My Alternative Spring Break in New Orleans – A Rewarding and Unforgettable Experience

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

By Tim Inthavong*

My fellow CU volunteers and I while working with Common Ground Relief

There are significant moments that change a person’s life and how they view the world, and my Alternative Spring Break trip to New Orleans was an unforgettable experience that I will remember forever. I am truly grateful to the Casey Feldman Foundation for funding my trip with a scholarship stipend which enabled me to volunteer to help a community and environment in need.

At the outset, my fellow volunteer students and I from the University of Colorado Boulder worked with the nonprofit, Common Ground Relief  headquartered in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Founded initially in 2005 to provide disaster relief following Hurricane Katrina, Common Ground has since revised it’s mission to reflect a forward-looking focus to restore and preserve Louisiana’s disappearing coastal wetlands. Wetlands are crucial to prevent flooding since they hold water much like a sponge, helping to keep river waters normal, and slowly releasing water when levels are low. In addition to many other benefits, the wetlands provide a habitat for a diverse group of wildlife.

After being introduced to the environmental issues affecting the Lower Ninth Ward community due to Hurricane Katrina, our group worked at a plant nursery where we watered and removed weeds from bull grasses that would be used to restore the wetlands. My favorite and most rewarding  experience was then actually planting the bull grasses onto the wetland floor.

In the wetlands where we worked to plant bull grasses

At first, I felt uncomfortable and was in fact, very nervous to physically plant them. I worried about the difficulty in moving through all of the thick algae and the uncertainty as to how deep I was swimming. I continued however, and planted the grasses. I felt great satisfaction afterwards in knowing that I had contributed to helping to restore the wetlands and mitigate the effects of a future hurricane on the people of New Orleans. The experience had another strong impact on me as well, in that it served as a learning opportunity.  I realized that it’s okay to be scared in a new and uncomfortable situation and that by proceeding in the face of it, I can conquer that fear.

My group also performed volunteer work at Crevasse 22, an indoor and outdoor art exhibit with an ecological theme.  It sits in a natural area of forests and marshes and contains a deep lake, created by a crevasse, or breach in the levee in 1922.  It is steps away from the Mississippi River and borders St. Bernard State Park. Our work there was to uproot and get rid of  invasive plants damaging the natural habitat of wildlife. This service that was done was the most difficult, but it was extremely rewarding to know that our work was supporting a safe environment for animals to live and grow their population. I thought of Casey Feldman and her love of animals and how my work there was made possible through the Foundation established in her memory. It was deeply gratifying knowing that I was honoring and continuing her legacy.

My Alternative Spring Break trip also afforded me the opportunity to create and build new relationships.  My group and I traveled together in a van for 40 hours round-trip from Boulder, Colorado and lived and worked together the entire week. I did not know any of my fellow volunteers when the trip began, but, by the end of the week, I had 15 close friends  –  David Ruin, Julia Book, Tyler Ennis, Danya Arie, Diantha McAllister, Elise Warnock, Emma Blanken, Feben Kassahun, Hiba Abdali, Jose Canizares, Julia Smith, Maggie Hearn, Marissa Kelly, Mohammed, Pujan Tandukar, Vladimir Brizuela. Without them, the service week would not have been as enriching an experience.

I came into this trip far from my community in Westminster, Colorado not knowing much about the environmental issues facing the people of New Orleans and it’s wildlife habitat. But, by at the end of the week, I had gained so much knowledge about the issues facing the people of Louisiana 12 years after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.

As I get older and look back at this trip, I can say “I really made in impact on others.”  It makes me smile to know that I made a difference through an experience that I was able to share with others. Above the clouds, I picture Casey Feldman smiling too.

On the site of Crevasse 22 where we worked to remove invasive species

In the forest at Crevasse 22

 

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*Tim Inthavong just completed his junior year at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is studying economics and business and would like to work  for a hospital as a health administrator after graduating. He is one of five children of a single refugee mother whom he has worked to support in and around his studies and volunteer work.

