​Lending a Hero's Helping Hand

When Hannah Stewart, '11, was planning a trip to Nairobi, Kenya, she knew she wanted to make a difference and have a unique experience. Before she left Central Wisconsin, the early childhood education major collected food, clothing, shoes, and toys with students in her Programs for Children and Families class. When Stewart and her family arrived at the Jamii Orphanage in January 2011, they were stocked with seven suitcases filled with donations.
 
Stewart’s efforts led to her being presented the inaugural College of Professional Studies Hero Award. What was an initial scholarship created and funded by the friends and family of Casey Gazdik, a health promotion major who was suddenly struck ill and died from blastomycosis (a rare lung infection) in 2001, was transformed into the Hero Award.
 
The award is presented to a deserving CPS student who has demonstrated the ability to overcome or help someone overcome an obstacle in life through courage or ability, bravery, or noble qualities.
 
Stewart helped others overcome, indeed. "We knew Kenya would be absolutely beautiful, but we also knew that it would be very poverty-stricken in the orphanages," she said. "We wanted to go to an area where the children needed resources, attention, and love; we wanted to make a difference."
 
The four days the family spent with the children, showering them with gifts of love, seemed surreal. "There were 30 to 40 children at the orphanage by day, but nearly 70 by the end of each night." Steward said.
 
"A young boy asked if roads in America are really paved in gold," Stewart recalled. "America is only a dream for these children."
 
Even though she was there to teach the children, in the end it was the children who taught her the most important lessons.
 
"Human life has never been more real to me," said Stewart. "The children of Jamii made me a better person, and I will never be able to thank them enough for that."
 
The CPS Hero Award also provides a way for donors to remember and honor their personal hero through a gift to the fund. Visit www.uwsp.edu/cps/Pages/heroesaward.aspx to honor your hero through the College of Professional Studies Hero Award.