Thursday, March 17, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight: Natalie Durda

First year mentor Natalie Durda was born in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, a southwest suburb of Minneapolis. “Things move a little bit slower [in Minnesota],” she says. “Everyone is really nice,” and even though it is north of Chicago, the winters are not as bad because it is not as windy.

In school she loved English, Spanish, and social studies, and, “Soccer was my sport.” Natalie’s parents instilled a strong work ethic in her, so she has always worked hard. She was already working 20 hours a week in high school!

Natalie went to the biggest high school in Minnesota with just under 1000 people in her graduating class. It was intimidating at first and easy to get pressured into doing good and bad things, but she had a core group of friends who stuck by her. She was gradually able to distinguish the wrong crowd and by the end of high school she had all the negative people out of her life.

Moving from high school to college was an even bigger challenge. Natalie, along with a handful of others from her graduating class, chose to attend the University of Kansas. She was really excited about it, but it wasn’t until she got there that she realized how different the culture was.

Her initial feeling was that she had made a bad choice, but after rolling over a few speed bumps during her freshman year, she stuck it out and ended up making awesome friends. Natalie says the experience taught her “how strong you can be” and it made it easier for her to move to Chicago.

She graduated with a degree in social work, but she has since switched careers and now works in commercial real estate on the management side. She may go back to school to get a master’s degree in social work, but for now she is enjoying the work that she is doing.

Whether its work or school or spending time with her friends, Natalie has always kept busy; and volunteering is an important part of her schedule. She found out about Cabrini Connections through Chicago Public School’s web site. She liked that there was a program giving back to the community in which it started.

Natalie works with second year student Alexis Spears on Wednesday nights. Natalie says, “She’s taught me patience and perseverance. We might get frustrated, but a little bit of a positive attitude really goes a long way… Sometimes you need to step back from the situation. You cannot get easily frustrated. This is a child you’re working with. This is not an adult.”

She also says, “Take pride in being a little receptive. Know when to dance around things or be direct with things… Make light of some situations and be serious other times…

Thank you for the simple but important reminder, Natalie, and thank you for your service to Cabrini Connections. We are happy to have you and I’m sure Alexis is, too!

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