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Web Extras - Spring 2015

Sisters in Service: McAuley Alumnae Find Fulfillment at Ronald McDonald House Charities

(Left to right):  Anne Czarnecki ‘98, Lindsay Hickey ‘04, Mary Jo McDonough Needham ‘76, and Mary Eileen Sullivan ’10.(Left to right):  Kelly Zielinski ’11 and Maura Duffy ‘10


Four McAuley alums from different 3 different decades. Beyond their shared passion for reminiscing about their days as Mighty Macs, these women now share a passion for serving others; namely, service through their respective roles working for Ronald McDonald House Charities. Inscape sat down with Anne Czarnecki ‘98, Senior House Director, Ronald McDonald House near Advocate Children's Hospital;

Lindsay Hickey ‘04, Director of Database Operations; Mary Jo McDonough Needham ‘76, Ronald McDonald Family Room Manager; Mary Eileen Sullivan ‘10, Resident Manager, Ronald McDonald House near Advocate Children's Hospital.

They recounted friendships forged and memories made as their walked the halls of McAuley, and how their education served as a springboard for the work they perform today in their respective jobs working for Ronald McDonald Charities of Chicago and Northwest Indiana.

How did your McAuley education shape you and the work you do today?

Anne:  My McAuley experience helped shape me to be the woman in leadership that I am today. I think McAuley instilled in all of us that we can do just as much as a man can do and so much more and be such a dynamic woman in today’s world. McAuley taught us we could do it, and that we could be a powerful woman, and not to be afraid of that. When you’re scared to jump, do it, because the reward will be tenfold. I remember, Mrs. Judy Bober, my Theology teacher always told me it was okay to be a leader and have an opinion of my own, because it’s my opinion and I can own it and use it to influence others in a powerful and positive way, and I think I’ve done that.

Mary Jo: I agree. I always think of empowerment when I think of McAuley.  Supportive and empowering and an expectation to do your best. Everyone was there to help you academically.

Lindsey: Teamwork and service were paramount for me as a student. McAuley had so many opportunities to collaborate. I ran cross country and the camaraderie was wonderful, we would cheer each other on toward success. I see that same experience now through my work at RMH Charities. It’s very collaborative and team-oriented; we’re always working with different teams and co-workers. Action Reaction was my first exposure to service.

Mary:  I really enjoyed the service component of my McAuley education, and remember being a senior and becoming very excited about opportunities we were offered, and being able to give back. I did my very first service project while I was a student at McAuley, and it happened to be helping to install the garden at this Ronald McDonald House. I then went on to college and continued with new service opportunities.

Mary: As a grade school student I was always a little quieter, but going to McAuley helped me break out of my shell. I never woke up in the morning worried about how I would act of what I would wear; we were going to school to learn, not to impress people. 

Mary Jo: I always felt very comfortable as a student. I never had to worry about anything.

Mary:  There were so many activities, there was always something you could try.

What are some of your favorite McAuley memories?

Mary Jo: Celebrating birthdays by making candy chains and decorating lockers!

Mary: We would share locker combinations and on your birthday it was not uncommon to open your locker and find cards and treats.

Anne:  I just loved going to school with all girls. We always felt comfortable – it was never a fashion show. I loved wearing a uniform but on dress down days I wore scrubs – I have several in different colors.

Mary Jo: We wore painters pants for dress down days!

Anne:  Cart rides through the halls! I love that the school still does golf cart rides! Everyone gets to enjoy their time in the spotlight, whether they play on a state championship sports team, or bring home the top prize in a journalism competition.

Mary Jo:  Graduation is a wonderful memory. My class graduated at the Arie Crown Theatre. My daughters also attended McAuley and graduated outside on the lawn. I remember how beautiful all the girls looked in their long white dresses and, and how the people lined up on both sides of 99th Street to watch them process. What a great tradition.

Mary:  As a junior you got to be an usher and assist with graduation and that was an honor. It made me excited for my graduation!

Lindsey:  One my most impactful memories was being in school the morning of September 11, 2001. I was a sophomore and watching the attacks, and witnessing how McAuley and the community was very powerful. I developed a deeper respect and compassion for many of my classmates. The Kairos motto of “every face has a story” really rang true then, and now too. Working for the Charity today I’m constantly reminded of the important of being compassionate because you don’t know what people, these families are enduring.

What lessons, or skills, do you feel McAuley instill in you as students and how do they continue to influence you now?

