In 2009, Esteban Saldi boarded a plane and traveled approximately 6,500 miles to Waynesburg, Pa., with a plan. Saldi, a Waynesburg University sophomore at the time, never imagined that just three years later his plan would actually become a reality.
A 2012 human services alumnus, Saldi recently led a Waynesburg University mission service trip to his native La Paz, Bolivia. This past March, Saldi, joined by Dave Calvario, director of the Center for Service Leadership at Waynesburg University, and six additional Waynesburg students, strengthened his personal partnership with Samaritan's Purse when he returned home to work on a project close to his heart.
For more than 40 years, Samaritan's Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization, has worked to bring assistance in the name of Jesus Christ to those hurting around the world. Inspired by the organization's mission and after his work on a well digging project during the summer of his freshman year, Saldi felt called to rejoin Samaritan's Purse.
With the longing in his heart, Saldi approached Dave Calvario, dean of students and director of the Center for Service Leadership, to discuss the possibility of a university trip. During their spring break this past March, Calvario, Saldi, and six other Waynesburg University students created a University “first” while breathing life into Saldi's 3-year-old dream.
Partnering with Samaritan's Purse for the first time, the mission service team was given the opportunity to directly connect faith, learning and serving while making a difference in a fellow classmate's native country. Saldi's mentor and peers came away from the trip humbled by the experience.
“Most of us take for granted on a daily basis that, when I turn on a faucet in America, clean drinkable water will come out,” Calvario said. “This is not the case in many countries.”
The experience was all that Saldi had hoped for, and at times, he said, seemed dreamlike.
“At moments it seemed unreal that Waynesburg students were having lunch at my house and spending time with my family,” he said.
Saldi, according to Calvario, added to the richness of the trip, Calvario said.
Also a Bonner Scholar, Saldi, spent more than 140 hours each semester serving others while personifying the mission of Waynesburg. Through his Waynesburg University mission service trip experiences and his work with Habitat for Humanity, St. Ann's Soup Kitchen and World Vision, his focus in life developed and changed.
“Service has become more than just volunteer work, it is a lifestyle,” Saldi said. “I serve not only because of the abilities I have, but because of the needs of the people around me.”
Described as a quiet, shy individual as a freshman, Calvario said he knew the University had gained “a diamond in the rough.”
“During his time at Waynesburg and being part of the Bonner Scholar Program, I witnessed a tremendous amount of growth in Esteban. He has truly become a servant leader,” Calvario said.
To describe Saldi and the depth of his kindheartedness, Calvario summarizes Luke 5: 12-13, where Jesus, filled with compassion, reaches out His hand, touches a man with leprosy and immediately the leprosy leaves the man.
“I have witnessed Esteban time and time again filled with compassion, reaching out his hand to help and love others,” Calvario said.
Saldi's willingness to take action and his desire to make a difference would eventually bring about Saldi's involvement in eight mission service trips, both domestic and international, through his eight semesters at Waynesburg University. Placing substantial meaning on the phrase, “saving the best for last,” Saldi's undergraduate career culminated with perhaps one of his most memorable service experiences to date.
Above all, Saldi recognizes the role faith and service has played in his growth. He plans to further expand that growth through his position as a Work Site Liaison for the Pittsburgh Project.
Saldi's personal commitment to making a difference has left a profound impact on Waynesburg University.
“Esteban has truly left his fingerprints at Waynesburg University and around the globe,” Calvario said.
The Pittsburgh Project's purpose to develop servant leaders and uphold the dignity of vulnerable homeowners has much in common with Waynesburg University's mission of educating students through faith, learning and serving.
For several years, Waynesburg University has worked to build a partnership with The Pittsburgh Project, a nonprofit community development organization committed to meeting the needs of the Pittsburgh community. Each semester, Waynesburg students are given the opportunity to serve extensively with The Project in programs such as tutoring, work camps and community garden.
“The Pittsburgh Project is striving to provide for its community through education and home improvements for the elderly, widows and those with disabilities who fall 150 percent below the poverty level,” said Sarah Brandstetter, coordinator of Waynesburg University's Bonner Scholar Program.
This year, five Waynesburg students and a recent alumnus are dedicating their summers to the cause, serving as worksite liaisons from the beginning of June to mid-August.
Those working with The Project include: Kimber Blair, a junior interactive design major from New Castle, Pa; Darartu Boyer, a senior early childhood education major from Columbia, Pa; Ethan Hacker, a junior biblical ministry studies (children and youth) major from Butler, Pa; Blake McCarty, a sophomore business management major from Frisco, Tx; Esteban Saldi a 2012 human services alumnus from La Paz, Bolivia and Steven Snow, a sophomore criminal justice administration major from Butler, Pa.
“I decided to serve at the Pittsburgh Project this summer so that I could minister to people in my home city,” Hacker said. “I like working hands on and doing labor. I am excited to work with the homeowners and other groups to make the city a little bit better every day.”
Dave Calvario, Director of the Center for Service Leadership, and Brandstetter have worked alongside students within The Project throughout the years and regularly encourage students to take the next step when it comes to serving others.
