Alumni Fellowship Introduces Student to a Whole New World in Alaska

A Saint Mary’s education can take you a long way – like to Alaska. That’s where SMC senior Julie Cozzetto spent eight
weeks during the annual Alumni Summer Fellowship, which is coordinated by CILSA and supported by alumni donations. Cozzetto served at Daybreak, Inc., a nonprofit in Palmer, Alaska, that helps mentally disabled adults by creating treatment plans and advocating for them with public service agencies and the courts. When she wasn’t shadowing case managers and working one-on-one with clients, she took time to experience the wild, natural side of Alaska and write about her experience. In this excerpt from her blog, she shares a little of what she learned.

The True Meaning of Hospitality

“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” – Blessed Mother Teresa

Coming up here was scary — I was alone and lacked the support I am so used to having at home or school. What I have learned about people up here is that everyone treats you like family. They offer a roof over your head, a warm bed to sleep in and food in your stomach. … It is so beyond basic hospitality that these people have welcomed me with. And as I considered these situations and people, I realized that what I was going to bring back is not a concrete lesson or package, it’s an idea — an idea of finding love in each other. Mother Teresa’s quote above is one that I believe embodies this idea. We are not going to cause earthshattering change right away, and the point isn’t to look for the biggest and brightest idea; it is to love wholly and completely. It is to welcome the stranger, visit the imprisoned, offer food for the hungry. Doing everyday activities with the utmost recognition of a person’s humanity is the greatest gift we can give each other. We are all human, and transcending that, as a believer, we are all created in the image of the divine. … Cozetto on McHugh Peak, near Anchorage, Alaska.

This is the idea that Mother Teresa hit on; every act we do must be done in love of our neighbor. The selflessness of this act is what is so amazing: There is nothing to gain from caring for the sick or injured — it is done only because we care about our fellow human beings.

This element of love and compassion is what I have been witness to here in Alaska. I have seen this in the clients that have opened up to me, trusting me, and sharing their stories and lives with me. The people that have opened their homes and hearts to me, asking questions, offering stories, laughter, joy, and yes, food, have shown me the action of love by treating me like family. The case managers and employees of Daybreak have embodied this idea of love in the truest way. They are true advocates for the voiceless and
marginalized. …

It is in the small acts — a weekly phone call, driving them to a therapy session, or working with them to maneuver the system — but when done with love, that the clients find in their case managers an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, and a voice to offer advice and encouragement. By acting through love, the small act becomes that much greater. This is what I am bringing back from Alaska. I have a greater sense of what it means to open your arms and your heart to someone and welcome them. Mother Teresa said it best: No matter what we are doing in life, the action becomes that much greater when it is done with love.

Thank you, Alaska, you have taught me well!

Lessons learned in Alaska: Hiking by yourself can be a therapeutic endeavor, but you need to know the trail and have
the right precautions (hello, bear bell!).

The views are always worth the hike, and the longer and harder the hike, the better the view, usually.

All people do not have equal opportunity and therefore are unable to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Sometimes they don’t even have boots, and because of this, they require assistance from their fellow human beings.

Working with clients requires patience and a touch of grace — something that the case managers have an excess of. They’re able to work with clients who need the most help without being condescending.

Alaska has taught me to be thankful — for my personal blessings in life, physically, mentally, socially and emotionally — for the world I get to explore, the trails, oceans, and valleys — for others and the impact they can play in my life,
teaching lessons and giving their personal gifts.

I was reminded of the beauty of humanity and nature and the importance of living a life that reflects that beauty as best I can.

Tyler Harth