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Alumni make #RedbirdImpact during month dedicated to community service

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Last Saturday afternoon, Gordon McKavanagh ’08 was among a group of Illinois State alumni quietly putting the finishing touches on a new Habitat for Humanity of McLean County home a few blocks west of Downtown Bloomington. The dozen or so volunteers—led by Habitat McLean volunteer coordinator and Redbird alumna Lindsey Jarboe ’13—painted doors and walls and applied caulk to surfaces throughout the two-story house.

McKavanagh made the trip up from Springfield to donate his time. He had participated in Alternative Breaks at Illinois State and was excited to come back to his alma mater.

“I think it’s great to stay connected to the University and do something good for Central Illinois,” McKavanagh said.

About 30 Redbirds returned to campus June 21–23 for #RedbirdImpact Alumni Weekend. Illinois State’s Alumni Association and Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning organized the inaugural event and have been promoting the University’s core value of civic engagement throughout June to encourage alumni to give back to their communities.

Over the course of the weekend, the alumni volunteered at the Habitat home and ReStore, and completed a service project at the Illinois State University Horticulture Center. In between those activities, the Redbirds were invited to a dinner and a social outing.

The Alumni Association and center chose to collaborate with Habitat to highlight the long partnership between the nonprofit and Illinois State’s student Habitat chapter, which built its 25th home last school year.

The Chicago Young Alumni Network volunteered at the Lakeview Pantry during #RedbirdImpact Month.

Lindsay Vahl (left) with members of the Chicago Young Alumni Network who volunteered at the Lakeview Pantry during #RedbirdImpact Month.

“I’m really happy people were willing to give up a precious summer weekend to give back to their community,” said Stephanie Duquenne ’04, M.S. ’15, a director in the Office of Alumni Engagement.

Alumni networks across the state are holding their own #RedbirdImpact activities throughout the month. These efforts include the Black Colleagues Association collecting donations for the School Street Food Pantry, the Latin@ Alumni Network collecting clothing donations, and members of the Chicago Suburban Alumni Network volunteering at the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

The Alumni Association’s Redbird Engagement and Development (RED) Committee started #RedbirdImpact Month as part of its focus on encouraging alumni to be more civically engaged. This push started a couple of years ago when the committee began inviting alumni to participate in Alternative Breaks.

“One of the core values of the institution is civic engagement,” said Lindsay Vahl ’06, M.S. ’09, a director in the Office of Alumni Engagement. “It’s one thing to say it, and another thing to put it into action. The RED Committee decided #RedbirdImpact Weekend was one way to put it into action.”

#RedbirdImpact weekend also offers a civic engagement opportunity to alumni who may not be able to go on an Alternative Break or weren’t able to participate in a service project during college, said RED Committee Chair Leah Walton ’88, M.S. ’92. It’s up to alumni, not only students, to take responsibility for the core value of civic engagement and make the community more civic minded, she said.

Bloomington resident Marcia Hammerstrand ’74 had been hoping the University would offer a community engagement opportunity for alumni, like those available to students.

Hammerstrand gives back to her community by serving as the president of the local chapter of AMBUCS, an organization dedicated to increasing mobility and independence for people with disabilities.

She and her partner, J. Balmer, worked side-by-side as they painted a hallway in the Habitat home. Balmer thought the weekend was a good way to get alumni more involved in service, considering the trend is for people not to be as civically engaged anymore.

Alumna Emily Vermeire paints in a hallway of the Habitat for Humanity home where Illinois State alumni volunteered their time June 22 as part of #RedbirdImpact Alumni Weekend.

Alumna Emily Vermeire paints in a hallway of the Habitat for Humanity home where Illinois State alumni volunteered their time June 22 as part of #RedbirdImpact Alumni Weekend.

“We are pretty involved in our community. We decided we wanted to help out with this,” Hammerstrand said. “I think it’s great.”

Ashley Long ’16 and her friend Emily Vermeire ’16 traveled back from Chicago to participate in the weekend. Long had been a leader of Alternative Breaks during college and was glad to see the University bring together alumni who are passionate about giving back to the communities.

“We wanted to volunteer and meet some other alumni,” Long said. “I think it’s awesome.”

The Alumni Association plans to hold #RedbirdImpact Month again next June. For more information, or to become involved with the effort, contact the Office of Alumni Engagement at (309) 438-2586 or

Kevin Bersett can be reached at