Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Mission Moment - Theresa Marten '15

As a student at Lewis, Theresa Marten ’15 was a very familiar face on campus. She led retreats, worked as a Peer Minister in the dorms, served as captain of the dance team, and took part in many other organizations and activities. After all the love and support Marten had received as a student at Lewis, she realized how important it was to give back and knew that her next steps involved serving others. And now, she continues to live out the Lewis mission in her work every single day.

Marten works as Program Manager for SAME Café – a donation-based, fair exchange restaurant that serves healthy food to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. At SAME, you can volunteer your time to help out in the kitchen, bring in fresh produce, or contribute a fair monetary donation in exchange for a tasty meal. This is based on a dignified dining model developed by Brad and Libby Birky, founders of SAME Café. Every single guest who enters SAME is treated equally and has access to an ever-changing menu of local, healthy, and organic food.

There are no set menus or set prices, but Marten says the philosophy is their one constant.
“SAME Café is the first non-profit restaurant in Denver!” says Marten. “Our mission is to create community through healthy food access. We believe in healthy food, community, and dignity for everyone.”

Marten joined the café staff after spending several years volunteering her time and talents at various non-profits.

Just one day after walking across the stage at graduation, Theresa moved into the Nativity House in Lockport, Illinois – a hou

se of hospitality complete with an on-site farm that supports first-time mothers through the principles of the Catholic Social Teachings. 

Soon after, Marten moved to Denver to volunteer with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers for one year where she worked as Case Manager at Urban Peak Youth Shelter. She lived in a community with nine young adults and helped them find work, provided the mental health services they needed and assisted them in reaching their education goals.

Marten found the SAME café right after completing her volunteer year at Urban Peak.
At SAME, Marten says she encounters a diverse and unique group of people daily who help her relate to her community in a more important way. One of those special people is SAME Cafe Head Chef and Operations Officer, Letisha Steele.

“As I began working at the café, I started to understand the beauty in regular customers and the joy new guests experienced as they were able to participate in the way that made sense for them,” says Marten. “I am motivated by the leadership of Letisha Steele. Her ability to invite our team and volunteers to appreciate, take care of, and reduce waste of all the food that comes through our doors is inspiring.”

Marten says with the help of donors, guests, and leaders like Letisha, SAME Café was able to recently purchase a food truck to continue to bring healthy meals to the greater Denver area. SAME has also received funding for its Cook-To-Work Program, a free program for underserved citizens in Denver looking to develop their culinary skills and then find a job in the industry.

Just as SAME Café remains firm in their mission, so does Theresa.

"I have been lucky to have built such a wonderful community through Urban Peak, Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, and SAME Café. Through all of these experiences, I have been given a lot, taught a lot, and seen a lot. I just feel grateful. Life can be really difficult and I hope our work helps make it possible for people to feel needed and human."

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Lewis Mission Moment - Julia Mach '18

Julia Mach ’18 earned a double bachelors from Lewis in Secondary Education and English. Believe it or not, English is not her first language.

“I decided to go into the teaching field because I struggled with learning English after being adopted from Russia,” says Julia. “I was academically behind when I came to the United States. I wanted to help others students who struggle with comprehending the English language and the things that go along with that, like comprehension and writing.”

Julia wants to get working in the classroom as soon as she can, but for now, she’s opted to transform lives in a different way as a Lasallian Volunteer. As a volunteer, she performs service projects and outreach for a community she is assigned to work in.

Julia turned to a life of service after participating in multiple Lewis University Ministry Alternative Trip Experiences (LUMINATE). During LUMINATE, Lewis students enter a weekend long or week-long service trip during Spring break or after finals are completed in May. LUMINATE service projects include tasks like building houses or gardening all while learning about the importance of social and cultural justice. This year, her volunteerism has taken her to Oregon, Nevada, Washington, and Alaska.

“I was amazed at what could get done in a week, and I liked the idea of being able to live in a new place and meeting new people while helping those who need it most. I liked that I was filling a need.”