Immigrant Scholarship Recipient Hopes to Pursue a Medical Career

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

By Morgan Steward*

 

Our Alternative Spring Break Scholarship recipient, Gabriela Solano Serna has had to overcome many challenges in her young life. Emigrating from Mexico at age 10, Gabriela and her family left behind everything in order to start a new life in the United States. Unable to receive any government aid, including food stamps, medical care or scholarships through FAFSA, Gabriela and her family have struggled to make ends meet. But, instead of discouraging Gabriela, it has motivated her to volunteer in her community to make a difference for those facing hardships like her family.

The Casey Feldman Foundation scholarship stipend enabled Gabriela to travel to Atlanta last year over her spring break to work with the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC). The alternative spring break trip was one of many organized by the Volunteer Resource Center at the University of Colorado Boulder where Gabriela is a student. The AHRC  works to build relationships with individuals who are either suffering from or in danger of contracting HIV/AIDS, STD’s and Hepatitis Viruses and is the only comprehensive harm reduction program in the entire state of Georgia.

During her week in Atlanta, Gabriela did a lot of hands-on work with the coalition in underprivileged communities and visited the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn about the long-term benefits of the work she just participated in. One activity in particular stood out to Gabriela—a needle exchange. A needle exchange is a program that provides drug users with clean needles to prevent them from sharing and re-using contaminated needles, thus drastically lowering the chance of spreading diseases like HIV and AIDS.

“We helped distribute and make safety packs, which [are handed out] to individuals during the needle exchange in a poor community known as the ‘Bluff,’” Gabriela explained.  “After visiting and interacting with individuals from this neighborhood, I was able to see the unprivileged side of the community and learn how the state plays a role in helping the community.”

“I would say that this opportunity helped me—it was definitely an eye opener, but [also] a motivation to pursue a career in the medical field,” Gabriela explained. She hopes to use her talents to become an Obstetrician Gynecologist to honor her sister who passed away in Mexico due to the lack of medical attention.

So what does this remarkable scholarship recipient hope to accomplish in the future? “I am passionate about providing medical care to those in the US that struggle every day to sustain families and who do not have as much access to adequate medical assistance, public benefits (like Medicare) or health care insurance as other privileged groups do,” Gabriela said. As an undocumented immigrant herself, Gabriela’s future plans also include opening a clinic to provide medical assistance, regardless of the patients’ immigration status.

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morga -steward*Morgan Steward is a sophomore Communication and Media Studies student at Fordham University at Lincoln Center (Casey’s alma mater). Born in Beaumont, TX, she to moved to New York City to pursue a career in the media. She is the Arts & Culture Co-Editor of The Observer, Fordham’s student newspaper (where Casey was the News Editor).

The Faces of our 2018 Alternative Spring Break Scholarship Recipients

Friday, March 30th, 2018

By Dianne Anderson*

Spring break is underway at many colleges in the nation. Our University of Colorado Boulder scholarship recipients are off on their Alternative Spring Break – volunteering in various parts of the U.S., with funding made possible through the Casey Feldman Foundation. Take a look at these outstanding young people.

Jaela Zellers

Jaela Zellers – Jaela is a junior majoring in integrative physiology with a double minor in Spanish and women and gender studies, with the hopes of becoming a physician.  A native of Georgia, Jaela has consistently worked 3-4 part-time jobs while taking 18 credit hours per semester. Despite her own hardships at home, sometimes not knowing where her next meal would come from, Jaela has managed to help others through filling boxes of food for the needy or helping build a home through Habitat for Humanity. Zaela works at the Volunteer Resource Center on campus and is currently organizing a service project focused on women’s empowerment for the Better Boulder Day of Service. Jaela’s Alternative Spring Break is in environmental conservation where she is working to protect the habitat and build trails on Catalina Island, CA.

