things through a lens of grace, love and compassion, respecting the integrity and inherent worth of others, while also being committed to maintaining her own integrity.”

Megan Hagy is a 2021 graduate of King with a BS in Biology. Throughout her four years as a full-time student, she worked as a kennel technician, initiated numerous informal study groups to help classmates with difficult courses, and organized Bible studies involving both students and professors. A native of Bristol, Virginia, she plans to pursue veterinary school and eventually own her own veterinary practice.

“Megan is humble, giving and encouraging in a way that puts others first and never seeks the spotlight for herself,” said Dr. Laura Ong, an associate professor of biology. “She is one of the most selfless students I have ever taught or spent time with and is beloved by students and faculty for her cheerful manner, her unflagging efforts in her studies, and her habit of lifting others’ spirits with her quiet encouragement. She has spent many hours working to support herself, her family and her career goals. Her dedication to those who depend on her has left precious little time for herself, which makes her daily outreach to others all the more remarkable.”

“In her time at King, Megan has built lasting relationships with both her peers and faculty,” said Assistant Professor of Biology Josh Rudd. “Her kindness, cheer and compassion speak louder than words, filling the lives of those around her with love. It is King’s honor to bestow this award on her as a standard-bearer of its ideals.”

The Rev. Dr. W.A. Johnson grew up in the Hampton, Virginia area and is a graduate of Virginia Union University in Richmond, the Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg, and the Chicago Theological Seminary at the University of Chicago. For six decades, he has served as a spiritual leader to Bristol, the surrounding region and the Commonwealth. He is a former trustee of Virginia Union University and has served on a number of boards of directors and advisory boards.

Related: Lucy Burch, a “unicorn” at Huntingdon College, honored with Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award

Johnson organized the Bristol Head Start Center in 1966, led several capital projects at Lee Street Baptist Church, served as the moderator of the Schaeffer Memorial Baptist Association of Southwest Virginia, led the Baptists of Virginia to build a new state office in Richmond, and has helped plant churches in Central Asia, Africa, Haiti, Cuba, and South Africa. He served as an open-door devotional speaker for WCYB for 30 years. He currently serves on the boards of WHCB, WLFG, Bristol Faith in Action, Mike Jenkins Ministries Inc., and Living Faith Ministries Inc., and he presents the “Living Word” television program on WLFG every Sunday morning.

“Dr. Johnson has borne witness to the transforming love and grace of Jesus Christ, both in his pastoral ministry at Lee Street Baptist Church and in his significant community leadership through times of crisis and growth,” said Martin Dotterweich, Ph.D., professor of history and director of King University’s Institute for Faith and Culture. “When he arrived in Bristol in 1961, he assumed it would be a short stop on his way to a larger ministry in a larger city, but he felt God’s call to stay here to be a beacon for the African-American community and to work for the building of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the ‘beloved community.’ He has lived a life of selflessness and care for others, and it is our honor to recognize his lifetime of service.”

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

Trio of Servant Leaders Receive Sullivan Awards at Queens University of Charlotte

Known for her strong sense of integrity, conviction and passion, Queens University of Charlotte senior Sydney Stepney has excelled both inside and outside of the classroom. Her excellent character and commitment to humanitarian service has also earned her the 2021 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Queens.

Since 1948, Queens has selected individuals to receive the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for excellence of character and humanitarian service. Two awards are typically presented to recognize and honor a member of the graduating class, as well as a person or couple affiliated with the university who represent the highest ideals of both the university and society.

Judy and Paul Leonard were this year’s community recipients.

Related: How Sullivan Award recipient Issy Rushton guided her University of South Carolina campus through the pandemic

During her time at Queens, Stepney served as a resident assistant and then as head resident assistant during her junior and senior years. Her exemplary service and leadership in those roles led her to receive the 2020 Resident Assistant of the Year Award. Additionally, she tutored peers through the Roadmap Scholar program and served as a mentor through the L.E.A.D. (Learn, Empower, Act, Diversify) mentoring program and Transition to University (T2U) program.

An active member of the Black Student Union, she became one of the inaugural Racial Justice Fellows for the Charlotte Racial Justice Consortium. This group was charged with examining the city’s history with race and equality and leading healing projects in the community.

She was also a Charlotte AHEC Public Health Scholar, where she worked to improve the diversity of health professions and to support health system transformations across the state.

