Meet alumni enriching their communities through service.
Songs of Sustenance
Music dance theatre grad Daniel B. Wallentine (BFA ’19) had been to New York City before to pursue performance opportunities, but when he returned this spring as an EMT to help with the response to COVID-19, he didn’t expect to do much singing.
Wallentine soon found an opportunity to bring his talents together. “We had a patient who really didn’t have much desire to live,” Wallentine explains. A language barrier made communication with the hospital staff difficult, and, after spending a few weeks in a COVID-positive unit of the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital, this patient had stopped eating. After Wallentine finished his lunch one day, he decided to pay this patient a visit to see if he could encourage him. “I just felt like I should try to connect with him musically, so I began singing the one song I knew in his language,” relates Wallentine. As soon as the patient heard the song, he pulled the covers off of his face, shocked. After Wallentine finished, he struck up a deal with the patient. “If he would eat his dinner, then I would come back the next day and sing another song for him,” Wallentine says. As the patient began eating, he was able to take his oral medication and things improved from there.
For Wallentine, having the opportunity to return to New York to use his musical talents and his medical skills to help the community he has grown to love was a blessing. “I don’t know that I’ve ever felt more unified as humankind,” he says. “It’s a collective power, and I’m lucky to be a part of it.”
Learning New Things
It’s the same cycle every week for art teacher Sydney J. Snow (BA ’19). “On Monday when I introduce the weekly project, they . . . complain about how much they hate art, how it is a waste of time, and how they’ll never be good at it,” says Snow of her students at Telos Academy, a boarding school in Orem for high-school boys with depression, anxiety, learning differences, and executive-function deficits. “But by the end of the week, they always admit that it was way more fun than they thought it would be and that they’re better at art than they thought they were.”
For the recent photography grad, student complaints and occasional sass are just part of the job she adores so much. “The kids teach you a lot about yourself,” she says. “They’re kids. They need attention. They need to be listened to. I’ve learned that just listening to them, hearing what they care about and what they really like to do is what helps them to trust you. Then they’re really open to learning new things.”
Her students aren’t the only ones learning new things. Because Snow graduated in photography, she has to stay one step ahead of her class by learning other art forms like woodwork and linocuts, which the boys love the most. Outside of the classroom is where Snow is able to spend time using her photography skills. She has volunteered her services to local businesses and restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic to help them keep up with social media and marketing content. “I love doing photography, and I love working with kids and passing down my love for art to them,” says Snow. “Even if I decide to expand my photography business more, I won’t quit my day job. I love it too much.”
When Lauren Gardner’s (BS ’92) hometown of Vienna, Virginia, entered quarantine, she began to feel like most Americans have felt during the past few months: stuck. “Unless you’re a healthcare worker, there’s not much you can do to feel useful,” she laments. But knowing that unmet needs still existed in her community, Gardner reached out to a close friend and restaurant owner who had recently made a goal to donate meals to frontline healthcare workers at the Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Twice a week since the meal donation began, Gardner has loaded up hundreds of sack lunches into a donated catering van and delivered them to the hospital. “When we got there, a whole squad of nurses came out to get the food. It didn’t feel apocalyptic or chaotic, but the workers were very grateful and excited to get the meals,” Gardner relates. For one of the deliveries, Gardner’s friend and ward member Jean Irving Lee (BA ’03) reached out to local elementary school students to make drawings and cards for the workers, which were then photocopied and included with each meal. “When the nurses came out and saw those drawings, they were especially excited,” says Gardner.
As other restaurants caught on and began overwhelming the hospital with meals, Gardner and her friend considered other places that may need some help during this time but might be overlooked. Now, Gardner coordinates weekly delivery of meals to police stations, homeless shelters, battered women’s shelters, and fire departments across the community. While Gardner considers her role as a catering-van driver small in comparison to what others are doing during the pandemic, she recognizes that “doing something for someone is a great way to start.”
Stories of Service
In Going Forth BYU Magazine shares stories of alumni making the world a better place by serving in their communities, congregations, and homes. Let us know when you see an alum going about doing good. Send your nominations (and any photos) to firstname.lastname@example.org.