Nicole Fernandez-Perez

 

Nicole Fernandez-Perez – Nicole is a senior and a first generation college student majoring in psychology and minoring in ethnic studies. She currently works with Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (SPAN) in Boulder where she supports survivors of domestic violence. Nicole is also a part of Pi Lambda Chi Latina Sorority Inc.,  where she works to preserve Latina culture in the Latino communities near the CU campus. Nicole is participating in the Disability Advocacy Spring Break Trip in Springfield, Missouri where she is working with a non-profit that focuses on building self-esteem, self confidence and social skills in children and adults with disabilities through education, sports training and competition.

 

Jose “Santos” Navarro

Jose “Santos” Navarro –  Santos, a first-generation American, is a freshman majoring in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology with ultimate hopes of working one day in the Astrobiology Institute at  NASA. Throughout high school, Santos was an outdoor counselor who helped at-risk 5th graders from schools in troubled areas. Often, his biggest responsibility there was to simply be a source of support for the children by listening and hearing their stories. Santos’ Alternative Spring Break has taken him to Houston, TX where he is working in disaster relief, helping to rebuild homes and the community in the aftermath of the devastating hurricane which occurred last year. In looking forward to his week in Houston, Santos stated, “I can’t wait to represent CU Boulder and carry on the values of service through our actions.”

Tim Inthavong

Tim Inthavong –  Tim is a junior studying economics and business and hopes to work one day for a hospital as a health administrator. Tim is the child of a single refugee mother with four siblings and has always worked to help support his family. Despite this, Tim has found time to volunteer in and around his work and studies. Whether working with low income communities by teaching youth about the sciences, or volunteering on Saturdays at the Have A Heart food and clothing bank, Tim feels best when he can be of service to others. Tim’s Alternative Spring Break is taking place in New Orleans, LA where he is helping to rebuild homes for the needy. As he was leaving for the trip, Tim said, “I can’t wait to make a difference!”

 

Thank you Casey Feldman Foundation Alternative Spring Break Scholarship recipients for making a difference in the lives of others! We look forward to hearing about your service work upon the completion of your trips!

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Dianne and Casey, Christmas 2006

 

*Dianne Anderson  is the mother of the late Casey Feldman and co-founder of The Casey Feldman Foundation.

Casey Feldman Foundation Scholarship Recipient Learns About Forest Preservation

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

By Jaela Zellers*

Alice Haugland

Alice Haugland was one of two recipients of this past year’s Casey Feldman Foundation PIIE (Public Interest Internship Experience) Scholarship, which enabled her to intern for the summer with the Council of Western State Foresters. Through our PIIE scholarship program, students receive a stipend to work with a non-profit or government agency, which does not have the funding to pay student interns. The Council of Western State Forester’s, based in Denver, CO, is a nonprofit membership organization comprised of state, territorial and commonwealth foresters whose role is to protect, conserve and enhance Western and Pacific Island forests.

A Colorado native and currently a junior at The University of Colorado Boulder (CU), Alice is in the Leeds School of Business, majoring in Operations and Information Management with a minor in Economics and a certificate in Socially Responsible Enterprise. Alice came to CU with the intention of working for a non-profit after graduation and interned her freshman year at Goodwill in New York City.  She describes her experience at The Council of Western State Foresters as “extremely meaningful and engaging” where she “had the opportunity to learn about Western forestry, the environment, and the experience of working with a nonprofit organization”.

As a communications intern, most of Alice’s day-to-day tasks included updating and generating content for the organization’s social media platforms and website as well as tracking analytics. In addition to assisting in the day-to-day operations, Alice was able to work on more long-term projects as well. One of her favorites included helping to edit and revise a written publication on Urban & Community Forestry, summarizing videos regarding forestry in the Pacific Islands, and developing out a social media campaign.

Alice looks forward to a lifelong career of working with nonprofits,  making her a well-deserving recipient The Casey Feldman Foundation PIIE Scholarship. We give our best wishes to Alice in all of her future endeavors!

