Dollars and change

During the last Republican presidential debate, candidate Dr. Ben Carson made an interesting observation. Challenged on his proposal for a flat tax, he addressed the contention of some who say that without a tax break philanthropy would dry up. Not true, he said, because people who give will always give because they are generous.

If one believes the definition of philanthropy: “goodwill to fellowmen, especially active effort to promote human welfare,”* then Dr. Carson is right.

People who give do so because it means something. It creates positive change. It makes us all better. And when the good will of philanthropists intersects with the enormous changes that education can wrought, wonderful things happen.

Showker-2That’s what philanthropists and JMU alumni Joe (’79) and Debbie (’78) Showker believe. For decades, the Showkers have poured their lives into their students, as middle-school and elementary-school teachers. They have also helped myriad departments and organizations throughout James Madison University, affirming their commitment to the change that education brings.

It’s a lesson they learned well from Joe’s father, the late Zane Showker — a man grateful for his own success who believed that he had a moral obligation to make his community a better place. He, like Joe and Debbie after him, did that indeed.

A simple gift of philanthropy can have untold impacts, but one thing is absolutely certain: An investment in education creates an ROI that is priceless.

Let’s cite just two examples: The Challace McMillin Center for Sport Psychology, which the Showkers generously supported, focuses on the psychology of sport and helping athletes maximize their performance both on and off the field. It also provides a laboratory experience for psychology students who are able to work with athletes and coaches. The center promotes success in the classroom and in their chosen arenas of competition — and later in their careers. Extending the reach even further, the center has a huge outreach in the community through local youth and high school sports mentorships.

More recently, for the Alison Parker Memorial, established to honor the young reporter tragically killed earlier this year, the Showkers stepped up with a matching gift to spur others to give to a scholarship fund that will prepare students who will venture into the world with the same integrity, enthusiasm and talent that Alison lived.

Philanthropists like the Showkers — who want to do more than sit back and watch change — actively, regularly and repeatedly invest in the future of their communities, in students, and in worthy programs. They invest in lives with their sustained philanthropy — and those lives can touch the ends of the earth.

*Miriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, eleventh edition

“A day I’ll never forget…”

In 2011, James Madison University students experienced an earthquake. This fall there was another — of a decidedly different variety. But this time around the seismic impact was even greater when ESPN’s College GameDay was broadcast from the Quad. Marketing and communications intern, Rachel Petty (’17) was there. For today’s blog, she describes how the whole event reflected what it means to be a JMU Duke.

College GameDay Brought JMU Together and Embodied Our Spirit

By Rachel Petty (’17)

Hundreds of signs, purple and gold streamers and spirited students, faculty and alumni fill the quad. Chants of “J-M-U, J-M-U, J-M-U” are heard from all around. ESPN’s College GameDay hosts take the stage, and the crowd erupts.

College GameDay is a day I’ll never forget. The JMU community had the opportunity to show everyone what we’re really all about.

A sea of Dukes, savoring College GameDay

A sea of Dukes, savoring College GameDay

JMU students have such pride and spirit that we were truly able to exhibit on Saturday. Everyone was decked out in purple and gold, holding signs and cheering for our school.

The GameDay atmosphere was truly an embodiment of JMU—thousands of students attended the event, some having camped out all night.

JMU students are the perfect example of “work hard, play hard.” While we take academics seriously, there was no hesitation in putting our all into GameDay and Homecoming.

The excitement didn’t end when the broadcast ended—after tailgating, I stood in the sold-out stadium, surrounded by a sea of purple. It was packed for the football game from start to finish, and I could feel the energy in the air—signs, pom-poms and streamers contributed to the overwhelming support the fans provided for the Dukes.

Even though the game didn’t turn out how we would have liked it to [JMU lost to in-state rival Richmond], we cheered until the end and showed the team that we truly do care.

Rachel Petty ('17) on the right at GameDay

Rachel Petty (’17) on the right at GameDay

GameDay was the perfect opportunity for JMU to come together. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., campus was filled with students, faculty and alumni who love JMU and are proud to be Dukes.

Win or lose, the overwhelming spirit and atmosphere there was on Saturday made it a day that I’ll surely never forget.

