words by Jeanna Goodrich Balreira ’08
with contributions from Molly Mohr Bruni, Jeremy Gerlach, and Susie Gonzalez
special thanks to University Archives, the Trinitonian, and the Mirage
Four days before Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas Gulf Coast, Jon Foster ’86 was facilitating an all-hands call. It was late in the day, but the work in front of him showed no sign of letting up: He and a team of other medical professionals had to help procure 16 helicopters, five airplanes, six buses, three duck boats, 400 cots, 13 electrical generators the size of semi-trailer trucks, four diesel fuel tankers, three food trucks, 35,000 ready-to-eat meals, 118,000 bottles of water, 600 gallons of bulk water, 1,000 bags of ice, 3,000 rolls of paper towels, 1,000 sandbags… Oh, and a seven-day full supply of linens, medications, and other medical supplies for the 18 HCA hospitals in the affected areas.
All in a 24-hour day’s work?
Foster, whose normal role with Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) is president for the American Healthcare Group, had been called on to immediately switch gears. He was now second-in-command at the HCA Command Center, a part of Enterprise Emergency Operations in Nashville, Tenn. With the 24/7 job, Foster helped manage a rapid-response team of about 160 staff members who assessed ongoing needs and deployed support to areas impacted by the storm.
“A focus on safety is what drove all the decisions we made before, during, and after the storm,” Foster says, recalling the service HCA provided to roughly 10,000 employees and 10,000 patients, family members, guests, and even pets in Harvey’s wake. “In healthcare, we have the benefit of seeing every day the impact that we have on our communities.”
While Foster is only one of dozens of Trinity alumni who came to the aid of others during Hurricane Harvey (read more on page 26), we can’t help but recognize this common sentiment rings true: Trinity students, alumni, faculty, and staff tend toward an innate desire to have an impact on our communities. Foster himself chose Trinity because of its “exceptional reputation for developing healthcare leaders”—leaders who, regardless of title or role, have the “privilege of witnessing community impact” each and every day.
But what exactly is this innate desire? What is it about the Trinity experience that flips a switch in us, invites us to pause and reflect, and challenges us to act? And how do we bottle this spark, this fire, this spirit, to ensure it will be instilled in generations of Trinity students to come?
Two months after Harvey, Jessica Van Zijll ’15 found herself back on Trinity’s campus, spearheading a volunteer effort just as she’d done so many times several years before. Van Zijll, an international business major, began volunteering with TUVAC as a sophomore in 2012 and one semester later became the leader of a group of Trinitonians who tutored refugee and ESL students at Jackson Middle School. Fast forward to 2017, and Van Zijll felt a familiar sense of community in the Fiesta Room on that October afternoon, overseeing a blood drive to help victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Van Zijll has elevated her love for service into a full-time job with the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center (STBTC), where she helps find blood donors to fill blood drives for the Center.
Van Zijll says she knew Trinity students would do what they always do—show up and support the cause. What she didn’t expect was equally encouraging: So many Trinity students, faculty, and staff showed up for the drive that STBTC struggled to find the resources to process them all.
Ryan Reusch ’18, the executive coordinator for TUVAC this school year and a neuroscience major, was just as heartened. With initial slots for 40 Trinity students, 53 showed up, and 13 of them waited in line for more than an hour to give blood. “To hear that the donations would end up going to 153 patients who needed blood…” Reusch says, trailing off with a thoughtful pause, “well, I was really, really impressed with how Trinity supported the project so thoroughly.”
“I didn’t realize how much Trinity was willing to get involved,” says Noureen Morani ’18, TUVAC’s marketing and recruitment coordinator and a business analytics major. “In times of crisis, the students really did come together. It wasn’t about a Trinity bubble or a San Antonio bubble. It was just, however we can help, we want to. Even if it’s not a global reach, it’s really great to take part in the small, everyday impacts that TUVAC and Trinity students have.”
