The Winds of Change Blow
Change is a part of life. We often want something—a process, a perception, a perspective—to be both different and better. At Bluffton, students are prepared for life and service, both of which inevitably involve alteration, transition and transformation, or, in a word, change. Here you will meet Bluffton alumni, students and faculty who are taking what they've learned, and what they are continually learning, and doing their part—big and small—to create a change for the better in the world around them.
On a mission for peace
Dan Hershberger '05 is on a mission for peace—one conversation with one United States Army soldier at a time.
In July 2008, Hershberger began serving as a GI rights counselor with the Military Counseling Network (MCN) and German Mennonite Peace Committee in Bammental, Germany. He counsels U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany and Iraq about GI rights, U.S. Army regulations and discharges on such grounds as conscientious objection.
While taking courses at Bluffton, Hershberger says he began to see a difference between the ways of the world—violence, destruction, coercion, force, greed and retaliation—and the ways of Jesus—forgiveness, love, peace and econciliation. He began to struggle with militaristic ideals, associating the U.S. military and its soldiers with forces of evil.
"It wasn't until I began my work as a GI rights counselor that I recognized just how much I'd dehumanized soldiers," Hershberger says. "I had made them black and white, with no room for nuance or change. I spent years conversing with people about how violence is mainly facilitated through dehumanization—black people, white people, brown people, immigrants, terrorists, etc. I saw how damaging labels were, and yet, here I had labeled soldiers."
While Hershberger is unsupportive of war, he began to see humanity in soldiers by listening to their stories. "I began to see that soldiers didn't join the military because they liked killing or because they were full of hate," he says. "Some were lured by the promises of money and a career. Others joined to serve God and country only to find out through their experiences that serving God and warfare were not compatible. I began to see soldiers as human again—humans who needed support and encouragement."
In September 2008, Hershberger and others working with MCN were recognized by the Evangelical Association for the Pastoral Care of Conscientious Objectors as a recipient of the Friedrich Siegmund-Schulze Award for Nonviolent Action for their efforts to support and assist U.S. military conscientious objectors in obtaining honorable discharges.
"This work is a blessing," says Hershberger. "Listening to soldiers share stories about the transformation that takes place when they realize they can no longer be part of a machine whose main products are violence and destruction. The greatest reward is working with a soldier who, through having Jesus be revealed in a new way, is applying for a discharge on the grounds of conscientious objection."
Finding the means to rebuild
Bluffton senior Kimberly Butte did not sit around wondering who would rebuild the only park in Arlington, Ohio, after the summer 2007 floods washed parts of it away. She took matters into her own hands and, with the help of the Hancock Park District, drafted a grant proposal for funding to rebuild the mess.
Butte came up with the idea for the grant during a Facilities Planning and Construction class she took during the 2008 spring semester. Class members were asked to create proposals for recreation organizations in need of funding.
Having interned with the Hancock Park District for two summers, Butte immediately contacted Tim Brugeman, director of the Hancock Park District, to explore how to best go about requesting funding for the county park. "I grew up in the Arlington Park," Butte says. "I've been playing softball there ever since I was old enough to play. I've made a lot of memories there. So, it made sense to look over Arlington's long-term plan for its park and write a grant to help the village achieve its goals."
The grant—Arlington Park Improvement & Volunteer Recruitment Program—proposed that improvements be made that would stimulate volunteer participation and get community members to become more active in caring for their park. Butte recommended a sand volleyball court, the planting of trees and addition of benches. The volleyball court could be used for Arlington school's summer physical education programs and by community embers. The project could also be a service-learning experience for Arlington high school students involved in the Vocational Agriculture class, the Future Farmers of America organization and seniors' "Give Back" project.
On Oct. 15, 2008, Butte received a phone call from Greg Craven, Arlington Park & Recreation board chairman, informing her that her grant proposal was approved, and the Arlington Park would receive more than $6,000 from The Community Foundation of Findlay-Hancock County. Improvements will begin in the spring of 2009.
"I have much love and admiration for the Park District and what it is doing for our communities in Findlay and Hancock County," says Butte. "I'm happy to have this chance to help others enjoy the park as much as I have."
Campaigning for Change
One summer in Washington D.C. and Simeon Talley '06 knew he wanted to be in politics. "D.C. opened my eyes in many ways," he says. "Knowing that within blocks of each other there are people with tremendous power and influence and people living in poverty preoccupied me. How could this be so?"
As someone who values justice and equality, Talley then asked himself what he was going to do about it. "The conclusion I came to was to become more involved in politics," he says. And, involved Talley became, eventually taking an active role in President-elect Barack Obama's bid for the White House.
In his first year at Bluffton, Talley became active on campus with Young Democrats. During his sophomore and junior years, he interned with the late Congresswoman Stephanie Tubb Jones (D-Ohio), Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and former Toledo, Ohio, mayor Jack Ford. The latter two internships were funded by Bluffton's Pathways to Mission and Vocation Summer Dreaming grant. Drawing from those experiences, Talley ran for Allen County State Representative as a senior, eventually losing the bid. "I was eager to make a difference," he says. "I had a desire to put my ideas out there about how my community could become better."
After graduation, Talley came across Young People for the American Way, an organization that recruits and trains young people to be future progressive leaders within a democratic society. It was through that organization that Talley connected with Obama's campaign for the presidency: "I crossed paths with someone who knew someone in Iowa. I told him that if there was any way he could connect me to please do so. And, he did."
