Sunday, October 25, 2009

Big heart makes teacher proud

From the Parkville Luminary, 10-23-09

One of the great things about being a teacher is the way you feel when your students make you proud. For example, my recent graduate who is producing videos for NFL Films makes me proud, as does my former Model UN student who was recently hired as a diplomat at the United Nations.

I also have a number of current students of whom I’m proud, but none more so than Laura Cornett. When my son grows up, I want him to be like Laura (well, not exactly like Laura, but you catch my drift).

Laura is a terrific “A” student, but that’s not why I’m proud of her. She is a hard, dedicated worker, and a real leader among the communications students, but that’s not why I’m proud of her, either, though that’s a good thing.

No, I’m proud of Laura because of the kind of person she is. I haven’t met many people at Park or anywhere else who have a heart as big as Laura’s.

Most of my public relations students seek internships at big, prestigious PR firms, or big corporations with big, well paid PR staffs. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with that. Laura, as you can guess, chose a different path. She chose to do an internship with Synergy Services, which provides “safe places for victims of violence, and empowers survivors to rise above their circumstances and to educate the entire community.” They aided 40,000 people last year. ( Laura created the fundraiser Bake and Share for Synergy to provide funds and positive adult interaction to abused and homeless teens. Her focus with Synergy is on the teens and providing them with an opportunity for them to experience good adult relationships since most of them have had extremely negative experiences. She began her internship, which was supposed to be a semester long, about a year ago. Yet, to her credit, she remains on the (unpaid) job, volunteering her expertise to help improve the lives of battered women.

When she isn’t swamped at Synergy, or keeping up with her classes, Laura volunteers feeding the homeless at least once a month at Cherith Brook. Located at 12th and Benton in Kansas City, Cherith Brook is a residential Christian community that provides resources like showers, clothes, and food to those in need.

I went to Cherith Brook with Laura and Park adjunct professor Eric Garbison a few weeks ago, and got to see Laura in action. It was truly inspiring to see her dive into her task not only with good cheer, but with effervescent enthusiasm. She took charge of the sandwich making, seizing the bread and deli meat like a general seizes a battlefield. Then, she took charge of the egg salad, mixing an enormous batch. When she was done making the egg salad, she asked the other volunteers to taste it. There was silence, save for the occasional cricket chirp. The longer the pregnant pause, I figured, the more “questionable” was her egg salad. After begging a second time, a brave soul finally stepped up and tried it, saying it was “not bad.”

So, after it was determined that the egg salad was probably non-toxic, 60 sandwiches were packed up along with fruit into meal bags, ready for delivery. We hopped in the car, and drove to several locations near Independence Avenue and St. John Street known as homeless “camp sites”. Laura was an expert on where to find the homeless, and when we did, she seemed to know most everyone’s name, greeting them with handshakes, hugs, and the biggest, most genuine grin you’ve ever seen. Laura even managed a smile when she handed a meal to a poor Mexican man, an illegal immigrant, whose foot was grotesquely swollen to three times its normal size. I was told that when he was making the crossing to the states, that he was bitten on the foot by a rattlesnake.

Laura never said anything judgmental about these people, which is hard since so many of the homeless are drug addicts, and so much of their pain is self-inflicted. I didn’t ask her, but I don’t think Laura, or the other volunteers, care how these downtrodden got this way. I think what matters is that they need help.

I never thought to ask Laura why she helps the homeless, or volunteers at Syngery, or why when she graduates she’ll be looking for low-paying job at a non-profit doing some high-importance work. I think some others help because they figure it’s a ticket to heaven, or maybe conversely a way to avoid hell, but I’m pretty sure that’s not why Laura does what she does. I think, for her, it’s all about listening to her heart.

I am proud of Laura Cornett and her really big heart.


  1. So did you get help for the rattlesnake bite victim?

  2. They told me that he had been to see a doctor, and that his injury actually looked better than it had previously, which is hard to believe since it looked really awful to me.