It should have come as no surprise, then, that on the afternoon of the blood drive, the Spirit of Trinity resounded. “It reminded me of how great my time was on campus [with TUVAC],” Van Zijll says, recalling her work with the Jackson Middle School students. “I was amazed every single day at how hopeful and energetic and full of spirit the kids were, even though they had gone through things that I could never imagine. Seeing their energy encouraged me to keep pursuing to give back, to see how I could help our local community and San Antonio.”
While evident in the events of the summer and fall of 2017, the Spirit of Trinity isn’t new. It was mentioned as early as the 1919 course of study bulletin, where Trinity had vowed to be a “training camp” for volunteerism in ministry and foreign service. (Trinity would later go on to have a graduate serve in Crossroads Africa, the forerunner to the U.S. Peace Corps, and has since had more than 175 Peace Corps volunteers… but that’s a different story, one you can read more about in the Summer 2016 issue of Trinity magazine.) In 1923, Trinity participated in the Student Volunteer Convention in Indianapolis, where three Trinitonians contributed to conversations about Christian students and world problems. The 1920s and ’30s saw an increase in Life Work Recruits, an organization composed of students who planned to give full-time service to Christian endeavors. From World War I through the Great Depression, the Trinity spirit made an impact.
If Monroe G. Everett, president of the University from 1942-50, had his way, the Spirit of Trinity also would never grow old. Everett, a Presbyterian minister with significant denominational recognition, oversaw Trinity’s move from Waxahachie to San Antonio. Facing the daunting task of relocating the campus as well as integrating with the University of San Antonio, Everett facilitated community service activities, both on and off campus, so students and faculty could bond. With the U.S. in the midst of World War II, campus-wide clean-up days were flanked by calls to donate blood, write letters, and serve as volunteers in local U.S.O. canteens.
Everett saw something in these service activities, something strong enough to put words to, to share with the Trinity community. In 1946, he wrote to the Trinitonian outlining his goals for the institution. Goal number one? Instilling the Spirit of Trinity.
“There are a large number of new students coming to the campus who are to be assimilated into the Trinity family and imbued with the Trinity spirit,” Everett wrote. “Trinity University is not just a group of buildings with classrooms, laboratories, students, and teachers. Trinity is a spirit, a power establishing certain attitudes towards each other, a definite philosophy of life, and a motive for service. It is intangible, but very real. If the older students have the Trinity spirit, new ones will catch it and they in turn will pass it on to others. The Trinity spirit is the most vital and powerful factor in the institution.”
By the end of the year, the Trinity spirit had sparked the creation of the Delta Pi chapter of Alpha Phi Omega (APO), the service fraternity whose mission was to “perform services for the university, community, nation, and the fraternity.” Over the next two decades, other Greek organizations began to place increased emphasis on the service aspects of their missions. The SPURS sponsored campus collections for the World University Service organization and worked once a month for the Volunteer Service Bureau, and Delta Kappa Phi provided assistance at Brooke Army Medical Center and collected teaching aids for the Mission Road School. These were among several other fraternity and sorority service projects.
But it was the Chi Delta Tau fraternity that inspired Trinity’s most concrete dedication to community service to date. In 1964, the fraternity organized a study hall program for African-American students at the Sutton Housing Project on San Antonio’s East Side. The student association was so impressed by the project’s results, they initiated a campus-wide Community Service Program a year later. Led by Bruce Kuenzli ’67 and David Earle ’69, the Program was designed to “give Trinity students the opportunity to participate in community affairs.” Four San Antonio organizations benefited from the Program that year: the House of Neighborly Services, where students could participate in everything from creative dramatics to auto mechanics to charm classes; the Brooke Army Medical Center at Ft. Sam Houston, where students helped provide relief from the monotony of a hospital for long-term patients; the Ella Austin Orphanage, where students tutored 20 elementary school children; and the Children’s Service Bureau, where students took small children on trips, picnics, and to the park.
