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Alumni Feature

'Tis the Season (to be proud to be a CSU Ram!)

By Meagan Templeton-Lynch ('12)

CSU alumni, students, faculty, and staff work every day to give back and bring joy to others, and not just during the holiday season. This fall has been no exception with Rams around the country spreading the spirit of giving through a sister cities organization, a nonprofit dedicated to congenital heart defects, and organic soap.

 

Giving Back: How CSU Alumni Continue to Pay it Forward

Robert Peek (’87)

Robert Peek (’87) was recently elected president of Jacksonville Sister Cities Association (JSCA), a nonprofit organization based in Jacksonville, Florida. For more than 40 years, JSCA has acted as the mayor of Jacksonville’s de facto international protocol office, helping to grow relationships between local residents and citizens around the world.

“Our primary mission is to cultivate relationships between people in Northeast Florida and citizens in our sister cities,” Peek says. “We reach out globally to build cultural and business bridges and then invite local residents to cross those bridges to enrich both their lives and those they touch overseas.”

Peek has had a lifelong interest in global affairs, with his father’s career in the U.S. Navy affording Peek the opportunity to attend high school in Spain and Italy, where he graduated before attending Colorado State University.

Peek also works full time as the director of marketing development for the Jacksonville Port Authority, one of the nation’s largest international seaports. He has worked there for 16 years, beginning as a communications coordinator for local affairs and growing the role into an international marketing position.

“My volunteer work at Jacksonville Sister Cities dovetails perfectly with my career interests in building international relationships,” Peek says. “It’s a lot of fun and we’re making a tangible difference both here at home and with the great people we meet all over the world.”

Jacksonville has eight sister cities: Bahia Blanca, Argentina; Curitiba, Brazil; Changwon City, South Korea; Murmansk, Russia; Nantes, France; Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa; San Juan, Puerto Rico and Yingkou, China.  JSCA coordinates a variety of programs, each project focused on either a cultural, educational, or business element. Recently, Peek coordinated a “Doing Business with Puerto Rico” business seminar in Jacksonville for 125 representatives from small- to mid-size Florida companies. Other recent JSCA programs have included coordinating a national grant to improve health conditions in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa and executing an exchange of high school students between Bahia Blanca, Argentina and Jacksonville.

In October, Peek returned from a week-long trip to Changwon City, South Korea, where he met with the city’s mayor and economic development officials. Subsequently, Changwon City has decided to place an economic development official in Jacksonville for two years. The goal is to identify and grow business relationships between the two port cities.

“It’s the beginning of another beautiful global relationship,” Peek said.

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Amanda Adams (M.S. ’10)

In 2002, working on finishing her degree, Amanda Adams’ (M.S. ’10) unborn child was diagnosed with several congenital heart defects. Since then, she has become a fierce advocate for congenital heart disease research and awareness.

Since 2002, Adams has started two nonprofits, observed medical advisory board meetings, weighed in about research funding, and worked with physicians from a number of universities to plan medical conferences to educate parents. “Doctors listen to me and work with me because I have an academic background they respect and I am able to articulate the important elements that need to be communicated to a lay public hungry for complex knowledge,” Adams says.

And, she wasn’t stopping there. “I addressed a crowd of ten thousand for the American Heart Association, and I have done several press interviews. I've organized walks and events and raised tens of thousands of dollars for the cause,” she says. “Right now I'm working with others on legislation to improve health screenings for newborns and I actively seek out opportunities to influence OB/GYN diagnostic and referral programs to improve outcomes for children born with CHD.”

Her first nonprofit, Hypoplastic Right Hearts [www.hypoplasticrighthearts.org], was founded in 2003. HRH serves as a support group for families of patients with the same CHD as her son, Liam, as well as a resource for information about the rare form of CHD.

“Congenital Heart Defects in themselves are not rare, in fact they're the most common birth defect and kill over 8,000 babies every year,” Adams says. “But the type my son has is unusual and information is hard to find. My education at CSU helped me understand how to vet information on the Internet and lead others to seek better clinical information from their healthcare providers.”

The second nonprofit Adams launched was a Colorado chapter of the Children's Heart Foundation [www.childrensheartfoundation.org], which helps fundraise money for this vastly unrecognized and fatal birth defect. “The World Health Organization has noted that CHD is the most common and most deadly birth defect on the planet,” Adams says. “While still small, the Children's Heart Foundation is the only national organization committed solely to funding the best and most promising CHD research, which is why I've partnered with them and my local board members to start the Colorado chapter.”

Adams plans to continue raising awareness and money for congenital heart defects, a disease that has been at the forefront of her mind for the last nine years. In addition, she says that CSU has been an important player in her life, not only for the education she received but for the several board members who are also CSU alumni. “Since three of the seven board members are CSU alumni and we partner with medical advisory from The Children's Hospital and CU medical center, I'd love in the future to have some type of trivia event that pits CSU against CU to benefit CHD research for the Children's Heart Foundation.”

To learn more about Adams and her family’s struggles, you can visit her website, http://amandaroseadams.com/. Her book, Heart Warriors: A Family Faces Congenital Heart Disease, will be available in April, 2012.

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Juwon Melvin (’08) and Aaron Madonna (’08)

As you may remember in the Summer 2011 issue of the Colorado State Magazine, Juwon Melvin and Aaron Madonna are two shining stars of the CSU class of 2008. Currently living in Argentina, the co-founders of LifeSoap Company [lifesoapcompany.com], with friend and fellow CSU alumnus Ashton Williams (’08), are seeking to form even more connections to grow their organic soap business.

While the entrepreneurs are enthusiastic about the soap they produce, they also have a strong passion for philanthropy. “We give 90 percent of our after-tax profits to benefit children in developing countries who lack access to clean water. This year our goal is to give $5,000 to support clean water projects at two schools in Nicaragua,” Madonna says.

They will do that with H2O For Life, a nonprofit organization that links U.S. schools to schools in developing countries that are in need of water and sanitation facilities. “All of the money that students here in the U.S. raise goes directly to support the projects,” Melvin says. “H2O For Life helped us find the two schools in Nicaragua we plan to support in the coming year. They will also oversee the long-term implementation and sustainability of the projects.”

“We [Aaron and I] know what a difference an education can make. It changed our lives. We want to give [children] at least a shot – an opportunity – to go to school.” Melvin says. “They get clean water, an education, and a shot at a good life.”

The men hope to grow the business to support at least 10 clean water projects in Central America, South America, and Africa.

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