Julia calls to mind one young boy who made a lasting impact on her during a volunteer experience at DeLaSalle Academy in California. The boy, a fifth-grade student who struggled with the English language, had the academic comprehension level of a child in the third-grade. Julia worked with him one-on-one for a year to help him improve his reading, writing, and speaking skills. At the end of one year, the boy reached a comprehension level of a fourth-grader and was eligible to remain in his school.

“These experiences are meaningful to me because I like knowing that my skills are being used somewhere that they’re actually needed. It makes me want to do my absolute best for those left to my care.”

Right now, Julia is in Concord, California working to improve the lives of underserved residents and children in the area.

“It has been a great experience to live in California and to be a part of the group. My community gets along really well with each other and we’ve become a small family over the past year. I will miss them, but I’m looking forward to joining a new community next year.”

Julia plans to remain with the Lasallian Volunteers for a bit longer, but looks forward to coming back to the classroom to earn her master’s degree in Social Work to help children. When Julia isn’t performing service, she enjoys traversing the Concord and San Francisco areas of California, attending festivals and making new friends. While the travel is fun, she says it’s really about bringing joy and service to where she is assigned.

“My goal is to make as much of a difference as possible for the people I serve. I’m not just there to fill a job, I’m there to fill a need.  I want to make an everlasting impression on others.”

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Lewis Mission Moment: How A Former Student & Professor is Using Urban Agriculture to Cultivate Healthy Lifestyles and Relationships

On the south side of Chicago sits a quarter acre farm.

That’s right: A quarter acre farm that grew and distributed more than 4,000 pounds of fresh produce to farmers and local residents around Chicago within its first operational year.

Just Roots is a non-profit co-founded by former Lewis student, campus minister, and professor, Sean Ruane ‘12. Sean spent the first nine years of his life in the Midwest before moving to Georgia with his family. It was only when he moved back to the Midwest to attend school at Lewis that he began to see just how hard it was for some communities in Chicago to gain access to locally sourced and reasonably priced produce.

“Over the last 75 years, Americans have progressively become more and more disconnected from their food – where it comes from, how it’s grown, and healthy cooking and diet practices,” says Sean. “Additionally, many people who want to eat better don’t have access to healthy foods due to socioeconomic, educational, and geographic barriers.”

Just Roots is starting from the ground up – literally – to change that. The organization offers on-site educational opportunities for those interested in learning about growing fruits and veggies in an urban setting and leading a healthier lifestyle. The farm is also open to tours, volunteers, and those who want to become community partners.

“It feels very fulfilling to do work that benefits the community and that I’m deeply energized about. It’s one of the greatest blessings of my life.”

Sean says his family history and his enthusiasm to educate others is what partly sparked this initiative.

“My grandfather lived on a farm in Ireland before he immigrated to the United States and my mom was always outside gardening when I was a kid. So I like to think that growing food is in my blood. Early on in my life, I was interested in becoming a teacher. When I moved back to Chicago, I started seeing just how disconnected people were from their food and I realized I wanted to blend my passion for education with my goal to empower people to lead healthier lives.”

Before starting Just Roots, Sean earned his bachelor’s in Secondary Education and History from Lewis and was a Men’s Baseball player for two years. He was multi-year Dean’s List student and recipient of the Brother David Delahanty award for his excellence as a student-athlete. He was also heavily involved in campus ministry programming, an activity that allowed him to cultivate his passion for community. After graduation, Sean returned to Lewis as the coordinator of social justice education in campus ministry and as an adjunct professor for undergraduate theology and sociology, leading immersion experiences and teaching The Search For Faith and Cultural Diversity before jumping on the chance to start Just Roots.

Sean is proud of the organization and the goals he and his team have accomplished, despite Just Roots being in its infancy years.

“It’s always easier to think about things we could be doing better, but if I have to choose one thing that I’m really proud of, I’d say it’s the fact that we’ve built up a really strong network of people (staff, board, volunteers) who believe in the work we’re doing and want to see us continue improving 
the lives of community members.”

Just Roots hopes to reach their goal of growing more than 10,000 pounds of food in 2019 at their south side farm. They hope to open a second farm site in the near future to spread a love of growing food and to empower others to cultivate healthy lifestyles -- and relationships.