Mary:  My writing skills; strong writing skills were fostered at McAuley. We wrote a lot of papers at McAuley and when I went to college I was amazed at how my classmates didn’t write as well, or weren’t as prepared as I felt I was.

Anne:  I take from graduating and going to college that I was more socially aware than many of my friends. I was more open to different cultures, ways to live and religions, and family make-up. I feel that I was more willing to learn about the difference that exist in the world than my peers.  Ronald McDonald is all about community and diversity. I felt that my education about community started at McAuley, where we learned about it, learned to go with it, and embraced it. That transfers to my work here with the Charity. The whole concept of the Charity is building communities around sick children and their families and making them feel welcomed.

Lindsey:  I loved being able to teach though the McAuley Little School program. Even though my work with the Charity now doesn’t include working directly with children, that experience helped me realize that I wanted to do something with service, something with kids, and a little bit of business. Finding the RMH was a perfect fit. Little School gave us so much trust. As 18 year olds, we were trusted to help teach and care for these children, all the while have the chance to learn and grow.

Any parting words?

Anne:  So incredible that you can get together with alumnae from all different years and talk about the traditions, and I don’t know if you necessarily get the same at a public school. You have this commonality – you can pick out a McAuley girl in a crowd and you know you have a friend.

Mary:  No matter what year you graduated, I feel as if people will go above and beyond to support you when needed.

Since this interview, two more McAuley women have joined the RMH team! Welcome Maura Duffy ‘11, Meals from the Heart Manager, and Kelly Zielinski ‘10, Resident Manager

One to Watch: Alumnae Spotlight on Karen Spears '13


Karen Spears '13 is enrolled as a sophomore at the University of Missouri, where she is pursuing a degree in journalism. This ambitious McAuley graduate, who currently serves as a Google Student Ambassador, has set her sights high and already is making progress toward her ultimate career goal of owning her own advertising and PR company. Karen shared with Inscape memories of her years at McAuley and why she feels her McAuley education set the stage for her success in college.

What’s the greatest thing you learned at McAuley?

To think outside the box and to look at things differently, and not to be afraid.  McAuley was such a comfortable place. I’ve noticed in college that many girls are afraid to raise their hand, but my experience taught me the opposite. I was taught to be thoughtful about my response and how to engage in discussion and debate, and that has served me well in college.

How did you determine that you wanted to attend Mother McAuley?

I initially planned on attending Gwendolyn Brooks or Whitney Young for high school, but then talked with some girls from my grade school who attended McAuley. I decided to attend shadow day and from that point on, I fell in love with McAuley. I was fortunate to be a Daniel Murphy scholar while at McAuley, which was an enormous help for my family. (Editor’s note: Karen has an older sister who is 28, and a younger brother, now 11 years old.) Having the scholarship encouraged me to work hard because I don’t think McAuley would have been a viable option for me without the tuition assistance.

What are some of your favorite memories of McAuley?

Kairos is one of my favorite memories. The most valuable thing I learned is that everyone has a story, and remembering that has served me well in the years since. I recently had a classroom experience that generated racial tension, and while it first bothered me, I recalled Kairos and that people shouldn’t be condemned because of their different beliefs. They, too, have a story.

What would you tell a young girl, or a 7th or 8th grader about McAuley?

I would tell her, “The sky is the limit!” If you really, really want something, then go for it. Nothing should hold you back.

I’m hoping to plan a visit to my elementary school so I can talk to the girls about McAuley. Like me at that age, I don’t think many of them know about McAuley, or that it can be an option for them. I would like to ask them "Do you know how free you are?"

Tell us about this opportunity with Google?

I have been chosen as a Google as a Brand Ambassador, which means that I am a liaison between the University of Missouri and Google. I help them determine how they can improve communication to students. I help host on-campus events to introduce Google products and initiative.

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I learned about the Brand Ambassador role through Chicago Scholars (CS), which is a non-profit organization that helps high school graduates transition to college.  Through CS I was invited to attend a Google Bold Symposium to learn about personal branding and after that I was invited to apply for the Brand Ambassador position. You first must be nominated, so this was a great honor for me. I’m the first and only Google Brand Ambassador at the University of Missouri.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Ultimately, I want to start my own business + branding incubator for entrepreneurs. After college I’d like to get my start in advertising or public relations. I’d like to return to Chicago after graduation and go to work for a large agency like Leo Burnett. I currently run my own business as a lettering artist. I paint decorative lettering on canvases, and actually got my start at McAuley. I was always doodling and sketching letters and a classmate asked me to make a canvas for her dorm room. It grew from there!”

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