In the short story, “The Starfish Story” a young boy walks along the beach throwing starfish that have washed onto land back into the ocean. An older man questions why the boy is doing this since it is impossible to save all of the starfish. The boy answers, “I made a difference to this one.”
“I made a difference to this one.”
This is the mantra by which Katie Elliot, a senior human services major graduating from Northeastern this month, lives.
“I find I am most creative when I am doing something for the benefit of others,” says Katie, who has benefited many during her Northeastern career. She has done this while on campus, in the local community, and across the globe through her many courses and experiential learning opportunities.
Katie participated in a Dialogue of Civilizations program in Zambia led by Lori Gardinier, director of the Human Services Program, during the summer after her freshman year. For the service-learning component of the Dialogue, Katie used her American Sign Language minor to teach young children at the PaKachele Primary School how to sign. She taught herself Zambian Sign Language so that she could communicate with the children. In her free time, Katie created small sign language books for each of the children so that they could communicate with their own families at home.
Katie continued her work in helping people in need on her first co-op at Triangle Inc. This local organization serves young adults with disabilities by helping them find jobs and become more independent. By the end of her co-op, Katie had created a hundred-page curriculum for the young adults in this program and integrated hands-on experiences and activities tailored to their needs.
“I find I am most creative when I am doing something for the benefit of others.”
“I was able to be successful with this because I was so invested in helping the young adults reach their goals, even if they seemed small to other people,” says Katie. “These students taught me to be patient, to laugh even when things seemed miserable and challenging, and to never give up, because they sure didn’t, even when society denied them access to employment and looked down on them.”
She built upon these experiences on her next co-op, in Cambodia. As a leadership resident, she lived with and mentored Cambodian university women to teach them leadership skills. With these women’s needs and goals in mind, again, Katie played the role of compassionate teacher. She developed and implemented workshop curriculum; helped students with English, writing, and public speaking skills; planned cultural and recreational programming; and sacrificed her personal free time to plan lessons and provide feedback.
On campus, Katie has been heavily involved with the Center of Community Service, serving as a service-learning teaching assistant. Most recently as a team manager, she led and mentored a group of S-LTAs. Katie has also mentored and led youth at various summer camps, sports programs, and nonprofits in Boston and New York. This past semester, she has been an intern at Doc Wayne Youth Services doing sports-based group therapy for at-risk youth in Boston public schools.
For all of her inspiring work, Katie has received numerous awards this semester as she prepares to graduate and begin work as a behavioral youth counselor at Youth Villages’ residential program in Memphis. At the Student Life Awards she received the Shores C. Salter Award for Outstanding Citizenship and the Center of Community Service Leadership Award. She accepted one of the university’s highest honors for a graduating senior, the Harold D. Hodgkinson Award, at the Academic Honors Convocation last month.
Perhaps what is most telling about Katie is that she gives herself little credit for the difference that she has made in the lives of countless individuals over the past five years. Instead, she credits the youth she has encountered across her experiences for changing her.
From Katie to those youth: “Thank you for showing me what it really means to make a difference to one person at a time.”