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*Jaela Zellars is a junior at The University of Colorado Boulder, majoring in integrative physiology and double minoring in Spanish and Women and Gender Studies. She currently works as a Peer Mentor in the Multicultural Living and Learning Community as well as the Volunteer Resource Center at CU where she uses her position to get first-year students engaged in service work.

 

Cassie Sprong Helps Young Boys Experience the Great Outdoors

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

By Jaela Zellers*

Cassie Sprong

University of Colorado Boulder Sophomore and Alternative Breaks participant Cassandra “Cassie” Sprong has been a major advocate for service work for many years of her life. From joining her high school’s Service Learning Club to going on an Alternative Spring Break Trip to Santa Cruz, California, Cassie is certainly no stranger to the joys of volunteering. She is currently a member of the CU Boulder Service Learning Club, which sends college students out to schools around Boulder to tutor native Spanish-speaking students. In her own words, Cassie believes that “Service is not ‘giving back’— rather, it’s working together to improve”.

Cassie’s passion for service work can be traced back to when she was around the age of 9 years old, during a very memorable experience in which she was walking around Denver with a friend and noticed that there were many individuals who were in need of some form of assistance, whether it was housing, food, shelter, or all of the above. Her solution to this was to make enough sack lunches to feed at least 20 people around that same area. The fact that such a simple gesture of humanity was able to improve the lives of so many less fortunate individuals in her own community gave Cassie the boost of confidence that she needed to make volunteering a life-long passion. This experience has led her to participate in even larger and more impactful service projects such as building a house for a low-income family with her high school Service Learning Club in Tijuana, Mexico.  At such a young age, she possessed an amazing sense of awareness of the injustices in the world around her as well as a desire to make that world a little better.

Cassie, who has always been inspired by her passion for biology and the environment, is currently majoring in Integrative Physiology. During the Spring of 2017, she was chosen as a recipient of the Casey Feldman Scholarship which allowed her to attend the Alternative Spring Break Trip that was focused on youth science education at YMCA Camp Campbell in CA. During her Alternative Spring Break trip, she and a group of about 9 other highly motivated and driven CU students spent their days hiking through the Redwood Forest and teaching 6th grade boys about the importance of preserving and respecting nature. One of her favorite elements of her trip was watching as those boys began to change their perspectives and take the environment a little more seriously over the course of just four days. Not only was she able to share with these boys her passion for science and learning, but she was also able to watch some of them experience the environment in its most natural form for the first time. For many of these boys, this was the first time that anyone had ever invested the time into taking them hiking and/or camping.

In addition to being a full time student, Cassie has also taken up a job as a hostess to make ends meet while she’s in college, due to having to be financially independent. With no monetary support from her family, Cassie sought out the Casey Feldman Scholarship as a means of helping her to take her love of service to the next level. With humanitarian views very similar to those shared by Casey Feldman, there are very few people more deserving of the scholarship.

Donate to the Casey Feldman Foundation so that more students may experience the joys of service work over their college break.

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*Jaela Zellars is a junior at The University of Colorado Boulder, majoring in integrative physiology and double minoring in Spanish and Women and Gender Studies. She currently works as a Peer Mentor in the Multicultural Living and Learning Community as well as the Volunteer Resource Center at CU where she uses her position to get first-year students engaged in service work.

Scholarship Recipient Helps the Homeless in Seattle

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

By Morgan Steward*

Kiara Chavez

Kiara Chavez, a student in the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, has a hectic life. In addition to being a full time student, the sophomore somehow also finds time in her schedule to volunteer, tutor and work in order to support herself. This year, Chavez was looking for a way to do something impactful with her spring break vacation and turned to the Casey Feldman Foundation. She applied and became one of our Alternative Spring Break scholarship recipients, traveling to Seattle, Washington to learn about youth in poverty and help build tiny homes for the homeless.