To learn more about Sean, his team, and Just Roots visit:

Friday, January 25, 2019

Lewis Mission Moments – Jared and Jill Reynolds – Lewis Sweethearts Reunited

It wasn't the planes at Lewis that brought them together, but an aviation encounter off-campus ignited a spark between two Flyers.

As Jill was getting off her flight in Cleveland, Jared was waiting to board at the same terminal gate. Four years after graduation, fate brought them back together and the loving couple is celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary!

“I have been in love with Jared for more than half of my life!” says Jill. “I knew we were meant to be together the moment I saw him.”

After being reunited, they knew there was only one real answer as to where they should get married. With a love of Lewis and a gratefulness for what they found here, Jared and Jill decided to get married right here on the Lewis University campus. They said their vows in the Sancta Alberta Chapel on Valentine’s Day in 2004. Shortly after, they purchased a brick in the Heritage Circle outside of the chapel to commemorate their special day.

But there's more to the story than just wedding bells and fairytales. As students at Lewis, Jill worked in the library and wrote for the school newspaper, while Jared ran both Track and Field and Cross Country in addition to several hours of flying. In between all of the classes and activities, the two found time to spend together. Though they went their separate ways, their happily ever after was never too far out of reach.

“All of my professors, especially Sister Lifka, were so involved in my education. They did not just teach and usher us all on to the next class. They really took the time to get to know us and wanted to see us succeed,” says Jill. Both Jill and Jared received scholarships and other forms of financial assistance which allowed them to continue reaching their goals here at Lewis. It is something they’ve never forgotten.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in History, Jill went on to earn her MBA from the University of Memphis and now owns a project management consulting company. Jared graduated with bachelor’s degrees in both Aviation Administration and Aviation Flight Management, and is now a pilot for United Airlines. Now, they live in Tennessee with their 9-year old son. They love to travel different places and experience new adventures as a family.

And there's more. Their love has turned into a lasting legacy here at Lewis– a fairytale that will star a new student every year thanks to a scholarship they’ve created. They want to make a difference in the lives of future Flyers for generations to come – through their scholarship.

“I know a scholarship can have an impact on somebody, because it had one on me. To be able to help another student in the same way means a lot to the both of us,” Jill adds.

And maybe, just maybe, that student here on their scholarship – able to stay in school because of the financial assistance – will find their own true love in one of their classrooms, or the Den, or maybe even at an athletic game. And it will all be thanks to two people who found love, and are sharing it with the place that brought them together.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Lewis Mission Moments - Ken Houbolt '88

Fear. Doubt. Anxiety. Pretending to be something you're not, or pretending a problem doesn't exist. Hiding the truth from those you love. Avoiding social situations. Making excuses. Wondering why we can't just be "normal." 

These are just a few of the things that people with mental health issues feel on a constant basis, thanks to the stigma around such issues. We see it on the news, we read about it in health classes, but it is reaching much closer to home for most of us.

When Ken Houbolt ‘88 went to visit a family member in the hospital who was battling depression, he was shocked to see other families he knew there, including a family he had grown up with. But he wasn’t surprised when he heard every family make up a reason for being there. In fact, it seemed to be the norm to not talk (to not talk or to make excuses?) about mental health issues.

Later, as Ken was sitting in a diner, he heard a woman tell her friend that her Jimmy had just been diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. The first thing the friend said was, “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.” Ken quickly realized that there was something very wrong about how mental health was being viewed.

“People talk about democrats and republicans all day long, but not mental health,” Ken explains. “One out of four people struggle with mental health and two-thirds of them don’t get help because of the negative stigma or lack of coverage. You’ll get help for a broken arm, but not a mental health issue, which affects everything we do - including friends, family, and work.”

When Ken later had the opportunity to partner with Lewis University for an event, he immediately suggested a comedy night that would raise awareness for mental health issues and raise money to support the cause. After forming a committee of other Lewis alumni and people who were passionate about the issue, “Laugh to Create Awareness” started to take shape.

The event, set to take place on April 25, 2019 at the Beverly Arts Center, will feature three comedians: Lewis alumnus John Caponera ‘79, Joe Killgallon, and Marty Derosa, who also hosts his own podcast “Wrestling With Depression,” featuring successful people who struggle with the disease. WGN’s Mike Toomey will join as emcee.