Dukes from day one, alumni for life.

To see much more of the JMU GameDay coverage, check out these links:

[Photos provided by Rachel Petty ’17]

GameDay and change

The Dukes take the field; photo by Ashley Grisham ('13)

The Dukes take the field; photo by Ashley Grisham (’13)

Sometimes the stars align.

That seems to be happening this weekend at JMU:

  • An undefeated Dukes football team (7-0)
  • playing an in-state rival in a sold-out Homecoming game
  • against the backdrop of ESPN’s College GameDay broadcasting from campus
  • during the peak of the Shenandoah Valley’s fall color
  • with a perfect blue-sky autumn day forecast for Saturday

Yep, sometimes the stars align.



JMU Spirit is sparkling this week, and the excitement on campus is palpable.

Right now the Quad is filled with four tractor trailers that — like transformers — are unfolding to form the set of College GameDay in front of Wilson Hall. JMU’s able Facilities Management team is doing what they do best: getting ready to host big crowds.

Students and alumni are psyched — from coast to coast. One of my colleagues called his grandmother who lives out of state on her birthday. Her first words were, “What’s this I hear about GameDay coming to JMU?”

It’s a big deal because JMU is taking the national stage for something that is overwhelmingly positive. It is a priceless opportunity for JMU to showcase its beautiful campus and remarkable spirit in front of a national TV audience.

Duke Spirit.

Harrisonburg is in on it, too. Today’s Daily News-Record featured a large, pull out tabloid cartoon (suitable for hanging) of the GameDay crew. Cartoonist and JMU alumnus John Rose (‘86) added this ominous warning to University of Richmond fans —

Every Spider Panic Now.

Hotels and restaurants are gearing up for an influx of alumni, fans and friends. Many returning Dukes will be astonished at the variety of interesting downtown shops and restaurants that have sprung up in the ’Burg, including a dizzying array of ethnic cuisines from Cuban to Indian to Irish — Middle Eastern, German, Korean and more. The full list is downright impressive.

If nothing else, this Homecoming showcases JMU’s ability to rally, to get ready, to temporarily set aside the mundane for a day or so to have some fun.

Sometimes change comes in the form of an unexpected opportunity, and what change results from all the hoopla surrounding GameDay is yet to be seen. Aside from ruts in the Quad, an exhausted Facilities Management staff, happy alumni, and —hopefully — a football victory, new memories and new impressions of the university will form this weekend. Millions of people across the country who have never heard of James Madison University will get to know us — on a campus, in a valley, on an October day, in an arena that is hard to beat.

It is a chance for change that few have. JMU and Harrisonburg intend to make the most of this week — when the stars have aligned just for us.

To see much more about GameDay, the excitement on campus, and a lot of fun videos, check out these JMU and Harrisonburg Facebook pages:


Hope for autism

Hands down, the best part of my job is meeting interesting people. Such was the case last March when I began exploring the world of autism that swirls through JMU — a story that grew bigger and better with each person I met. Every one led me to another until — a dozen interviews later — I had a picture of an amazing community.

But, first, let me back up… Eight years ago, during the university’s centennial celebration, I met a man I remembered as “Robert.” He was new to the JMU community and handled the plethora of signage for our yearlong celebration. At the time, Robert said he and his family had  moved to the Valley, seeking services for two sons who were diagnosed with autism. I’m not sure why his name stuck in my head, but it did. So last spring when the communications team decided to explore autism for an upcoming issue of Madison magazine, I called Robert — not knowing if he would even be willing to talk to me.

Fortunately, he was. In fact, Robert Weese was eager to talk. He and his family had discovered here in the Valley an invaluable network of support. I asked him what he hoped would come from telling his story. His answer was succinct: “Education,” he said. “Education is the key.” People need to be educated, so they understand individuals with autism, their strengths and their challenges.

Several years ago, I glimpsed the impact of education on autism when I interviewed Gay Finlayson. Decades before, she had searched far and wide to understand her daughter. It wasn’t until she brought her to JMU’s Early Childhood Development Center that she learned her daughter had autism. Gay’s story is emblematic: The more people I talked to, the more I realized that when the needs of the autism community join with the abilities and potentialities of higher education everyone benefits.

