Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Volunteer Spotlight: Susan Garver

Wednesday night volunteer Susan Garver is from Grand Rapids, Michigan, the second biggest city in Michigan behind Detroit. She describes her hometown as “outdoorsy” with a lot of bike and running options (and, in the winter, skiing). It is only 30 miles from Lake Michigan.

Chicago, however, is on Lake Michigan. Susan moved to Chicago five years ago after graduating from law school. For her undergraduate degree, she went to Michigan State University in East Lansing. When deciding on a college, she chose MSU because a lot of her friends were going there and it is only an hour away from Grand Rapids. “I was also excited about the prospect of a big school,” she says. There were 1000 people in her high school and everyone knew each other. MSU has over 45,000 students, making it one of the largest universities in the country.

For Susan, the best part about college was the beautiful campus. “People go outside… there’s lots of green space… [and] everybody is really outgoing and friendly.” She was also lucky enough to have a very competitive men’s basketball team. The Spartans won the national championship during her sophomore year. They have been to five Final Fours since 1999 and are still alive in the 2010 tournament. Not bad!

Susan originally wanted to be a broadcast journalist, but over time she realized that she wanted to do something that had more stable earning capacity. “I wanted to be self-sufficient,” she says simply. She began tracking toward law school and enrolled in Wayne State University right out of MSU. Law school was a lot more intense than college. You only have final exams (no homework, no quizzes, no midterms) and teachers call on you at random in class using the Socratic method.

Five years ago, Susan became a lawyer by passing the bar examination in Illinois. She worked in traffic court for one year and has worked in workers’ compensation defense for the past four. A typical day for her starts at 9 a.m. in court. Most cases don’t go to trial, so she will work out a plan for the case with the judge and others. Later in the day, back at her office, she communicates regarding her cases and even has to investigate them sometimes, making her part lawyer, part detective!

Susan found Cabrini Connections on the Internet while looking to volunteer for an after-school program. She signed up in Fall 2008 and has been with her mentee, Olivia Williams, for almost two years. “It’s been fun,” she says. “The second year has been easier. I think she trusts me and likes coming.” They work together with Olivia’s sister, Patricia, and her mentor, Susan’s friend, Christine Nielsen. Susan says the 2-on-2 situation is nice because the girls often have similar work schedules, and, when it comes to a specific subject, Christine can help out or vice versa. Her tip for mentors is to “stick with it.” “It can be hard to see that you’re making progress,” she says, “but every once in awhile, you’ll see that you are making a difference.”

We see, Susan! Thanks for your commitment to the program!

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