The Community Service Program was an instant success. By 1967, more than 200 students were actively involved in ten different service projects in San Antonio. “The university student of today is caught in an electronic age where the world has become a village,” Earle told the Trinitonian in September 1967 (the irony is not lost on us). “The war in Vietnam, the riots in Detroit, and the poverty in the Rio Grande Valley are very much a part of our lives as students and very much a part of the lives of the people of San Antonio… The Community Service Program brings the student an awareness of the human predicament and the needs of other people and himself.”
The Program expanded into this world-village by adopting two national activities in 1972, “Project Find” and the Chicano Identity Program. At home in San Antonio, Program community service chair Louise Locker ’71 became known as “Elf Louise” after beginning a volunteer program to purchase toys for needy children from their wish lists to Santa (read more about Locker on page 56). Additionally, a vanguard of Trinitonians enlisted in Crossroads Africa and the Peace Corps; by 2001, Trinity had produced more volunteers for the organization than any other college or university in South Texas. Don Williams ’69, a member of the Community Service Program in the late ’60s, told the Mirage that “the group has helped the spirit of the community.”
This spirit continued to flourish through the 1970s, marked by the transformation of the Community Service Program into the Trinity University Voluntary Action Coordinating (TUVAC) Board under the leadership of Rex Smith ’74 and Anne Shuttee ’76. Though it has been through a few name changes—to the Trinity University Volunteer Action Center in the late ’70s, to the Trinity University Volunteer Action Committee in the ’90s, and finally to the Trinity University Volunteer Action Community in 2005—TUVAC’s mission has remained true to its roots: to connect volunteers to community service programs, to bridge the social gap between Trinity University and the greater San Antonio community, and to raise awareness of issues pertaining to social responsibility so that Trinity students may become better informed citizens of their university, community, and world.
For more than four decades, TUVAC has continued to facilitate service opportunities both on and off campus. Having undergone an organizational shift in the late ’80s, spurred by then-director Klee Michaelis ’87, TUVAC also aimed to create “a better feeling of fraternity with the volunteers.” A way to bond with other Trinity students and with the San Antonio community, service projects expanded to include group work utilizing any talents and any abilities.
While TUVAC continues to be one of the main sources for community service involvement on campus, students, faculty, staff, and alumni have invoked the Spirit of Trinity in additional ways. In 1989, the University held its inaugural Volunteer Awareness Week, an opportunity to “get students to help out the community in ways TUVAC can’t always do,” Jeff Mandell ’97 told the 1997 Mirage.
In 1992, Elizabeth Schexnailder ’94 launched Trinity’s chapter of Alternative Spring Break. Billed as “The Toughest Spring Break You’ll Ever Love,” the first Alternative Spring Break program featured four excursions designed to provide volunteer aid to economically depressed communities in Mexico, Colorado, Louisiana, and Utah. Now called “Tiger Breaks,” the alternative break trips continue to be a Trinity tradition, with recent trips to Dominica and New Orleans.
Service was added as an optional component to New Student Orientation in 2001 with the first year of the Plunge, a five-day pre-orientation mission event designed to introduce Trinity students to San Antonio through community service. In faith and fellowship, Plunge participants actively engage in volunteerism as well as mentorship and leadership roles. Past projects have included building wheelchair ramps for housing accessibility as well as serving meals and engaging in conversation at the Catholic Worker House. “It has been a really good experience. It’s important for students to get into the community,” Clare Parry ’03 told the Trinitonian in August 2001 of the first Plunge project, assisting at the House of Neighborly Service. “It’s a world that’s very different from Trinity but very close by.”
Now, in addition to taking the Plunge, all students are encouraged to participate in community service through a class-wide New Student Orientation (NSO) service project. Beginning in 2014 with a partnership with the San Antonio Food Bank, Trinity students have turned out in record numbers to bag after-school care packages for hungry children, pair bone marrow donors with patient matches, and renovate homes and nonprofits off campus.