Garrett, Robert and Laurie Weese

Garrett, Robert and Laurie Weese

A personal journey

In my mind, Robert Weese and his wife Laurie are heroes, although they would both say their three sons — Nathan, Garrett, and Connor — are the real heroes. Robert has become an  advocate for autism — and perhaps most importantly — he’s become a person autism families seek out for direction. Laurie, too, has met the challenge. In addition to doing — as Robert describes —“an ungodly amount of research” to help her own family, she earned a master’s degree in counseling in hopes of helping others as well. Like her husband, Laurie is eager to educate people about autism.

In exploring this story, I met Trevor Stokes, a professor of graduate psychology with a charming Australian accent and a bent for explaining complex issues. He took me down the road that so many autism parents have traveled and explained how his field, Applied Behavioral Analysis, has improved the future for many. He told me about JMU’s innovative Inter-professional Autism Clinic that marries ABA with Occupational Therapy and with Speech and Language Pathology into an innovative and collaborative therapy that benefits children with autism, but also benefits their parents and JMU students as well.

I explored the role that JMU’s College of Education plays. Keri Bethune, coordinator of JMU’s autism certificate program, explained how JMU students learn through interacting with students in local classrooms — and vice versa. Keri, herself, spends countless hours in local schools directing, advising and assisting JMU students and local teachers in becoming more and more adept at what they do.

And then there was Scott Hand, director of pupil personnel services for Rockingham County Public Schools. Scott’s supervisory role not only links local families and schools to state services, but he, personally, took the time 8 years ago to introduce the Weese family to local schools.

233225 Autism Clinic-1082Through JMU’s Institute for Health and Human Services — a compassionate giant in the valley —the Weeses and other families also have the opportunity to work with professionals like Liz Richardson, occupational therapist, and Marsha Longerbeam, speech and language pathologist. Not only do they work independently and with IPAC, Liz and Marsha run a summer camp for children with autism. Liz and Marsha, like many JMU faculty, also have professional private practices, increasing the opportunities for local families to find help. Briana Priester’s Studio B for Living LLC is another. She is an instructor in the School of Music and a licensed music therapist who has worked with Garrett Weese, helping his language skills through music.

Families like the Weeses are extraordinary — and also ordinary, as I learned from JMU student Allison Lindsey, who has grown up with two siblings diagnosed with autism. In Allison I found an amazing capacity to see people with autism as valuable individuals and to meet their needs with a remarkable selflessness and compassion. I saw the same kind of caring in senior health sciences major, Carly Delaney, who has worked with Garrett Weese for multiple years as a student volunteer. She adores Garrett and the affection is returned in kind. Carly is one of many students who volunteer with these special children and young adults.

Then there was Debi Kipps-Vaughan, a licensed clinical psychologist and faculty member in graduate psychology. More than a year ago, when Julie Strunk, professor of nursing, approached her with the observation that local autism families needed extra support, Kipps-Vaughan knew exactly what to do. She and Strunk teamed up to form a support group for families with adolescents with autism. 233225 Autism Clinic-1074Every person I talked to gave me one more strand of a loosely tied and highly adaptable network of services and opportunities.

A few weeks ago, in talking with Robert Weese again, I learned about yet another: an utility locator in the Facilities management named Jack Martin, who runs a baseball league for disabled children.

Two of my favorite interviews were with Micah Hodges and Ted Aronson, JMU seniors who have autism. Their personal stories and the insight I gained into the challenges that older students face were as interesting as they were inspiring. I also met Brett Tjaden, professor of computer science, who volunteers to advise enrolled students like Micah and Ted. I learned more about young adults with autism from Matt Trybus, assistant director of disability services. His understanding of disabilities like autism offers valuable support to students like Micah and Ted. If there is an incubator of caring that pervades the Madison community and spills generously out into the local community, I found it in the autism community. As a writer, it was an amazing journey. There is no doubt that all of these individuals epitomize the very best of what it means to Be the Change.