The proceeds from the event will support a scholarship for a Lewis student in the graduate counseling program, the Center for Health and Counseling Services at Lewis, and Pillars Community Health, a nonprofit that helps individuals who have no insurance or have limited coverage for mental health issues.

The goal? Get people talking. “We’re doing the opposite of what people have been doing,” Ken explains. “Instead of keeping it inside, through comedy, we are showing an outward sign. It’s not something to make fun of, but something that we want and need to express outwardly.”

“If we can help people to come out of the event with a willingness to talk about it, and have those people say it’s okay to talk about it or be more willing to listen to others who are struggling with it, then that can spread,” adds Ken. “It can catch on and help people who struggle with mental illness and their families.”

Since Ken has made a resolution to talk about mental illness with others in his life, he has noticed a huge difference - not only for himself, but everyone he talks with. He has gotten numerous calls from other families hoping to talk about their personal or loved one’s struggles with mental health. This support and openness is ultimately what the “Laugh to Create Awareness” event is all about.

To find out more about the event, or to register, go to

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Lewis Mission Moments - Aaron Struble '18 - A Purpose-Driven Life

Aaron Struble (’18) is no stranger to difficulty. At the tender age of 11, Aaron had to become an adult in order to take care of his younger brother. When most kids were spending their time watching cartoons on a Saturday morning, Aaron was worrying about how to make a better life for his sibling. He had a purpose and he had someone to fight for – two things he would continue to search for throughout his life.

In 2007, Aaron joined the military as a medic. It was the perfect fit for him. He was already accustomed to hard work, and he found deep purpose in serving others. Over time, Aaron became in charge of a $14 million facility and managed up to 35 employees and 40 civilian staff. His position gave him something to fight for – the well-being of all who were under his care.

So, when Aaron was discharged for medical retirement in 2014, he suddenly felt like he had lost his purpose - until the first-generation college student started attending Lewis University.   

“After the military, I felt like my entire purpose was taken away from me,” Aaron recalls. “It took me a couple of years to figure out what I really wanted to do – not just what degree to pursue, but the type of human being I wanted to be. Being at Lewis helped me focus on my passion, yes, but it also helped to redefine me as a person.”

When he started at Lewis, Aaron still didn’t know what career path he could pursue that would provide him with a sense of purpose and passion again. He tried multiple degrees that fell flat. But through each transition, and with the support and advice of Lewis faculty, he learned to focus not just on the career path itself or achieving a degree, but on instilling his path with a passion for serving others.

“The goal is not a career,” Aaron explains. “The goal is to serve the public and to be of service to people. Education, for me, was never about a piece of paper; it was about finding my purpose.”

And Aaron did just that. He rediscovered his sense of purpose in life through a career in human resources. As it turns out, it’s not so different than his work in the military.

“In my job, I get to be a voice for the people,” says Aaron. “I get to be the person who stands up to the bully and says that the employee deserves certain rights. It reminds me of being a soldier and saying, ‘sleep peacefully, America. We’re going to take care of it.’ I’m still a soldier – I just wear a different uniform now.

Even with a set direction and a renewed sense of hope, the journey to the graduation stage wasn’t easy. Aaron was taking classes during the day and working full-time in the evenings, while still trying to set aside time for his wife and son. There were times when he had to work overtime and, as a result, had to miss a class.

While he received tremendous support from his wife and son, the rest of his family resented him for being the first to pursue a college degree. In fact, they ceased communication with him. Thankfully, a small “army” of Lewis faculty and staff stepped in to fill the gap, as they provided constant encouragement and direction.

“When I say that the support of Lewis meant a lot to me, I’m being 100% serious,” Aaron explains. “In addition to my wife, Lewis really was my primary support.”

With his support system beside him, Aaron graduated with his degree in human resources and took a job in Washington D.C. He has a purpose and he has people to fight for – just like he did at 11 years old. When it comes to his legacy, Aaron hopes to be an example of how to be of service to others.

“I think that it’s important to remain mindful that the measure of your life is not merely about the impact you can make on those who are close to you or on those who could possibly return the favor one day,” Aaron states. “The most meaningful impact you can attempt to make is for someone who will either never be able to repay you for the impact you have made, or who will never realize it was you who made the impact.”