Stepney has received a full scholarship to Ohio State University’s Masters in Healthcare Administration program, where she will continue pursuing her goal to provide leadership that bridges the gap between health literacy and health equity.

this photo shows Judy and Paul Leonard receiving the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Queens University of Charlotte

Judy and Paul Leonard accept the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Queens University of Charlotte.

The desire to serve and improve the lives of others has been a driving force for Judy and Paul Leonard throughout their lives and exemplifies the Queens motto, “Not to be Served, But to Serve.”

Judy Moore Leonard, a 1967 graduate of Queens, is a nurse by training, and in 1979 she made the first hospice call in Charlotte for Hospice and Palliative Care of the Charlotte Region. In her 15 years of hospice service, she helped build the foundation for the largest hospice in the Carolinas. Judy has been one of Queens’ most loyal alumni leaders, serving on the Queens Board of Trustees, as president of the Alumni Association Board, and on the Advisory Board of the Presbyterian School of Nursing and Blair College of Health.

Related: Past Sullivan Award recipient Cagney Coomer helps prepare girls of color for careers in science

Paul Leonard’s professional career began in ministry, where he led a non-traditional church that focused on community action and service. While there, Paul helped to organize Charlotte Fair Housing and served as its first president. He later left the traditional ministry to work with a city housing program and was later recruited by the John Crosland Company, where he served for many years in various executive leadership positions. After retiring, he used his extensive experience in the housing industry as a resource for service with Habitat for Humanity International, where he served as chairman of the board.

Judy has also been committed to creating fair housing opportunities for all citizens. She is a past board chair of Habitat Charlotte, and she also organized the first Women Build project for Our Towns Habitat. Together with Paul, she participated in eight Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Projects and in building efforts on five continents. In 2011, the Leonards were honored with the Habitat Charlotte’s Founders Award for their extraordinary service and commitment to the mission of Habitat.

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

How Sullivan Award Recipient Issy Rushton Guided Her Campus Through the Pandemic

Isobel “Issy” Rushton was installed as president of the student body at the University of South Carolina, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was shutting down the world.

The native of the Gold Coast in Australia was half a world away when she went to work helping her fellow students and the university navigate the pandemic and focus on returning to campus. For her leadership during this challenging period, Rushton was one of two members of the Class of 2021 to receive the university’s highest undergraduate honor, the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, which is given each year for outstanding achievements, campus leadership, exemplary character and service to the community.

Ardash Shidhaye was the other Sullivan Award recipient from UofSC this year. Read about him here.

Rushton participated in the university’s Future Planning Groups as well as emergency management team meetings. She helped create and lead a citywide social responsibility campaign called #IPledgeColumbia that encouraged city residents, including those on and around the University of South Carolina campus, to wear a mask and follow other COVID-19 protocols to keep themselves and others safe.

Rushton also was named the 2021 UofSC Outstanding Senior and received the President’s Award as well as being named the 2020 Greek Woman of the Year for her work leading the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.

“I believe that my most noteworthy contribution to Carolina isn’t my list of achievements, rather the stories of personal connection and shared triumph,” Rushton said. “I have built an unwavering community here at Carolina and, through my every engagement, have worked to inspire the future students that will walk the Horseshoe long after I’m gone.”

A double major in experimental psychology and criminal justice, Rushton serves as a University Ambassador and Presidential Ambassador and as a student representative on the Presidential Commission on University History.

“It is a deeply emotional honor to reflect on my time at Carolina,” Rushton says. “This institution has built me into a woman that values knowledge, citizenship and unflinching determination.”

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

Past Sullivan Award Recipient Named to List of “People to Watch” in NYC’s Theatre Community

American Theatre magazine has named 2015 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award recipient Danielle Biggs, an alumnus of Elon University, as one of “Six Theatre Workers You Should Know” in a recent article spotlighting administrative and fundraising work.

The article was part of American Theatre’s “Role Call: People to Watch” series.

Click here to read a Q&A with Danielle Biggs

Biggs, who currently lives in Woodbridge, N.J., is the membership manager of New York’s City’s Public Theater and will also pursue her master’s degree in education policy and leadership at American University in Washington, D.C., this fall. She graduated from Elon University with degrees in arts administration and dance performance and choreography.