To read the full story, “Hope for Autism” go to this link on the JMU website:

If you haven’t watched the video embedded above, scroll back! My colleagues Chris Meyers, Mike Miriello and Justin Roth did an amazing job telling JMU’s autism story.

And if you’d like to learn more about what it’s like to be a college student with autism, read “Micah and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” here:

Biking for change

11707408_10206469400709164_8398608759566348462_nThree JMU Dukes participated in a cross-country bike ride to raise funds and awareness for the Ulman Cancer Fund. Today JMU communications intern Rachel Petty (’17) tells their story…..

Biking for Change

By Rachel Petty (’17)

Tornadoes, blown out tires and skinned knees didn’t stop three JMU Dukes from biking over 4000 miles from Baltimore to Portland, Oregon, as part of the Ulman Cancer Fund’s 4K for Cancer program.

Lizzy Powell, a 2015 alumna, along with Hannah Kotarski (’16) and Jessie Axsom (’16), both current seniors, departed for their 70-day journey on May 31 from the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. The girls each had their own motives for going, but their collective perseverance and compassion — two of 4K for Cancer’s core values — guided them through this trek across the United States.

Hannah, Lizzy, and Jessie along the road during their 4,000 mile journey

Hannah, Lizzy, and Jessie along the road during their 4,000 mile journey

“I’m biking across the country this summer to convey this sense of community to those currently battling cancer,” Lizzy said before her ride. “I want to bring hope to all the different people we meet, share their stories and ride in their honor.” The Ulman Cancer Fund’s main goal is to create a community of support for young adults and their loved ones as they fight cancer and embrace survivorship.

Too many young adults are diagnosed with cancer and may feel lost, isolated or hopeless. “Those affected whether the patient, family member, or friend, should not have to go through the challenge alone,” Hannah said.

Through visiting hospitals, taking part in community events and giving awareness presentations, the girls provided a shoulder to lean on for many cancer patients.

“I, as well as most of my peers, have had friends, family, and teammates whose lives have been destroyed by cancer,” Jessie shared. “In the wake of this destruction, however, I have also witnessed incredible examples of hope, strength, faith and bravery.”

The continuous growth of that hope and bravery is vital in a support network. While facing challenges of their own, the girls were able to foster that growth and truly make a difference in the lives of young adults and other cancer patients across the country.

The girls began their typical days at about 4 a.m. and shared the names of the people who their rides would be dedicated to that day. The names of those people guided them through whatever hardships they would face that day, including darkness, rain and brutally cold temperatures.

visiting_cancer_patient“These kids truly endured many trials and challenges on this trip,” said Theresa Garrison, Lizzy’s aunt and a JMU employee. “Bike wrecks, broken bikes, skinned knees, saddle sores, exhaustion, nowhere to sleep, no food, no shower, lightening, pouring rain and uphill uphill uphill climbs – these are just a few of the challenges they had to deal with.” There was even a day that the group could not bike into Des Moines, Iowa, since tornados and hail were in the area.

In addition to the difficulties they faced, the girls also had some extremely satisfying moments. “On the flip side – there is the reward – visiting cancer patients, handing out scholarships to cancer patients, meeting many new people along the way, seeing the beautiful country and being part of a team,” Theresa adds.

When the girls rode into Washington Park in Portland, Oregon, to end their trip on August 8, they were overcome with emotions. “Although we were all excited to see our families waiting for us in Washington Park, none of us was ready for the trip to be over,” Jessie said. “I think if given the opportunity most of us would have chosen to keep biking. So it was a very weird mix of excitement and accomplishment, but also sadness and anxiety.”

The girls will recall the memories they made and the people they impacted for a lifetime. “One really cool aspect of our trip was that every time we would stop on the side of a road for a break or at a gas station to get coffee, strangers would ask who we were and what we were doing,” Hannah said. “After we told them our story, they had nothing but more questions and [wanted] to tell us about their own personal cancer stories. People would ask us to ride for their friends and family and would give us monetary donations to keep us going.”

Cancer may live on, but these three Dukes proved that it doesn’t have to take over a person’s life. “I wanted to inspire and help those facing this lifelong journey with cancer as we embarked on ours,” Lizzy said.