In order to provide for herself and her two sisters, Chavez’s parents moved from Mexico to the United States. Though her parents did not get the chance to attain a college degree themselves, they stressed the importance of education to Chavez. She combined this passion, along with her desire to help others, and began her first volunteer venture: tutoring younger neighborhood kids. Chavez continued to serve as a volunteer tutor in her community through high school, eventually branching out to helping in the local elementary school as well. To this day, Chavez still finds time to regularly tutor the children for whom she babysits.

As a ninth grade student, Chavez got the opportunity to travel with a group called Students Today, Leaders Tomorrow to volunteer in Utah. The program had a two-fold purpose: to enhance the participants’ leadership skills while also teaching them the importance of helping those around them. Since that moment, Chavez has desired to go on other volunteer trips to help communities in need, but was never able to do to the cost. When she found out about the Foundation’s alternative spring break program, Chavez knew she had to apply. “The life that Casey Feldman led is a fantastic reflection of how much positive change one person can be responsible for,” she said. “I have always believed in the power of volunteering as a mechanism to bringing positive change to people who truly need it.”

Chavez travelled to Seattle, Washington to partner with the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), an organization that, according to their website, “develops, owns and operates housing for the benefit of low-income, homeless and formerly homeless people in Washington State; advocates for just housing policies at the local and national levels; and administers a range of supportive service programs to assist those we serve in maintaining stable housing and increasing their self-sufficiency.”

The students worked with the LIHI to build a village of tiny homes for people were homeless. In addition to physically building the homes, the students met with community leaders to learn about the various issues that impact the homeless and had the chance to interact and provide educational opportunities to homeless youth.

“The alternative break served as an amazing opportunity to understand a new perspective on youth in poverty,” Chavez said of her trip. For her, the hardest part of the trip was not the manual labor, but seeing others struggle.

While on the trip, Chavez had the opportunity to spend some time with some of the inhabitants of the tiny houses—those conversations turned onto her most memorable moments. “I found it fascinating to learn about their experiences, and at the same time it was heartwarming to see them doing better and being appreciative of where they currently are. Everything was very real in that the people did not have a big movie ending, and they still have their personalities related to their experiences. It helped keep me from looking at them as anything other than people who could easily be my friend or family member. There was no movie ending in which everything was perfect, but most of the people there found that having a place to live was the first step in getting their life back.”

Chavez returned from the trip determined to raise more awareness for the issue in her own community. She talked to her friends and family about what she learned from the experience and pledged to start taking direct action in helping the homeless of Boulder. Her action started small. “I did small things like take the food from school events to the homeless community in Colorado,” she recounted, but hopes to accomplish bigger things in the future.

“I truly appreciated this experience. Learning more about myself and the community in Boulder left an impact on me that I will take with me for the rest of my life,” she said. Chavez thinks that Casey would be proud of what the students accomplished in Seattle and thinks Casey would have enjoyed the trip as well. “I would not doubt that Casey Feldman would have enjoyed spending her time learning about the community in Seattle. Our volunteer work with the community would have enhanced her understanding of the community she helped at the West End Homeless Shelter in NYC.”

One of the tiney houses built for the homeless in Seattle

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*Morgan Steward is a junior Communication and Media Studies student at Fordham University at Lincoln Center (Casey’s alma mater). Born in Beaumont, TX, she to moved to New York City to pursue a career in the media. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Observer, Fordham’s student newspaper (where Casey was the News Editor).

 

Casey Feldman Foundation Proud of Scholarship Recipient, Alejandra Pedraza

Monday, October 30th, 2017

By Dianne Anderson*

Alejandra Pedraza  is a shining example of the kind of student that the Casey Feldman Foundation is proud to support through its Alternative Spring Break Scholarship program. This first generation college student and junior at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) was born in the United States by an immigrant mother who crossed the border from Mexico with Pedraza’s older sister in arms. According to Alejandra, “being born in this country is one of the greatest gifts that I have ever received.” Majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology as well as environmental studies, Alejandra hopes to one day become an environmental lawyer to protect the environment and advocate for people who are disproportionately impacted by unsound environmental practices.