Talley started out as a field organizer in Des Moines, doing community outreach. During the primaries, he traveled from state to state before settling in Chicago to work out of the Obama for America headquarters as deputy director of African-American Vote.
As deputy director, Talley was responsible for interacting with state staff to increase the number of African-American voters throughout the United States. "Our goal was to engage African Americans and articulate Senator Obama's policy positions and agenda in ways that people could understand," he said. "We didn't want African Americans voting for Senator Obama just because he was African-American but rather because they understood and believed in his policy agenda."
Talley says that he wanted to be part of the presidential campaign because he knew that it would be history-making. "Win or lose, I wanted to be on the right side of history," he says. "There was a sense of hope and optimism with Senator Obama. His ability to galvanize people and to bring new people into the democratic process was inspirational."
Now working on the presidential transition team, Talley hopes to one day work in the Obama administration. "People are attracted to politics because they see the current state that their community, state and world are in," he says. "They think things could be better, or they could be different. That's change. And that's what I saw the summer after my senior year of high school. I could see that things needed to be different, and I wanted to be a part of it."
Show, Don't Tell
Bill Hilt '91 never considered Perrysburg, Ohio, a diverse place when he was growing up. It wasn't until his time at Bluffton that he began to think more about what it means to live in a diverse society. "As a junior and senior, I roomed with someone from Kenya," says Hilt. "Jack really helped open my eyes to going beyond skin color to celebrating our differences, not just accepting them."
That celebration of differences is something that Hilt continues to embrace every day. And, it's an action that he encourages his seventh-grade social studies students at Perrysburg Junior High to embrace, too. One way he does that is to show them his constant eagerness to learn about other cultures.
After hosting a Ukrainian educator as part of a teacher exchange program, Hilt joined Bowling Green State University's International Democratic Education Institute (IDEI), which connects school teachers, university faculty and other educators from the United States with colleagues in emerging democracies to further the development and understanding of democratic education.
"In the United States, we take a lot for granted," says Hilt. "In developing democracies, it's amazing to see how excited kids get when it comes to learning opportunities. IDEI encourages projects like Project Citizen that get kids involved at the grassroots level to make change happen." A program for school-aged children, Project Citizen helps participants learn how to monitor and influence public policy, while developing support for democratic values and principles, tolerance and feelings of political efficacy. "Our kids really can affect change," says Hilt.
In April 2006, Hilt traveled to Ukraine to present teamteaching concepts through various workshops. Two years later, he went abroad again, this time to Morocco, where he met with Moroccan teachers, university deans and the country's minister of education. He helped create a ninth grade civic-education curriculum approved by Morocco's King Mohammed VI.
Hilt incorporates his work and travels into his class curriculum to help change perceptions his students may have of other cultures. "As educators, we are working to create exchanges and partnerships between ourselves and students," says Hilt. "Our goal is to reduce stereotyping and increase tolerance across all cultures."
That's why Hilt created the Diversity Project. For 14 years, he has assigned a six-week project that has two phases: cultural immersion and cultural study. For the first part, students participate in activities associated with a different culture. Examples include attending another culture's religious service, eating at three ethnic restaurants, sleeping outside in a box, fasting from food for a day or, perhaps, using a wheelchair for a day. Students then select a country and complete an in-depth analysis of its culture. "Over the years, I've received tons of feedback from students about how much they enjoyed the project and how much they learned," says Hilt. "It really helps to make students aware of the diversity around them."
Change Through Individuals
With World Vision since 1998, Abikök Riak '94 has spent much time in a variety of roles identifying peaceful ways in which nongovernmental organizations can provide assistance in conflict settings and help local people to stop fighting and develop systems for settling the problems.
Riak says the Rwandan post-genocide days served as a wakeup call for the international assistance community: "Aid agencies were directly supporting those who were perpetuating the genocide, essentially helping them to re-energize and commit more atrocities."
Members of the Collaborative Learning Project began to think of ways in which individuals who work in relief and development situations in conflict could implement their assistance more effectively. "We wanted to contribute to local capacities for peace rather than exacerbating conflict or creating more tension between groups in conflict," says Riak.
Working as a program officer, Riak carefully studied World Vision's program in Southern Sudan, looking into all of its systems and processes, from human resources, recruitment and procurement of relief items to who World Vision partnered with and why. "I wanted to determine if we were doing what we were doing in a way that supported peace rather than conflict," says Riak. She would also serve as regional peacebuilding coordinator in the Asia-Pacific region and as a program officer for the Eurasia region.
Currently, Riak is serving as director of grants acquisition and management. Working with a $60 million (U.S.) portfolio, she leads a team that is responsible for U.S. government grant acquisitions in Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. "We develop strategies to decide which opportunities to pursue and, in response to that, either write proposals or develop partnerships with those interested in being a lead organization on a particular project," she says.
In January, Riak will become director of operations and program effectiveness, working to ensure that teams are effective in maximizing the contribution of World Vision U.S. in supporting child well-being through improved capacity and a consistent, unified approach to program quality.
These days, working with national staff to build their capacity on organizational effectiveness and change is ultimately what excites and energizes Riak. "These people are working in positions where they can influence change," she says. "Working with operations at a director level and building their capacity to understand their role and effectiveness as a change agent. That's what excites me—change through individuals."