Friday, September 28, 2018

Lewis Mission Moments - Christopher Kennedy '08

If you work for Lewis alumnus Christopher Kennedy (’08), you have probably heard him repeat this quote by author James Allen: “Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts, your vision, and your ideal.”

For Kennedy, the quote is a reminder of the daily choice to either remain with the status quo, or to improve and pursue something greater. As an innovator in the complex field of biotechnology and telemedicine, Kennedy daily has the choice to leave the healthcare system as it is – in many ways, elusive to patients who need help – or to pave a path for patients to receive quality care.

“A significant issue in healthcare today is that a scorecard is missing,” explains Kennedy. “As a patient, you’re not sure what inning it is or what the batting average is of the doctor that you’re working with. Performance accountability is sometimes completely missing.”

This “missing scorecard” makes it extremely difficult for patients to navigate the world of healthcare, especially patients with rare or chronic illnesses. That’s why Kennedy has made patient empowerment his goal.

As Chief Operating Officer of Heritage Biologics, Kennedy is in the business of making patient experience a measurable outcome. Heritage Biologics is, in its most basic sense, a rare disease home infusion and specialty pharmacy. But its mission is much larger. The company is constantly seeking ways to give patients a voice and connect them to the resources they need. Heritage’s RARECARE software program captures patient Quality of Life (QoL) metrics and Patient Reported Outcomes Measures (PROMs) that provide valuable insights into a patient’s journey. RARECARE also allows patients to rate their actual service experience, which helps to keep healthcare providers accountable and show them how they can improve.

A quick search of recent patient experience data will populate with countless messages that exemplify how Heritage Biologics is making a difference. “The pharmacist changed my world with the information they gave me,” says one patient. Another writes: “I can’t wait to see to see my nurse again; I look forward to it each week.”

While patient experiences at Heritage Biologics are filled with positive interactions, it is not the norm for the wider healthcare system. There is no better example of this than when Kennedy himself visited a patient in the hospital. While Kennedy sat in the room, an ER doctor told the patient that he couldn’t be admitted because his chronic condition was too much of a liability. The doctor then sent the patient away with painkillers.

The disheartening scene remains a strong reminder for Kennedy that his work is needed. Of course, Kennedy’s work goes far beyond Heritage Biologics. He is also the creator of HemoMD, an on-demand virtual care platform that enables patients with hemophilia, a rare blood disorder, to connect with specialists. Many patients only have access to a specialist physician one time a year. If the patient has an emergency, it is likely that the ER doctor has not had any interaction with hemophilia since their medical school days. HemoMD enables these doctors to gain peer-to-peer support from specialists experienced in treating the disease.

The American Telemedicine Association honored Kennedy for his work on HemoMD with the President’s Award for Innovation in Remote Healthcare, which recognizes important advances in the field of telemedicine. But Kennedy is only just getting started. His goal is to begin providing similar services for other rare disorders nationwide.

“The only way that we are going to defeat the current business approach to healthcare is through patient-centric solutions that deliver measurable outcomes,” Kennedy says. “No one holds healthcare more accountable than patients themselves. We need to empower patients and help them become more informed healthcare consumers. When consumers demand more for their dollar, the market will ultimately listen. Just ask Amazon and their current star ranking system for products. Patients deserve this type of model in healthcare too.”

Kennedy attributes Lewis for being an important stepping stone along his journey. As a student in the Master of Science in Management program and the Executive Leadership Certificate, Kennedy gained comprehensive and applicable information that he was able to implement in the workplace immediately. Throughout the program, Father Kevin Spiess provided strong mentorship and encouraged Kennedy to commit himself to learning something outside of the classroom. Kennedy took the advice to heart and began to learn web design, which later enabled him to create his own websites.

Where some see healthcare as a business to bring in profit, Kennedy sees it as a system that should be bent on helping patients have the best experience possible. Through his work at Heritage Biologics and HemoMD, he is part of a value-based healthcare discussion that is changing healthcare for the better. Kennedy is one of many Lewis alumni impacting their communities through their talents and passion. As author James Allen said, “You will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts, your vision, and your ideal.”