Service is an important part of the St. Edward’s experience for many students, even after they graduate. Some take it a step further, devoting a year or more of their lives to help a community in need. One of the most effective ways to get involved with long-term service is through an organization that pairs volunteers with projects.
We spoke with three alumni about their time in the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and Teach for America. Although their experiences differ, they all agree on one thing: they returned home inspired to keep changing the world, one person at a time.
Teaching Health and Hygiene with the Peace Corps
Joseph Luedecke ’11, Social Work
I wanted to make some kind of positive impact and experience another country’s culture. The Peace Corps gave a unique opportunity to do both: volunteers spend at least two years in the community they are assigned to, getting to know the area’s needs, wants and, most importantly, its people.
I was a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program volunteer in Leymebamba, a rural community in Peru. I supported the local health center in serving four nearby farming neighborhoods. We worked on handwashing with school-age children and launched a healthy homes project, encouraging participating families to have better home hygiene and to build their own pit latrines. I also helped with basic English classes, tooth brushing activities in schools and a sexual health conference for young ladies from our towns.
My experience in the Peace Corps confirmed my passion for helping others. More than that, my time there gave me patience, persistence, flexibility and experience working with others to try to get something done. Those skills are invaluable in my current work as a support worker for people with mental illness, most who have experienced homelessness and are now trying to live in their own apartment.
Inspiring English Language Learners with Teach for America
Patricia Noyola ’06, History
When I came to St. Edward’s, I found that my fellow students were better prepared for college than I was because of the schools they attended. My experiences reinforced for me that not all schools are great schools. I applied for Teach for America as a means to not just teach, but to teach kids who needed great teachers.
I taught reading to English Language Learners in Brownsville, Texas, so I had the unique experience of returning back to where I’m from; I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley. Ninety-two percent of my students were below grade level, so my job was to help them be academically successful and change their mindsets about what they were capable of. I learned the power of holding high expectations for people — both children and adults will rise to the occasion.
After Teach for America, I continued teaching, and then I moved into coaching and developing teachers. I became interested in helping create excellent schools where all students get a good education no matter what. Now I’m an elementary school principal at IDEA Academy San Benito, a K–5 charter campus with 716 students. My greatest passion right now is developing great leaders who inspire and coach amazing teachers that change kids’ lives.
Mentoring Austin Students through AmeriCorps
Ricardo Contreras ’00, Spanish/International Business
Through AmeriCorps, I served as a mentor at Austin’s Dawson Elementary School. My tasks included guiding, advising and serving as a resource to a group of "at-risk" elementary students with the ultimate goal of creating a healthier learning environment for the children. Engaging my students wasn't an easy task initially since I was a complete stranger. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful thing to see them blossom after weeks of working with them.
Soon after college graduation, I spent a few years as an AmeriCorps program coordinator. That experience opened the door to a long-term career in the public sector. After a lengthy stint with a member of Congress in Washington, D.C., I now work as Hidalgo County’s chief of Administration and Public Information.
The public sector experience, although slightly different, has allowed me to continue serving my community. Moreover, I’m able to continue fostering my family's "give back" philosophy through the many volunteer opportunities. Most closely related to my AmeriCorps experience has to be my current role as president of the South Texas Literacy Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and enhancing literacy skills for children, students and families in South Texas.
Learn about the passion for service that drives our community and our education, and read other alumni stories to hear how our students make a difference in their local and global communities, no matter what they do after graduation.
Read more stories like this from St. Edward’s University.