“Being in college is a great privilege” and “one of the hardest and most fulfilling endeavors of my life,” says Pedraza, who takes immense pride in being the first in family to attend college and sees herself as a role model for her younger sister.“I make the most out of every day by constantly learning and participating in events and activities,” she adds.

A Daniels Scholar as the result of her exceptional character, leadership, and community service, Pedraza is grateful for the payment of her college tuition and fees. With no other financial support, she has worked throughout college to pay her living expenses and to send money to her hard working mother, who struggles to make ends meet. This leaves virtually no funding for the many extra programs, activities and leadership opportunities that she would like to participate in, something often taken for granted by other students.

One of these is the Alternative Breaks, a program of the Volunteer Resource Center at CU, which sends teams of college students to engage in community-based service projects during each college break, providing opportunities for students to learn about the problems faced by members of communities with whom they may otherwise have had little or no direct contact.

It was only through funding from the Casey Feldman Foundation that Pedraza was afforded the opportunity to participate in the Alternative Spring Break human trafficking trip this past spring in Miami, Florida. The host for the students in Miami was The Life of Freedom Center, a community resource that offers free support and restorative programs for female survivors of sexual exploitation and human trafficking and works toward ending human trafficking both locally and throughout the United States.

The experience was an immersive educational experience for Alejandro and her fellow volunteers who learned about this $32 billion industry and  how to identify and respond to human trafficking in their own community.  Much of Alejandra’s time and energy is focused on the environment and she was eager, as a student leader, to learn about this critical and heartbreaking issue. “This trip really helped bring the concept of human trafficking closer to home. A lot of the things I witnessed in Miami can easily be witnessed throughout the streets of Denver. I simply had never put two and two together,” said Alejandro.

Part of Alejandra’s week was spent volunteering her services at a safe house for human trafficking victims where she performed landscaping work to make the entrance more attractive.” I loved doing this,” said Alejandra, “because I was able to actually contribute to the cause with my own hard work. Casey Feldman was a champion of human rights and by participating in this trip, I took a step in the same direction.”

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Dianne (R) and Casey, Christmas 2006

 

*Dianne Anderson  is the mother of the late Casey Feldman and co-founder of The Casey Feldman Foundation.

 

Alternative Spring Break Scholarship Winner Katie Heinen Works With the Navajo

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

By Morgan Steward

katie heinen

Katie Heinen

Business marketing major, Katie Heinen, a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder, has had a passion for community service since she was 12 years old.  Through a Casey Feldman Foundation Alternative Spring Break Scholarship, she was able to further pursue this passion at the Dine Reservation in Arizona where she worked with Navaho youth during her weeklong spring break.

Heinen has spent the last several years of her life serving others in their communities. “My service experience began in 6th grade, and since then service has been a key part of my life, giving me encouragement and strength every day,” Heinen said. Her service trips all have different objectives, varying from working with elderly individuals who have Alzheimer’s to tutoring underprivileged children. She has even traveled as far as Nicaragua to help those in need.

“I am completely on my own to pay for these trips,” says Heinen. “When I went to Nicaragua, I did everything I could to make money through extra jobs and fundraising. It was the most humbling experience to have people support me like that.”

katie 2

Heinen on her service trip to Nicaragua

Among the many service projects she has taken part in, Heinen remembers one incident in particular that changed her life. While Heinen was in high school, she would spend every Tuesday evening working with homeless individuals in Chicago. While working at this shelter, Heinen became very close with one inhabitant in particular—a man named Joseph. Joseph eventually opened up to Katie about his life-long addiction to drugs and alcohol and struggle to stay sober. One Tuesday, Heinen could not find Joseph in the shelter. After keeping an eye open for him all night, she eventually saw him and headed over to talk.

