My experience at St. Francis has made me the person I am today,” said Sue Naiden ’90. “I learned to pass kindness forward.” Whether a graduate of St. Francis, De La Salle, Joliet Catholic, or Joliet Catholic Academy, this is a sentiment shared by alumni around the world.
At JCA, students are required to complete 60 hours of service, with half of the hours coming during their senior year. “It is through service to others that we are able to live out our mission in the tradition of the Carmelites and Franciscans,” said Sr. Barb Kwiatkowski. “JCA allows students to develop their service as they develop as individuals. With half of the hours coming during their senior year, they have a better understanding of themselves and the impact they can make on the world.”
JCA graduates bring the compassion they learn during high school with them throughout their lives. Here are just two examples of alumni making a difference.
Trio Animal Foundation
Throughout high school and as an adult, Naiden volunteered at animal shelters and saw the direct impact of animal cruelty and neglect. In 2001, Naiden adopted three-month-old Trio, a dog who lost her leg weeks earlier in a dog fight. “After Trio passed away, I wanted to do something in her honor. She had helped so many dogs throughout her life, and I wanted to make that her lasting legacy.”
Naiden founded Trio Animal Foundation in 2009 in memory of Trio because caring for a sick or injured animal can cost thousands of dollars. TAF assists shelters, rescues and individuals by facilitating and paying for quality medical care for homeless pets. TAF also promotes adoption and responsible pet ownership, including spaying or neutering pets.
“What makes the Trio Animal Foundation unique is our rescue division,” said Naiden. “No other animal foundation has a rehabilitation dog team that pairs an injured dog with another rescue dog. The rescue dog will train the new injured dog and nurture him or her back to health.”
“Without my high school experience, I would not be doing what I am doing right now,” Naiden said. “My teacher Mrs. Benson was a loving woman, focused on her morals and helping animals. She would always tell us to cut up the plastic six-pack rings so that birds didn’t get tangled in them. Her love of animals had such a profound effect on me. I was also influenced by my poms coach, Cindy Thomas. She was tough on us, but she taught us what it means to have a work ethic. I would not be able to do as much as I do without Cindy Thomas pushing me as a student.
Naiden continued, “When I first started, I thought I wanted to turn this into a huge organization, but the more I do it, the more I realize I don’t need the fluff. I realized that if I stay more humble, I have more money to invest in the animals and more time to be in the field.”
To date, TAF has helped approximately 3,000 animals across country. “I would encourage everyone to get involved with a shelter in their area,” Naiden added. “The smaller towns don’t have the resources to do it on their own. If you do not help, who will?”
In 2015, Kelly Feigh, a 2012 graduate of JCA and a current junior at Loyola University Chicago, went on a mission trip to Santa Librada, Panama through the Global Brigades program at Loyola. “We were there to start a cycle of wellness in this community,” said Feigh. “Healthcare needs to be a worldwide issue. The closest hospital to us was about two hours away. We taught the community things that are not really incorporated into their culture, like brushing their teeth and the importance of vegetables and a well-rounded diet.”
At Loyola, Feigh is majoring in biology and plans to become a Physician Assistant after she finishes her undergrad. She learned about the Global Brigades program after her roommate went on a trip to Gana. “I was looking for a volunteer program that would take me out of my comfort zone, but I didn’t know where to start. My roommate had such a positive experience, so I decided to check it out.”
Feigh and the other students on the trip shadowed three volunteer doctors: a doctor from Honduras, a doctor from Panama, and an OB/GYN from the United States. They worked in a temporary clinic and dental office that they helped set up. “Going to a foreign country was a crash course in everything medicine. We were there for four days, and served about 600 people. It was long days in a school with no electricity, but it was a rewarding and eye-opening experience.”
“What I have learned is helping everyone in the community, whether it is locally or internationally, is really important. JCA sparked a fire in my heart for service. I’ve been blessed to attend JCA, and to be involved with service to my community. This is my opportunity to give back to those who have not had as many opportunities.”