Jared Fine, the Public Theater’s director of marketing, told American Theatre that he was struck “from the first moment meeting Danielle” by her “dedication, passion and care in developing meaningful relationships with audiences. It has been inspirational to see her innovate and deepen her work with our communities over this past year to continue to grow and engage with them.”

Biggs said she wants to create a “limitless world” for young Black children pursuing the arts and education.

Related: This Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award recipient is also a gymnastics star at Auburn University

She recalled witnessing a performance of West African drumming and dancing at the Children’s Center of New York during Black History Month in 2020. She described “an auditorium full of students with similar hues of brown skin as mine, who looked limitless as they danced onstage.”

“I felt my fire to create a limitless world for them to burn stronger and brighter,” she added.

And the onset of the pandemic later that year did nothing to quench her fire. “I am the leader I have been waiting for, and I was made for this moment,” Biggs said in the interview.

The Wonderful, Wonderful Life of Anne Matthews

By Meagan Harkins

At her house in Columbia, S.C., Anne Matthews makes her way upstairs to her home office lined with plaid wallpaper and gazes at the map centered on the wall. Seventy-two pins on the map represent the 72 countries in which she has performed humanitarian and/or educational work: South Korea, Kenya, Peru, Brazil, the Philippines, Ecuador, Argentina, Zambia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia, Malaysia, Serbia, Croatia, and many others.

The walls are also lined with numerous accolades, including awards, pictures and mementos, all treasures from her life of performing good works for others: the Distinguished Service Award from the National Business Education Association; the Hall of Fame from Florence County School District 3; the John Robert Gregg Award from McGraw Hill; an Honorary Cheerleader award from the University of South Carolina; the International Service Award for a Polio Free World from Rotary International.

Matthew’s eyes crinkle as she smiles at these time stamps that bring back so many memories. “I look at them and think that I have had a wonderful, wonderful life,” she says. “I’ve had unlimited experiences.” She corrects herself: “Unlimited meaningful experiences.”

Among her many honors: the 2020 Sullivan Award, presented to her by Sullivan Foundation partner school Coker University (formerly Coker College), where she earned her bachelor’s degree in civilization and business education in 1964. She has served on Coker’s Board of Trustees and was awarded the school’s Distinguished Alumni Award. She also provides an annual scholarship and has spoken at Coker’s commencement ceremonies in the past.

Related: The church and the classroom are holy places for Sullivan Award recipient Dr. Ray Penn

Aside from philanthropy, Matthews is passionate about education. “Securing a liberal arts education is a foundation for life,” she says. “I would not give up that liberal arts education for anything.”

After graduating from Coker, Matthews attended Appalachian State University for her MBA and the University of South Carolina, also a Sullivan Foundation partner school, for her doctorate in education. In 1988, Coker awarded her an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

In her travels around the world raising money for the Rotary Foundation—another one of her passions—Matthews has seen the famous paintings, architectural wonders, literary sites, famous opera houses, and war locations that she once studied in books come to life. But teaching and serving people in need around the world have given her the greatest joy.

A Southern Lady
Thirty-three years of Matthews’ life were devoted to teaching at the high school and technical college level as well as at the University of South Carolina School of Business. She also served a stint as director of the State Department of Education. “I love students, and I love to see them learn and grow,” she says.

A native of South Carolina, she grew up with five brothers. “I learned at an early age how to be a team player and how to work with them,” she says. “I never had a problem. You learn how to negotiate, and I always tried to be a southern lady.”

Her parents taught their children to value kindness and generosity. “I’ve taken that into every role I’ve had,” Matthews says. She preaches the importance of good manners in working toward one’s objectives.

Matthews became involved with humanitarian work by joining Rotary District 7770 in 1989. The first woman admitted into the male-dominated club, she later became the first female governor of their Rotary District and the first female vice president of Rotary International in 2013. “It was quite interesting,” she says, to be a genteel, charming southern woman among so many men.

She has spent the past 30 years on the road and in the air for the Rotary Foundation. “I knew I would go where I was needed,” she says, although she had no idea it would take her to 72 countries. “I have never told anybody ‘no’ when it comes to the Rotary Foundation.”