And that’s exactly what they did.

4kforcancer_JMU[2]“As one of my teammates said, when we dipped our tires in the Pacific together we knew we would never be the same,” Lizzy added. “The sights we saw and more importantly the people we met along the way were what made it the epic journey that it was.”

Rachel Petty (’17) is a junior Media Arts & Design major from Oakland, New Jersey. She is striving to become a journalist for either print or online media and is currently working as a Public Affairs Intern for JMU. In her free time, Rachel enjoys reading, writing, and traveling.

Finding a rational mind is hard

Sarah Bowles Stacy ('85M) calls it a "privilege" to serve her community's homeless.

Sarah Bowles Stacy (’85M) calls it a “privilege” to serve her community’s homeless.

For more than a year, I’ve been trying to get to one story about a friend with a heart of compassion for the homeless. I wanted to tell her story because she is living what it means to Be the Change. And she’s doing it by giving the best of who she is. She’s one of the smartest women I know — and talented. She’s moved a hospital — lock stock and barrel. She learned Italian when she and her family lived abroad during her husband’s military deployment  — that, after mastering Spanish. She did all this while raising two daughters and moving extensively. Sarah Bowles Stacy (’85M), a graduate of JMU’s Master of Public Administration program, left a corporate career to engage with her heart-call to serve her neighbors experiencing homelessness in 2010. Since then she has journeyed with an amazing team of advocates as they serve in the Resource Advocate Program and Winter Shelter at Springs Rescue Mission. She gets her daily inspiration and courage from amazing people who live, love and persevere in spite of facing mental illness, addiction and homelessness.

SRM, as it is called, is a faith-based mission that serves 27,000 families living below the poverty level in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado.

Recently, a blog post by Sarah popped up in my Facebook feed. The title was intriguing: Why don’t they just get a job? Have you ever wondered that? As I suspected, the answer is not simple. Sarah’s post, shared here with permission, will tell you why, and it will give you some insight into the complexities and challenges facing the homeless among us.

Why don’t they just get a job?

by Sarah Stacy (’85M)

20150203_gc_0212The annual census of people experiencing homelessness in our area has just been released, and the numbers are sobering. One cold night in January 2015 there were 243 people who slept outside. 243 people had no roof over their heads in spite of our community’s 200 emergency shelter beds. Every bed was full on that one cold night in January. That same night, a total of over 1000 people reported being homeless in El Paso County – they had no fixed place to live.

For many of you, that begs the question, “Why don’t they just get a job?” A job would change everything. Yes, a good job would change everything, but the journey to a job is a long one with lots of obstacles for my neighbors who are living outside.

You see, to get a job a person needs to be in their right mind. A rational mind that can interact appropriately, that can make sound decisions and that has the ability to learn new skills. The trouble is, finding a rational mind in the homeless camps is a hard thing to do. Survival and crisis activities move the function of the brain literally from the rational part to another part where everything becomes reactive so that they can simply stay alive.

How Survivor Mentality Affects Behavior

There are different theories to the science about how a brain functions, but most experts agree that our brains work very differently in crisis than they do in rational-thought mode. And that “survival mentality” really creates a physical difference in the function of the brain.
Matt Bennett of Coldspring Center writes in a recent blog post:

“Existing in highly stressful or traumatic settings, energy is directed towards survival reactions and not strategic thinking. This furthers the damage that traumatic stress and addiction cause on the biological functioning of the brain.”

In other words, we can get stuck in a crisis thought pattern, not operating under the rational thinking part of our brain. But all is not lost. Bennet goes on to describe the role of the Mentor, who dives into the darkness to help a fellow human emerge into their “right mind.”

A Beacon In the Dark

20150203_gc_0960That is exactly what the Advocates at the Resource Advocate Program do. They dive in, examine and sit with our guests in the midst of their trauma. They counsel and walk the journey with our friends who are living in the crisis of no housing. Willingly. They listen, they begin to understand, they grieve and they help develop a plan for the guest to emerge with right thinking. And sometimes, that journey leads to a fuller life. A sober life, with benefits and housing and possibly even the right job!