If participating in that first service project sparks the Spirit of Trinity, students may sign up to live in HOPE Hall, a living-learning residence hall community formed in 2012 by Katie Ogawa ’14. Looking for a way to extend service beyond APO and TUVAC, Ogawa told the 2012 Mirage that she was encouraged to “focus the Hall on something its residents were passionate about, and what I’m passionate about is homelessness.” HOPE stands for Homelessness Outreach Pursuing Education, and it continues to do just that: In 2017-18, the Hall housed 70 students from all class years, up from 34 at its conception. Residents have logged an average of 3,500 service hours per year.
And while most students will maintain they weren’t in it for the recognition, Trinity has honored students and alumni for dedication to community service. Perhaps the most notable, the Spirit of Trinity award is given to loyal alumni who embody what it means to be a Trinitonian and who have given exceptional service to the community through volunteer and professional organizations. First given in 2002 to John H. Moore III ’60, former chair of Trinity’s Department of Education and longtime community supporter, the award has also been bestowed upon Jim Potter ’63, ’67 and Glenna McCord ’47, among others. Additionally, the Trinity University Alumni Association honors one to four graduating seniors each year with the Heart of Trinity awards for service to the University and service to the community.
The University itself has also been honored, earning eight consecutive years of placement on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, which recognizes institutions that support exemplary service programs and raise the visibility of effective practices in campus-community partnerships.
“Whether through co-curricular experiences, curricular experiences, or any other number of opportunities, community service becomes a way of life,” says Scott Brown, TUVAC adviser and assistant director of experiential learning (read more about Brown on page 46). “Getting involved in the community is the seed; we plant it here, and then it blossoms when students leave Trinity.”
"It's fun to watch them blossom,” says Sheryl Tynes, vice president for Student Life. Tynes, a sociology professor who started at Trinity in 1988, says she’s had “a very long time to see how students have come to Trinity with the sparks of a fire in their bellies and leave with it still ignited.”
Tynes harkens back to mentors as early as Earl Lewis, the founding father of Trinity’s urban studies program in 1968, up to Christine Drennon, the urban studies professor who assigns her introductory-level students to take bus lines around the city in order to experience it from a different viewpoint. “Our students go out into the community. We encourage that; we’ve always encouraged that. We’ve always been an institution engaged with the urban core [of San Antonio] and cared about urban diversity,” Tynes says, “and I’ve always been proud that TUVAC is our largest student organization and that they log thousands of hours in the community each year.”
“People want to feel like they’re making a difference, like they’re taking care of themselves and the planet,” Tynes says. “Our students seem especially hardwired that way… or if they’re not, their game is upped by their peers and what they see around them. How can you not have a fire lit under you by those who are saying, ‘I need to do something big’?”
Tynes cites Trinity’s summer bridge program and the Plunge as two of those “somethings big.” Designed to welcome new students from underrepresented populations, the summer bridge introduces resources that are available to make a difference in the transition to being a student at Trinity. Along with the Plunge, these programs orient new students through service. “With these kinds of programs,” Tynes says, “we affirm that we value a deep connection with these communities, not a superficial one.”
The Rev. Stephen Nickle, Trinity University chaplain and leader of the Plunge, sees this deep connection having a profound impact on a student’s college experience. “Trinity students come to this campus and encounter something bigger than what they’ve known before,” he says. “There’s not one Trinity experience, there are hundreds of different ones. I’ve heard people tell stories of the place, the experience, the relationships, this teacher, that chaplain—even in the tiny ways, these had a life-shifting impact.”
Each unique college experience, Nickle says, is a time for students to reflect on what they’ve been called to do. Nickle references the “terrific Frederick Buechner quote”: The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. “People want to have a sense of purpose and mission, and yet when they come to college, they don’t yet know what that looks like. I barely know what that looks like at age 57!” Nickle says with a laugh. “So part of what we’re cultivating is an awareness of that process. Being in the context of service initiatives invites you to realize, ‘I’ve got something to give, even just for this day or this meal; I’m doing something that’s impacting the community, the world, God’s creation.’”