“Sarah Brandstetter and Dave Calvario have always been supportive and influential in my life, and they are the ones who helped me decide to work with The Project my first summer,” Blair said.
Proud to be part of an organization that has genuine interest in the people of Pittsburgh, Blair reflected on how God has opened her eyes to the need in the area.
“There's a need to care for vulnerable, sometimes neglected, homeowners who are unable to continue the upkeep on their own homes,” she said. “There is a need for positive influences in the lives of the youth. There is a need for reconciliation between gangs and other groups.”
With all of the need in the Pittsburgh area, and around the world, there is an even bigger need for individuals like these Waynesburg students and alumnus who have given their summers in order to serve God and make a difference for those around them.
Waynesburg University's commitment to faith, service and learning is continuously expressed through the passion and dedication of its students, faculty and staff. To honor those that exemplify the spirit of service, Waynesburg's annual service award is bestowed upon an individual and student group that embody what it means to wholeheartedly serve others while making a difference in the world.
Announced during the University's chapel service Tuesday, April 10, Leeann Danley, an elementary and special education major from West Finley, Pa., and Waynesburg University's student chapter of Colleges Against Cancer were named the 2012 recipients of the award.
Danley has served with a number of organizations and ministries including the Waynesburg Senior Center and Tuesday night dinners at St. Anns, among others. She has participated in several mission trips including an extended trip to El Centro Nutricional y Hogar de Niños in Guatemala over Christmas and New Year's last December.
Calling the award a blessing, Danley believes her service experiences at Waynesburg have given her an opportunity to give thanks to God “for giving her the gifts and time to serve His people in Greene County and in other parts of the world.”
“The award is more than a piece of wood to hang on the wall; it symbolizes the many men and women who did more than just receive a classroom education at this University,” she said. “They selflessly dedicated and invested themselves in the lives of others. They learned about a need, and used their time and abilities to make changes happen.”
Danley is one of the many students profoundly affected by the ways in which Waynesburg University instills its mission in its students.
“Over the past four years, I have been one of the torchbearers who has carried and shared the University's deeply-rooted commitment to faith, serving and learning,” she said.
Other individual nominees for the award included Andrew Dennis, a senior business management major from McKeesport, Pa.; Kaitlyn Karan, a senior nursing major from Sarver, Pa.; Jessica Malingowski, a senior forensic accounting major from Finleyville, Pa.; Sarah Markwardt, a senior biblical ministries and international studies major from Uniontown, Pa.; and Mary Sallach, a junior athletic training major from Erie, Pa.
Colleges Against Cancer, led by Kelley Hardie, assistant director of student activities, received the 2012 Harry E. Gardner club or organization award. Kaitlyn Karan, president of CAC, accepted the award.
Since 2007, the organization has devoted itself to raising money and awareness for the American Cancer Society. In addition to the Gardner Award, the chapter was recently named the Outstanding Organization of the Year for Greene County by the American Cancer Society.
Most notably, CAC has raised more than $60,000 in five years through its annual Mini-Relay for Life. This spring, the chapter raised more than $23,000 through the University's 5th Annual Mini-Relay. An estimated 600 people participated in the event.
Other group nominees for the award included the American Chemical Society and the EcoStewards.
Afterschool Champions are selected based on dedication, commitment and passion for creating and supporting high quality extracurricular activities for the youth in the local community. Sarah Brandstetter, coordinator of the Bonner Scholar Program, has been recognized by the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool/Youth Development Network (PSAYDN) as an Afterschool Champion.
“She holds the youth in our area near and dear to her heart,” Dave Calvario, dean of students and director of the Center for Service Leadership, said. “She challenges and plants seeds in the University students she mentors and teaches them to become champions in their own respect.”
Brandstetter, one of ten Afterschool Champions from Pennsylvania, was honored at PSAYDN's annual meeting in Pittsburgh March 7. Due to her incredible dedication to the Bonner Scholars Program, she was not able to attend the ceremony as she served with the Pittsburgh Project March 4 through March 10.
Waynesburg University is proud to have Brandstetter as the coordinator of the University's Bonner Scholars Program.
“We have 60 Bonner Scholars in the program,” Calvario said. “Sarah works closely with them in regard to their hours of service, meetings and reflections they need to attend, how they are doing both academically and personally by meeting with them in the fall and spring.”
Cathie Carpenter, pastor and owner of Kid's Café, an afterschool program for younger children, nominated Brandstetter for the award.
“I felt that Sarah was a strong candidate for the award,” Carpenter said. “She goes above and beyond what is expected of that program. She even teaches a class of students to make sure that we have enough tutors and makes sure there is always a freshman or sophomore working into a leadership role at Kid's Café so that when current leaders graduate, it will be a smooth transition.”
Waynesburg University is proud to be one of only 27 schools nationwide to offer the Bonner Scholars Program. Each student at Waynesburg is driven by a passion to serve the local and global community. Waynesburg University's community service efforts are blessed to be led by Brandstetter, who is truly dedicated to continuing God's work in the Waynesburg community.
PSAYDN promotes sustainable, high-quality out-of-school time youth development programs through advocacy and capacity building to enhance the welfare of Pennsylvania's children, youth and families.