Claire Meyer is excited to be a Redbird. Her energy is palpable as she rattles off the list of things she’s looking forward to doing on Illinois State’s campus. If she has any anxiety about her college journey ahead, it’s swallowed up in an avalanche of opportunities she’s put on a very long mental list. And she’s happy to share if you ask.
“I’m a very talkative person and very extroverted, so I like to do lots of things,” Meyer says. “I love talking—I got that from my mother.”
Meyer also loves helping people, and bolstered by her effusive energy, she has made a habit of going above and beyond to do so. Her list of service efforts and organizational involvement is long, including volunteer work with Midwest Food Bank, Advocate BroMenn Medical Center, and Westminster Village; a long history with Youth Engaged with Philanthropy (YEP); and involvement co-founding the nonprofit organization ReSpirit.
Those efforts have made the Illinois State freshman a member of the inaugural group of McLean County Full Tuition Scholarship winners.
The scholarship recognizes students from the University’s backyard in McLean County for demonstrating leadership, service, and commitment to the community.
It’s impossible to question Meyer’s commitment. A member of the National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America, Health Occupations Students of America, and Key Club, as well as the student council president at Normal Community High School (NCHS), Meyer still found time for civic engagement. She has been active in YEP—which distributes $10,000 annually to nonprofits that support local youth and community organizations—and helped get ReSpirit off the ground.
The roots of her civic-minded personality were planted as a child in Girl Scouts and fertilized by her family’s steady focus on service.
“I think my earliest moments of civic engagement probably came during elementary school,” Meyer says. “My youngest brother, Blake, was born with cleft palate. We’d always have a lemonade stand to raise money for the Cleft Lip and Palate Foundation because of how many people it helps.
“My family has always donated money and time to different causes. That impacted us.”
Finding a cause
As a senior at NCHS, Meyer was interviewed and selected for a spot in a unique class called Innovative Entrepreneurs, which gave her an opportunity to dive into a leadership role on a project with real-world implications. Tasked with imagining nonprofit organizations and then bringing them to life, ReSpirit was born.
The premise is simple: The organization collects donations of spirit-wear clothing and then distributes that clothing at a discounted price to members of the community in need.
“I noticed through all the different activities I was involved with, I collected a bunch of spirit-wear items that either no longer fit or I no longer want to wear them,” Meyer says. “What do you do with them? That’s why we created ReSpirit.
“We know there are families in our community who aren’t able to afford those different pieces of clothing. Throughout my childhood I’ve been able to afford those things because my parents have been able to help me and I’ve been blessed through that, but others aren’t. We wanted to be sure everyone had the same opportunities. Plus, it’s a great way to give those old clothes a new life.”
Meyer’s connections helped launch the program at NCHS as well as Prairieland Elementary School. ReSpirit held its first collection drive at the high school in November, collecting more than 260 pieces of clothing. Those items were sorted and cleaned, and events were hosted in the community to distribute the clothing.
As ReSpirit grew, it encountered challenges like where to store the collected clothing. It was all a part of the learning experience for Meyer, who worked with NCHS Principal Trevor Chapman as well as other members of the community to secure storage bins and space. She also learned how to fine-tune communications outreach to boost ReSpirit’s success.
The experience has sent Meyer into college with a treasure trove of knowledge and plans.
ReSpirit now has a handbook to provide future students with best practices. Meyer has been in contact with high school students to keep the organization going, but she wants to leave ownership of the project with those high schoolers. She’d like to see ReSpirit branch out from Unit 5 schools and into Bloomington, LeRoy, and other schools in the area.
“I see myself becoming more of a mentor or advisor,” Meyer says. “Basically, if they need my help—if they have any questions, concerns, even if it’s just finding simple things—to come to me. I want to be able to hand it off to other students where they can make it their own.”
That sort of role is one she hopes might be in her future beyond college as well. Meyer’s experience with ReSpirit has increased her love of the business world, but she’s also passionate about her previous volunteer work at Advocate BroMenn Hospital—a realm that scratches her itch to help others. Aware of aspects of the medical field that aren’t her cup of tea—“I kind of realized I don’t do blood at all”—she’s hoping to meld the two worlds.
Meyer plans to major in marketing at Illinois State, and then focus her graduate studies on health care or business administration. One day, she’d like to run a hospital.
She’ll build a foundation for that journey as a Redbird, following in the footsteps of her alumni parents—Tod Meyer ’94, M.S. ’98, and Laura Meyer (Cluskey) ’89—after growing up attending Illinois State basketball games and hearing family members talk about their college experiences.
“One thing I found at Illinois State that I didn’t find at other universities that I visited was right when you walk onto campus it’s a big school but it doesn’t feel that way,” Meyer says. “Plus, I saw everyone’s school spirit—everyone was repping Illinois State colors—but at other universities I saw people wearing other school’s things. And all the different people—the students, the administrators—everyone was just so friendly and welcoming and they wanted you to be there, and other places I didn’t feel that.”
And with more than 400 registered student organizations on campus, the hard part for Meyer will be determining which ones not to join. Just the thought of all the opportunities leads to an onslaught of excitement: study abroad, Alternative Breaks, Operation Smile, Red Alert, Women in Business, intramural volleyball.
“Having the freedom to be able to join however many activities I want to and be able to put my passion for things I love out, I’m really excited,” Meyer said. “The Hammock Club? That sounds like a ton of fun to join. Now I just need to narrow them down.
“I’m just really excited for these next four years.”
Learn more about the McLean County Full Tuition Scholarship, awarded to new freshmen from McLean County for demonstrating leadership, service, and commitment to our community.