“I looked over and saw Joseph sitting down, looking very distraught. I walked over to him, gave him a hug, and asked him what was wrong. His next few words are some that I will never forget. ‘I almost drank tonight and did drugs. I was so close to doing it. But then I thought of you, and I stayed strong,’” Heinen recalled. “ This moment has changed me forever, and has encouraged me to always stick with my passion for service. I may have left an impact on Joseph, but the way he impacted me was more than I could ever write in words.”

On her Foundation sponsored spring break trip this year, Heinen stayed on the Dine Reservation in Teec Nos Pos.  The initial goal of the project was to help support youth health by promoting outdoor activity, but after getting to talk to the young people, that goal soon changed. “Once we met with the high school students, we learned that many of the juniors and seniors were incredibly unprepared for college,” Heinen said.

“After we learned this information, we had group discussions with a private school that we were working with, a public school on the reservation, and even visited a college on the reservation to gain more information to provide to the students. We gave the students time to ask us any questions they had and discuss further the possibility of their future, including a college education,” Heinen explained.  Heinen and her fellow volunteers then spent time helping the students prepare their college applications. The experience “opened my eyes to the struggles of living on a reservation to more than just the stereotypes of poverty, mental illness, alcoholism, and domestic violence.”

Heinen feels incredibly grateful for the opportunities the Casey Feldman Foundation gave her. “I think about this trip often; the people I met, the things I experienced, and simply how blessed I am to have everything in my life,” she said. “After reading about all of Casey’s passions for service, I felt as though I could relate to her…and would have loved to get the chance to pick her brain about all of the injustices of the world,” Heinen said.

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morgan-steward2-1-150x150*Morgan Steward is a sophomore Communication and Media Studies student at Fordham University at Lincoln Center (Casey’s alma mater). Born in Beaumont, TX, she to moved to New York City to pursue a career in the media. She is the Arts & Culture Co-Editor of The Observer, Fordham’s student newspaper (where Casey was the News Editor).

Bryan O’Hagan is Awarded the Latest Computer Science Scholarship to Aid a Non-Profit

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

By Morgan Steward*

Bryan O'Hagan (seated center) with Casey's parents and Alternative Spring Break scholarship recipients Cynthia Mendoza (R) and Katie Heinen

Bryan O”Hagan (seated center) with Casey’s parents and Alternative Spring Break scholarship recipients Cynthia Mendoza (R) and Katie Heinen

Bryan O’Hagan, a University of Colorado Boulder student, is the latest recipient of a Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation computer science scholarship. The scholarship provides a stipend to a student to provide computer and IT services to a non-profit organization which does not  have the funds necessary to meet the technology needs necessary to advance their mission. It gives the student the opportunity to practice his or her computer science and IT skills in a real-world setting and at the same time, experience the joy of community service.

“I enjoy working for organizations that promote a strong social cause,” O’Hagan explained. This is what initially enticed him to apply for the Foundation’s computer science scholarship in the first place.

O’Hagan first became interested in computer programming and web development after taking a course in the subject at the University of Colorado. “I instantly fell in love [with] the endless possibilities a developer can create on the web,” O’Hagan explained. With this newfound passion discovered, he then became determined to find an internship in the field in an effort to continue to develop the skills he learned in this class.

O’Hagan chose to work for Natural Capitalism Solutions, a company that educates senior decision-makers in business, government and civil society about the principles of sustainability.  The Longmont, Colorado company does this by creating practical tools and simple implementation strategies for companies, communities and countries.

During his internship, O’Hagan was able to learn several valuable industry skills. “I was able to learn so much,” O’Hagan explained. “I [got] a better understanding of industry tools, coding languages, and web development techniques.”