Related: Rollins College alumnus “Papa Viva” creates safe haven for families impacted by AIDS

“I’ve learned that we all need to have a good dose of tolerance,” she says, reflecting on her travels. “We need to appreciate and value different cultures, even within the U.S. It doesn’t matter where one comes from. What matters is how we learn to deal with and respect one another.”

Similar to the Sullivan Foundation, “service above self” is the Rotarian mantra, a phrase that sparked Matthews’ interest in joining the organization. “I firmly believe that is what my life is about,” she says. “I’ve been so fortunate and so blessed in my life, I believe I need to share with others.”

While many of her trips have been for fundraising purposes, she has visited India three times to vaccinate children against polio. Along with others, she rode a boat through Peru to the Amazon jungle, then walked more than a mile to help build a water well. She has also journeyed five times to the Republic of Ghana in West Africa, which she has adopted as her “second country.”

Matthews and other Rotarians provided the funding for the first modern elementary school in the Tain District of Ghana. Alongside the school, the first designated male and female restrooms were erected. Her group provided books, installed solar panels, placed new desks and chairs, and added computers in the school.

After witnessing women and children in the Tain District walk more than five miles twice daily to retrieve contaminated water, Matthews was determined to help the villagers get access to clean water. During subsequent visits to Ghana, she helped provide funding for medical clinics and 500-plus wells, several of which connected to sanitation systems. The children reacted with overwhelming smiles and bright, joyful eyes to their brand-new school and clean water.

Combating Polio and Hunger
Eradicating polio is a top Rotarian priority, and Matthews has helped raise millions over the years to eliminate this dreadful, crippling disease. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a partnership led by Rotary International, was started in 1988, and since then more than 2.5 billion children have been immunized, 18 million have been spared disability, and more than 900,000 polio-related deaths have been averted. There are only two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, still struggling with the wild poliovirus, according to Rotary International Advocacy Specialist Kris Tsau.

In addition to wiping out polio worldwide and making clean water and sanitation systems available in developing countries, other Rotary Foundation fundraising efforts focus on promoting literacy, ending poverty and hunger, and providing maternal health care needs to women.

Matthews’ strongest passion, she says, is “wiping hunger off the face of the earth.” She adds, “I just don’t see why we have hungry people when there’s so much plentiful food.”

Related: Alice Lloyd College grads reflect on decades of teaching Kentucky’s youth

She sees food security as a mission that transcends international borders. Donations to the Rotary Foundation and involvement with local food banks are two ways to begin solving the problem, she says. “I think people should be more aware of hunger. Why can’t we do it? We can if we want to, if we’d put our heart and soul into it.”

Matthews is also a board member of both Rise Against Hunger, an international nonprofit headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., and Harvest Hope Food Bank, which feeds up to 2,000 people some days in Columbia, S.C.

“I cannot stand to see people on the road with a sign that states they are hungry,” Matthews says. Despite being advised not to, she gives homeless individuals a dollar or a few quarters each time she sees them at an intersection, in hopes they will buy a sandwich. “I’ve done what I should do,” she says. “Now what they do with the money, that’s between that person and God, not me any longer.”

“I Know I Can Make a Difference”
Nowadays, Matthews’ travels don’t take her far—she’s limited to Zoom meetings due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Just this morning she worked with the Rotary Club of Polokawane in South Africa, supporting an orphanage for blind children. Later this afternoon she will travel to India via Zoom. While she is still confident about the completion of her projects, Matthews misses the cultural exchanges and personal relationships that she has built over the decades.

“People are missing out on the greatest gift, and that is helping other people,” she says. “They miss out on helping those in need when they don’t learn this early in life. I believe we’re put here for a purpose, and that purpose is to make a difference. I really believe that.”

Fortunately, Matthews has a talent for convincing others—even strangers—to do their part. In November 2019, she spoke at a Rotary Club meeting about the work of the Rotary Foundation. “All I did was speak, from a personal standpoint, for about 25 minutes,” she says.

After the meeting, a man approached her and said he was pleased to learn of the Rotary Foundation’s humanitarian work. “I thought he might donate $5,000 or so dollars,” she recalls. “The next week I was called back by that club president. The gentleman wrote a check to the Rotary Foundation for $1 million.”

“That $1 million donation was because I spoke about the good the Foundation does in the world,” she adds. “I am passionate about doing good in the world. Feeding the hungry, providing clean water and sanitation, and eradicating polio—those are things we have to tackle.”

