Classmates (from left) Elizabeth Norden, Amy (Snyder) Wakefield, and Siobhan Madden participated in the September 2019 Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk in New York City.
Elizabeth Norden, B.A. 1995, is director of foundation relations for Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Chicago. The nonprofit was founded in 1887, just like Catholic University, she likes to point out.
Norden says her career choices are closely related to her CatholicU experience. She had internships on Capitol Hill, in the publicity department at WUSA9, and, her favorite, at The George Michael Sports Machine television show.
“At Catholic,” she says, “I learned the importance of putting my faith into action every day, and that has led to a meaningful career.”
She spent a few decades serving in senior legislative and communications roles working for the state of Illinois, including at the offices of the attorney general and lieutenant governor.
“Government can play a positive role in people’s lives, but should also be held accountable to the people it serves,” she says.
One of her most rewarding achievements came with the passage of state legislation she spearheaded requiring automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in schools, park district facilities, and health clubs. “My close friend collapsed while working out at a health club, and later died,” says Norden. “I worked on that legislation with her family and friends to ensure her spirit lived on in every life saved through an AED.”
As she made the move to working in fundraising at Mercy Home, Norden also wanted to share her skills through international volunteerism. “I have always admired the humanitarian work of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). I reached out to a recruiter and learned about the USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) Farmer-to-Farmer program, a partnership with CRS.”
She was initially surprised that an agricultural program would need her skill set, but grant-writing and fundraising are transferrable skills. She accepted a placement with the Rwanda Development Organization (RDO) to help them build their fundraising capacity. She spent weeks learning about their needs, and then in August 2019 she arrived in Rwanda to provide the in-person training — as the country was marking the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
“Almost everyone I met was touched in some way by the genocide,” she says. “For a country and its people to have survived something so horrific, and to be such a place of love and kindness, made a lasting impact on me.” She continues to keep in touch with RDO colleagues as friends and to share resources.
Norden says working with CRS was a great experience. “I intended to travel to Uganda this summer for another assignment, but, with the pandemic, I am lending my expertise virtually.”
Norden, who is celebrating her 25th class reunion this year, keeps in touch with CatholicU friends. “By sharing my story, my hope is to inspire fellow alumni to volunteer with the Farmer-to-Farmer program, bringing their much-needed skills to developing countries.”