Reflection is an essential component in service learning, Nickle says; Scott Brown and Tynes agree. Champions of service learning cite the importance of reflection in fully digesting an experience or undertaking, and they see it as a bridge connecting service to learning. Nickle adds that reflection also significantly enhances ties to faith for those who seek it. “There’s something kind of recalibrating about engaging in service, both reflectively and across time, that invites us into the presence of God in powerful ways,” he says. “Something you will almost universally hear on reflection is that students will say, ‘I got so much more than I gave. In this experience of giving back, I’ve been given, and given, and given…’”
Giving. It’s at the heart of the Spirit of Trinity, and at the heart of our Presbyterian roots. The Rev. Raymond Judd ’56, Presbyterian minister and University chaplain from 1967-99, says our roots create an atmosphere of giving, of doing, of helping, of providing for someone. Judd and his wife, Mary Jane ’57, are quick to cite examples where giving back transcends time, money, and service. The Trinity University Women’s Club, of which Mary Jane is an active member, has given scholarships and engaged in community service for more than 75 years; the Raymond Judd Student Emergency Fund was created to assist Trinity students who encounter an unforeseen financial emergency or catastrophic event. With more than 280 scholarships and more than 580 individual endowment funds, the University has made it a priority to ensure all Trinity students’ needs are met—especially when they need it the most.
“The giving spirit is among us,” Judd says, “and that is a very positive thing to emphasize right now” in a period where we could just dwell on tragedies. Judd says “the sky’s the limit” in terms of where people can serve and help; the role of a college education is to ensure “that view gets bigger and bigger, because the possibilities are endless where we can plug in.”
He points out that “Parker Chapel is right there in the middle of campus, and it’s a reminder of our roots. Our roots go deep, and within those roots—if the roots have been doing what they’re supposed to do—a call to service.”
Judd says this call to service has been instilled from the beginning in Presbyterian education. Many Presbyterian colleges were established with the liberal arts at their core, their founders striving to think past narrow views. When asked if going to college raises one’s perception of the world, Judd responds: “If it doesn’t, you’re in the wrong college.”
Years ago, Raymond Judd saw a quote by journalist Sydney J. Harris on a billboard while driving down the highway: The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.
The reverend thinks about this sentiment still to this day. “I love that because I think about when we were students, how much we were thinking about ourselves and what we were going to do, and what we were going to major in, and what we were going to study. It was a mirrored world that we were in,” Judd says. “But the purpose of our college education was to open us to the world and to the service of the world. That is what’s been in the very backbone of Trinity all these years.”
Judd calls out names of people who, spanning ten decades, give concrete examples of a somewhat abstract concept. Trinity people are making a huge difference in the world, and Judd recalls stories that have made an impact on him: Everett King, class of 1920, who saw his friend Carlton Winn, class of 1922, in need of financial assistance and came to his aid; Winn, who in turn left Trinity the money for a new residence hall in King’s honor and paid individual students’ tuition bills; Stephen Curry ’84, a pastor who has turned tragedy into helping people in the wake of the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas; Daniel Lubetzky ’90, founder of KIND, who did so in the ethos of health and wellness; Ron Nirenberg ’99, mayor of San Antonio and a personal friend of the Judds, who became mayor “not for the money but because he has a burning desire to help the city.”
“It’s part of the Spirit of Trinity, the spirit of being a Tiger, that we’re out there to help,” Judd says with a smile.
Mary Jane adds, “I’ve always felt that if you have an opportunity to learn, you can’t help but see the needs in the world if your eyes and your heart are open...”
“...And that’s why I feel so strongly that the whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows,” Judd adds. “I love that my mind dwells upon that. That is the Spirit of Trinity. And that spirit is alive and well.”