Alumni Stories

The Embracing Spirit of Elmhurst

“We value the development of the human spirit in its many forms,” pledges Elmhurst’s strategic plan for 2009-14. A college of the United Church of Christ, Elmhurst is rooted in a heritage of faith, service and engagement with the world. How does that heritage take shape in the lives of alumni today, in an ever more complex world? We asked seven alumni how the College encouraged their personal and spiritual development and how their values continue to inform their daily lives.

Reverend Dr. Joseph J. Richardson Sr. ’89
Pastor, St. James Community Baptist Church
Broadview, Illinois
Former Co-Chaplain and Student Advisor, Elmhurst College

I’m celebrating my 50th anniversary in Christian ministry this year, by the grace of God. The young people I worked with at Elmhurst became very important in my life. They gave me the opportunity to learn. They came from so many different religions and backgrounds, and each one of them taught me something.

I love all that Elmhurst did for me. They said, “Okay, we will take you in and give you a chance.” There is no way I can understand the impact, the ways Elmhurst helped me improve myself. And when I finally graduated, I had it in my heart to stay involved on campus and help the young people. All the warmth and compassion I found here made me want to do more.

Back when I was chaplain for the football team, the coach asked me to say a few words after practice. So I asked the team, “Why do you think I spend so much of my time trying to encourage you and help you?” And one of the big linemen finally spoke up. He said, “Because you love us?” And I said, “That’s right, and don’t ever forget it!”


Trish DeAnda '01
Vice President of Finance and Operations
The Resurrection Project

I came to Elmhurst as an adult. I was a single mom working full time and going to school. There was not a lot of sleep in my life. I had a good, stable management job, but I wasn’t very happy. The faculty at Elmhurst challenged me to live the life I wanted to live, the life I was supposed to be living. They challenged me to examine my life from a values perspective. So I searched inside myself and decided to make the shift from the corporate world to nonprofits.

At The Resurrection Project, I’ve found fulfillment. I’m doing what I was called to do, using the skills I learned in school to accomplish a mission I really believe in. We work on housing, safety and social justice issues. It’s work that feels right for me. We open all our staff meetings with a prayer. It helps remind us why we’re there and puts us in a frame of mind to make the right decisions for the communities we serve. It’s so nice to be able to exercise those values in my work.


Kaiser Aslam '12
National Coordinator, Young Muslims

Interfaith work is about people of different traditions working together to find common ground. Elmhurst provides a place for that to happen. The most productive conversations are the ones that happen when you’re doing relief work or working at a shelter or a soup kitchen. That’s when you really get to know people and what their faith means to them. You’re able to draw parallels to your own experience. That’s the goal.

Besides the obvious point that the different belief systems and values are nearly identical, you learn that misunderstandings exist on all sides. People have misconceptions about how Muslims live their lives, and too many Muslims have doubts about non-Muslims and don’t understand the world beyond their community. So you have to play a mediator role.

I want to be part of the American Islamic narrative. Young Muslims is a national network of youth groups that is helping to shape upright young people for society. They are the up and coming leaders. To me, that’s a comforting thought.


Jacque Hulslander, Ph.D., B.S. ’77, B.S.N. ’81
Professor Emerita, Triton College

In 2000 and 2001, I volunteered as an international nurse with the Diocese of Joliet’s Peace and Social Justice Mission in Sucre, Bolivia. Working in the surgical/post surgery areas of a new hospital, I saw how nursing principles and techniques are influenced by culture and the availability of supplies. Before surgery, we would pray the “Our Father” (in Spanish) with our patients and their families, and we witnessed miracles that are still remembered today.

In keeping with Elmhurst’s goal of educating the whole student for life in a global society, my B.S.N. prepared me to educate and to do mission work in a Third World country. Nursing is something you feel in your heart. It becomes a passion that tells you, “This will be your life!”

I am currently mentoring two nursing students at Elmhurst: Katie Boals and Greta Wischmeyer. Greta also participated in a mission trip to Bolivia when she was a freshman. When she shares her clinical experiences, she beams as she discusses diagnoses, treatments, medications and nursing interventions. It is wonderful to see the passion of patient care ignited. I feel I am fulfilling the mission of the College by passing the baton of nursing to these two young ladies.


Herb Washington ’97
Director of Partnership, Aspire of Illinois

I was the first person in my immediate family to attend college. I was determined to get the whole college experience, so I jumped in, full-steam ahead. Union Board. Residence Hall Council. Campus Life Council. Black Student Union. Track team.

What stood out was the welcome I felt from everyone. Due to a serious injury incurred in high school, I thought I’d never again be able to run track competitively. The support I found, and the encouragement I received to persevere, were so important. I worked hard, and although it was really grueling at times, in the end I qualified as an All-American in the 55 meters and the 100 meters. Just as important was the sense of community and belonging here that helped me to grow into an adult.

At Aspire of Illinois, we provide services to children and adults with disabilities. I’d like the people we work with to have in their lives what I found at Elmhurst. I want them to have the same opportunities, the same feeling of belonging.


Matt Kelly ’08
Director of Field Ministry, York and Willowbrook Young Life

At Young Life, we try to enter the world of adolescents and focus on fun, adventure, friendship. We want to earn the right to be heard. We want to earn the right to talk about what matters most of all—the truth of the Gospel. I got to my ministry through the discernment process I experienced at the Niebuhr Center at Elmhurst. You do readings, reflections, meetings, and then you take that step of faith. Of course, there’s an inherent chance of failure. There’s a gulp factor. Here I am, recruiting and training hundreds of volunteers, running a huge fundraiser, all the things that go into nonprofit work. How do I navigate that? It’s the experiences I had at Elmhurst that give me confidence.

The Spring Break trips we made for Habitat for Humanity are such vivid memories. I learned that I could convince other college students that it would be a good idea to spend their Spring Break not on the beach, but building houses. That was an incredibly valuable experience. And completely worth it.


Sara Born ’02
Teacher, Washington Elementary School, Park Ridge

Teaching isn’t for everyone, but I always knew it would be for me. Growing up in the United Church of Christ, we talked a lot about serving and leading and doing what is best for all. That has been a good foundation for me. I try to pass along some of those core values, to teach my students what service is, what giving is, what understanding is. I try to model that for them.

So much of what a teacher does goes way beyond the math lesson or social studies lesson of the day. You are concerned with your students’ emotional well-being, their social well-being. You are teaching life lessons. I like to say that the best professional development I ever did was becoming a mother. I think now I better understand the needs of students and the concerns of parents.

My first students are just starting to graduate from high school and go on to college. I cannot wait to see them move into adulthood and see what choices they make in their lives. I hope I’ve given them something meaningful that they can take with them.

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