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United by an Enduring Spirit of Goodwill

Bearcats join forces to give back to the community and make a difference for those in need.

United by an Enduring Spirit of Goodwill

Photo courtesy of Greenwood Index-Journal

Shortly after noon on Sept. 10, 2016, Lander education lecturer Rebecca Fernandez and her family settled in their home to watch an early-season football game on TV.

An hour or so later, they were running for their lives.

A porch fire had suddenly ignited - and while firefighters fought the blaze, Fernandez watched as "40 years of our life were reduced to ashes, then scooped up and carried away."

But in the next 24 hours, Fernandez, known affectionately as "Fern," learned that faculty, staff and 24 Lander student-teachers, whom she taught, had hurriedly met and started a GoFundMe account in her name. Within four weeks of the fire, more than 60 people had donated to the fund, raising enough money to help the Fernandez family buy new clothes and start to recover.

"It was something we all wanted to do, because Fern is a super person and a super teacher," said senior Alex Belue, who led the fundraising effort.

While Fernandez is now looking at starting over in a new home, what she remembers most about the fire is how her students came through for her at a critical time.

"Until something like that happens, you don't really know what you mean to people," said Fernandez, tearing up at the memory. "The outpouring of love they showed … was their way of trying to do something in return - to give something back to me."

But this kind of "giving back" is not unusual among Lander students, nor evident only in a crisis.

During the past 70 years, Lander's spirit of goodwill toward individuals, the Greenwood community and the world beyond South Carolina has grown to become a signature hallmark throughout the university.

"We think giving back to others is vital to the personal development of our students," said Randy Bouknight, vice president for Student Affairs. "Currently, we have nearly 60 registered student groups on campus that give our students an opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-life situations and to feel a sense of accomplishment by helping others in need."

Mission to Honduras - Caring Across Barriers

honduras-2016-TN.jpgWhen Assistant Professor Ashley Lee took 12-13 of her Lander nursing students to Honduras for one week last June, she intended to do more than hone their nursing skills - she wanted them to experience a sense of community giving that would transcend their approach to becoming nurses.

"This mission started in 2011 to serve the Lenca Indians," Lee said. "These people have nothing, and I want my student-nurses to see that there are a lot of people beyond our own community who need their care."

Once in Honduras, Lee and her nursing team journey for more than four hours by bus from the city of San Pedro Sula into the mountains where the Lencas live. Assisting them are missionaries, pastors, translators and other Hondurans.

Each day, the team visits one of five different villages - one of them more than two hours away by bus - to care for the Lencas with medical and dental treatment, and to provide them with sunglasses, toys, shoes, smiles and hugs.

"We see 300 to 500 patients each day," Lee said. "Many of them are like our extended Honduran family. They pray for us, and usually when we get to the villages, they have been lined up for hours waiting for us to come."

Students get to practice their assessment and pharmacology skills, speak Spanish to determine the villagers' needs, set up and see the limitations of a primitive pharmacy, and perform deworming, because "most of the patients have parasites," Lee said.

"They also extract teeth - something they would never get to do here - and perform sutures on patients at the dental clinic," Lee said. "They also see how much we take for granted - how these people often wait for months or a year to get something like Advil for a simple headache."

Juniors Tanya Bledsoe and Sara Howe said that, in terms of giving to others, serving the Lencas last summer expanded their approach to nursing.

"When I become an RN, I want to make this trip and a medical mission part of my career," said Bledsoe.

"Me, too," Howe added, "and we both plan to go back to see the Lencas again this summer."

Habitat House - Realizing the Dream of Home Ownership

habitat-dn_5603-TN.jpgSince its beginnings in 1976, Habitat for Humanity has built safe, affordable houses for families throughout the world.

On Feb. 8, 2017, the Lander campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity began work on a new 1,100-square-foot house, its second Habitat home.

More than 100 students volunteered to help in the first phase of construction. Together with Greenwood Area Habitat, they helped build the walls, floors and roof of what will later this year become home to Kathy Ouzts, in the Kirksey Park area of southern Greenwood.

"I'm a single mom with four kids," Ouzts said, "and this home is a huge blessing for us."

The Lander Habitat home is an ongoing initiative, begun in 2015 with the support of Lander First Lady Jessie Cosentino, to create a positive impact on both Lander students and the community.

Including Lander, Habitat for Humanity boasts more than 500 campus chapters in the U.S.

"When we work around younger people, it brings a whole new sense of excitement to our organization," said Chad Charles, executive director of Greenwood Habitat.

Habitat Family Services Coordinator Pattie Fender added that the two-year partnership with Lander has helped move more families into a home sooner.

"We get 20 to 25 applications for homes each year," Fender said, "and the help from Lander students allows us to build an additional house a year, which in turn allows one more family a year, like Kathy Ouzts', to realize their dream of home ownership."

CrossFit for Cancer - Carrying the Weights

crossfit-for-cancer_2896-TN.jpgLander junior Ananda Cloud loves staying in shape with running, push-ups and weights.

But when she picked up a set of barbells last October during a Lander CrossFit competition, she wasn't trying so much to win as to help someone she didn't know and would likely never meet.