However, O’Hagan also learned a different valuable skill set: communication skills. Through this position, O’Hagan was charged with working directly with clients to provide them the technological services they required. “This was my first experience where I had to work with a client,” he said. “I enjoyed the process of brainstorming ideas, creating a plan, and finally creating a website that both the customer and I enjoyed.”

In total, O’Hagan redesigned three of Natural Capitalism Solution’s websites—a task that the company would not have been able to do without him.

Participating in this program made O’Hagan realize that he wished to pursue web development and computer services as a career after he graduates from the University of Colorado Boulder.

“The Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation Computer Science Program is one of the highlights of my college career,” O’Hagan said. “I hope other students can find their passion through this program.”

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morgan-steward2-1-150x150*Morgan Steward is a sophomore Communication and Media Studies student at Fordham University at Lincoln Center (Casey’s alma mater). Born in Beaumont, TX, she to moved to New York City to pursue a career in the media.

“It’s a Great Day to Be Alive…” Cynthia Mendoza, 2016 Foundation Scholarship Recipient

Monday, November 14th, 2016

By Morgan Steward

Cynthia MendozaCynthia Mendoza seems to have her life figured out. A 2016 graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder, Mendoza obtained a certificate in public health while double majoring in both Integrative Physiology and Psychology and is currently in the process of applying to dental school. But what ties these four fields together? Mendoza’s desire to make a difference in her community and help others. This passion made Mendoza the perfect recipient of the 2016 Casey Feldman Foundation Alternative Spring Break Scholarship.

Growing up in a household where her father worked two jobs while her mother stayed at home and cared for the kids, Mendoza was aware that money was always tight, yet never felt as if she was missing anything. “I was lucky enough to grow up in a loving family where not having much really did not feel like a burden. Growing up in a low-income family made me appreciate everything and not take anything for granted,” Mendoza explained.

Although this situation forced Mendoza to grow up quickly, it left her able to truly understand and appreciate all that she had in life. “… Everything has taught me something special. I have strong values that are so important to me, such as the importance of giving, loving and caring for others—things that I would have not really understood if it was not for my upbringing.”

Choosing to live life by the philosophy that “It’s a great day to be alive,” Mendoza  tries to “take every day as a blessing.” It was this mantra, in conjunction with her upbringing that influenced Mendoza to want to spend the rest of her life serving others.

Her career of service began in college, where she served as a medical assistant, phlebotomy tech in the university’s medical clinic, and Co-President of Pi Lambda Chi Latina Sorority Inc., a sorority which helps promote education and community service. “The ability to be part of people’s memories and help influence them to help their communities, like I was, is something I hope to do for others,” Mendoza explained. “[The] little things may be the biggest impact people will hold in their hearts for a lifetime.”

When Mendoza applied for the 2016 Casey Feldman Foundation Alternative Spring Break Scholarship, her  genuine love for serving others made her the ideal candidate. With the scholarship, she was able to spend a week in Atlanta, Georgia, volunteering with the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, an organization which is devoted to improving the quality of life for individuals affected with HIV/AIDS in communities with limited resources.

“My time in Atlanta left a huge mark in my heart,” Mendoza explained.  “I learned so much from this wonderful experience!” The week-long service trip was spent doing a variety of tasks including making and distributing HIV kits to impoverished neighborhoods, informing individuals how to prevent spreading and contracting sexually transmitted diseases, and assisting in needle exchanges. Volunteers were also able to go on tours of Aid Atlanta and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn more about the issues plaguing not only Atlanta, but the rest of the world.

“[The trip] greatly reinforced my commitment to work in the healthcare field,” Mendoza said. “I am very passionate about health and helping different communities with health disparities seen worldwide. I… hope to one day apply what I have learned to socially disadvantaged populations.”

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morgan-steward2-1-150x150Morgan Steward is a sophomore Communication and Media Studies student at Fordham University at Lincoln Center (Casey’s alma mater). Born in Beaumont, TX, she to moved to New York City to pursue a career in the media.