“What I want to do for the rest of my life is to help folks who cannot help themselves,” Matthews concludes. “This might sound selfish, but I know I can make a difference.”

Joel Iwaskiewicz: A Life Dedicated to Pursuit of Systematic Change

Joel Iwaskiewicz
Rhodes College
2010 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award Recipient

Joel Iwaskiewicz, a 2010 graduate of Rhodes College, currently teaches English and theatre at the high school level. He’s also a fighter for the rights of economically and socially disadvantaged communities, and he says his political activism “has energized and focused my service life.” 

What did receiving the Sullivan Award mean to you?
I was surprised and humbled to receive the Sullivan Award during my graduation ceremony. As a Bonner Scholar at Rhodes College, my undergraduate career was defined by service leadership, and it meant the world to be recognized for that commitment to the beautiful communities I had the privilege to work with on campus and throughout Memphis.

Tell us about your career and what you do now?
I am a high school English teacher and theatre educator in New Hampshire. I didn’t anticipate heading down this path, but now I couldn’t imagine things turning out any other way. My life has been shaped by the kindness, wisdom and enthusiasm of teachers. I hope I might impact my own students in a similar way.

Are you involved with any community service or community outreach today?
I volunteer regularly in support of progressive political campaigns at the local, state and national levels. Engaging in political activism has energized and focused my service life. In pursuit of systemic change, I am able to engage with the systems I believe can have the greatest impact in the pursuit of justice.

The Sullivan Foundation promotes positive social change in its programming and overall message. What are some social issues that matter most to you today?
I’m passionate about anti-racism and anti-bias work, racial justice, environmental justice, and civil and human rights, particularly among BIPOC and the LGBTQ+ communities.

If pressed to give one piece of advice to younger people, what would you tell them?
Invest your time, money and energy in the causes that wake you up in the morning and keep you up at night. Where your passion is engaged, your work will have the most meaning and motivation.

This Sullivan Award Recipient Is Also a Gymnastics Star at Auburn University

As a senior on the Auburn University gymnastics team, Meredith Sylvia is a standout on the beam, but sports isn’t her only passion: She’s also a dedicated community servant leader and one of three recipients of the prestigious 2021 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, which honors students who place service above self.

Meet the other recipients of Auburn University’s 2021 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.

Sylvia, who hails from Macungie, Pa., recently finished her time on the Plains as one of the gymnastics program’s most consistent beam workers, having competed in the event in all but two meets throughout her four-year career. The multiple SEC Academic Honor Roll honoree has also been a staple in the Auburn community since she arrived on the Plains in 2017, serving hundreds of people in greater Lee County.

Most recently, she has dedicated many hours to the Lee County Humane Society. With the restrictions that came from the COVID pandemic, Sylvia sought out other ways she could help the community and became a foster home volunteer, taking in animals from the local shelter. To this day, she has fostered animals that need homes and provided relief to over-flowing shelters in the area. Sylvia has cared for more than 20 different animals since the pandemic started last spring.

 

Prior to the pandemic, Sylvia spent many hours with local elementary and middle school students. The aspiring middle school teacher worked with Our House, a non-profit that provides resources to underprivileged families, tutoring and mentoring middle school and elementary students by providing help with classwork. In addition, she encouraged positive behavior and excitement for learning.

Related: Auburn’s Sullivan Award recipients are part of a proud lineage dating back 70 years

Sylvia had also served the community on many occasions with her team as well as the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. With the team, she has participated in the yearly Auburn Downtown Trick or Treat event, where athletes greeted fans and passed out candy to kids. Sylvia has also spent time with local elementary students, showcasing gymnastics skills and encouraging the importance of exercise. She has been involved in a handful of Habitat for Humanity service projects through Auburn SAAC. She volunteered in 2017 and then served as the coordinator of the service project in 2019.

Sylvia will graduate with a degree in conservation biology at the end of the spring 2021 semester. She plans on earning a Master of Arts in teaching and hopes to become a middle school science teacher.

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award has been presented at Auburn since 1951 as a reminder of the noblest human qualities exemplified by Algernon Sydney Sullivan, a prominent humanitarian and first president of the New York Southern Society, now the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation. Each year, Auburn bestows the honor on one male and one female student from the graduating class.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Auburn Tigers website.