This month our friend “RS” got a part-time job and entered a program offered at the Pikes Peak Workforce Center that will further his career skills and education. Thanks to that program, he will be starting college next month. With frequent illness and the frustrations of living on the street, those things were not easy to accomplish. RS would literally have been unable to complete all the steps without the patient assistance of a compassionate Advocate.

Get a job? So much easier said than done when you live outside and your brain is stuck in survival or crisis mode. But the Advocates at RAP understand the challenges and are here to walk with our friends, connecting them to the resources that enable life transformation.

If you’d like to be a part of the team that makes this change possible for our homeless neighbors, please contact the Springs Rescue Mission Volunteer Coordinator and register for our next volunteer orientation.

To learn more about the Springs Rescue Mission, visit their website here:  (And don’t miss the Stories of Hope!)
You can also learn much more about the complicated and often heartbreaking issues of homelessness on SRMs’ blog  here:
(Photos courtesy of Springs Rescue Mission)


The gift that Nasaruni brings

In the second blog post about JMU’s involvement with the Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls, a professor looks at the impact of an international collaboration. (To read part one, click here.) 

How working with Nasaruni and Moses Sayo has impacted JMU students … and me as a professor

By Dr. Michelle Cude, associate professor of middle, secondary and mathematics education at JMU and executive director of the Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls

True education, according to Paulo Freire, teaches us to “deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”* Participating in transforming the world is precisely the call for the social studies education students in my methods classes. Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls gives us the opportunity to make that a reality.

Michelle Cude and students of the Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls

Michelle Cude and students of the Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls

Future social studies educators need to develop a global mindset which includes more than just a wider view of the world map. It involves active engagement with those who live on the other side of the globe and have far fewer opportunities than we do here in America. I call on my students to embrace the calling of globalizing their profession, and being the change they want to see in the world. . . something we hear a lot about here at JMU, but don’t always know what to do about it.

Specifically, JMU’s Future Social Studies Educators (FSSE), a student organization on campus to which many of these students belong, has adopted Nasaruni Academy as one of its official philanthropies. The officers, especially, work on T-shirt sales and other fundraising events to raise both money for the school and awareness of the need for girls’ education internationally. The latter is particularly near to the heart of some who help sponsor the “Girl Rising” film showings at Grafton-Stovall Theatre. This film, a production of Ten Times Ten and other partners, highlights the stories of girls in several international settings who struggle to gain even a small chance of an education. For JMU students (often a packed theater full), this is a truly eye-opening look outside of the JMU bubble in a dramatic way. Those who attend the film and want to help make education possible in one small Maasai community in Kenya often donate to our cause. These funds have helped to buy windows for the new classroom, as well as new desks.

Michelle Cude with colleagues, including Bishop Moses Sayo (far left) and Alice Sayo (far right)

Michelle Cude with colleagues, including Bishop Moses Sayo (far left) and Alice Sayo (far right)

Students in MSSE 470: Methods of Teaching Social Studies soon find out that this is not the normal class where you sit and take notes on lectures. Instead, I engage my students in active ways both in the local community through Skyline Literacy citizenship training and through the global impact of Nasaruni Academy. Moses Sayo came as a guest speaker to my methods class this past semester. He was able to personally open the students’ eyes to the harsh realities Maasai girls face for their bleak future without education and hope. Students then engaged with me in deep discussion about the ethical side to working for transformation in a culture so far from their own. While this struck many as invasive, Moses himself was able to assure them of the positive impact and benefit for his people. This is truly a Maasai initiative, not our idea to change them, thus giving firmly positive ethical foundations for this work. Such conversations of the role of ethics in education deepen the experience of JMU students pursuing this career.

Hopefully in the not-too-far distant future, I’ll be able to take some students there to experience the deep desire to learn, the intoxicating smiles and joy of the children, and the powerful transformative feeling of being a part of something truly making a global difference. This is the gift that Nasaruni brings to my students and to me, as a professor – the opportunity to live out the calling to Be the Change.

kenya 1 275To learn more about the Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls, visit their website:

To learn more about JMU’s College of Education, visit:


*Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970, by Paulo Freire

All photos courtesy of Michelle Cude



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