When the competition ended, Cloud and other entrants had helped raise more than $2,400 to benefit Barbells for Boobs (BFB), a national, nonprofit organization headquartered in Santa Ana, Calif., committed to providing cancer screenings and mammograms for low-income and uninsured women and men under 40.

"Most of the money was raised during October because it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month," said Matthew Gilstrap, director of Campus Recreation. "But, donations came in during the whole course of 2016."

The CrossFit event included more than 20 students who competed while performing pull-ups, push-ups, air squats and clean-and-jerk weightlifting.

Money was raised from online donations, T-shirt sales and event entry fees.

"I participated because my best friend's aunt died from breast cancer," said Cloud, a sociology and criminal justice major. "I wanted to help bring awareness to this cause, so that going forward, the money will help people now and maybe one day help lead to a cure."

Tommy Claus - Making Children's Dreams Come True

tommy-claus_8246-TN.jpgEach holiday season, Lander students take time from their academic studies to take part in "Tommy Claus," a university-wide Christmas toy drive to benefit local underprivileged families.

Led by Lander Physical Plant employee Tommy Tumblin, the effort begins right after Halloween, when employees and students start collecting toys and filling drop boxes across campus.

The chimney-shaped boxes, originally decorated by students in the Lander Art Alliance, give "Tommy Claus" an extra push by urging all passersby to remember the spirit of giving and to contribute a new or gently used toy.

"Christmas 2016 was the best year we've ever had," said Tumblin, who began Tommy Claus out of his garage in 2004. "We helped 240 families this past December - more than ever before - and had 3,000 to 4,000 toys donated by groups all over Greenwood."

The reward, he said, is in "making children's dreams come true" - and occasionally rescuing children from abusive and drug-riddled environments.

In the last 13 years, the program has been supported by state Senator Floyd Nicholson (D-District 10) and has attracted patrons from as far away as Travelers Rest.

"But it's the Lander students who make the difference," Tumblin said, "and it would be hard to do this without their involvement and spirit."

Winter Coat Drive - Warmth Just in Time

winter-coat-drive_9660-TN.jpgWhen Lander's Beta Gamma Sigma business honor society hosted its first winter coat drive last fall to aid disadvantaged citizens, they weren't sure how it would go over, given their schedules and timeframe.

"We were all busy with studies and were coming up on Thanksgiving break," said senior accounting major Michelle Weeks, "so that left us only six days, spread across two weeks, to do the drive."

However, six days was plenty, as members collected 75 coats for Pathway House, a local homeless shelter.

"There were other things we thought of doing," said society president Shakeema Jackson, "but this was the simplest way to impact the community in a timely manner."

Erica Bradberry, who suggested the coat drive, added, "We accepted all kinds of coats - heavy-duty, lightweight, even socks and scarves. It was amazing that we collected so much in such a short amount of time."

All 75 coats were delivered before Christmas - just in time to give some extra warmth to the men who come through the shelter.

"From July to December 2016, we had 107 different men stay at Pathway House, plus an additional 12 who stayed in the cold-weather overnight shelter," said Ken Kelly, director of Greenwood Pathway House. "When Lander students help us with things like the winter coat drive, it shows us that the community is aware of, and supportive of, our efforts to help citizens in Greenwood who don't have a place to live and are struggling to survive."

Spirit of Giving - It Began with the Public

All these acts of giving back are just a small glimpse of Lander's spirit of goodwill, and as the university's enrollment increases, this spirit is almost certain to expand into newer and broader areas, as the needs of the community change.

But this generosity didn't just spring from nowhere, nor from a past presidential decree. Its roots can be traced to the people of Greenwood.

Shortly after World War II, as then-Lander College was turning 75, no celebrations marked the occasion because the school was facing challenges, both with finances and with facilities. In 1947, the South Carolina Methodist Conference, which had operated Lander since 1898, ended its support of the college, instead focusing its higher education efforts on several other institutions in the state.

In an article published in June 2016 by the University of South Carolina's Institute for Southern Studies, Lander Professor Emeritus of History Dr. Marvin Cann explains how the Greenwood community came to the rescue when the school's future seemed uncertain:

At the time of the Methodist Conference's decision, a group of local businessmen convinced the church to donate the school to the Greenwood community, with conditions that the property be used solely for educational purposes and that Lander gain accreditation within 10 years.

A public corporation, The Lander Foundation, was chartered in 1948 to operate the college. Over the next 25 years, through the efforts of Foundation leaders and university presidents Boyce M. Grier and E. Don Herd Jr., Lander flourished, receiving initial accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1952, and officially coming under state control in 1973.

Now a thriving university with nearly 3,000 students, Lander's story could have stalled in 1947, if not for that group of Greenwood citizens, according to Cann. "So the spirit of giving to the community that Lander is known for actually began with the community giving back to the school."

University President Richard Cosentino added, "The people at that time came through for Lander at a critical moment, so I personally think we should come through for the community in every way possible, whenever it needs us."


Find this story and more in the Spring 2017 issue of Lander Magazine.