During 2013, columnist Michelle Linn-Gust has profiled many people and organizations whose good deeds make a difference in the community and around the world. Today she updates the most poignant stories from the year.
Here’s what Naperville’s Good Causes have been up to:
While Nicole Pronger fulfilled a dream of visiting the Amazon jungle in August, the trip gave her life lessons that will alter her future.
“I realized I don’t need to stress myself out about my career plans,” she said. “I want to be happy, and I’m going to do things that excite me.”
Pronger and her boyfriend, Nick Stefani, both Waubonsie Valley High School grads, spent a month in Cusco, Peru, working on construction projects at an orphanage before returning to start their senior years at the University of Wisconsin.
The trip, planned through the International Volunteer HQ, was an opportunity for the pair to immerse themselves in another culture. Pronger also raised more than $250 to purchase vitamins and fill an extra suitcase of items she left for the community.
She hadn’t even gotten to Peru when her view of the world began to shift.
“When we first got off the plane in Panama City, I realized how small my world has been,” Pronger said.
While she and Stefani spent the month working on projects like making a driveway by first tearing up the cement with a pick axe, then mixing the cement to recreate the driveway. They also made a garden, a chicken coop and renovated a bathroom.
It was a far cry from life in the Chicago suburbs or Madison.
“I know people in college who don’t know how a dishwasher works or how to make macaroni and cheese,” she said.
“Seeing people down there gave me a perspective on how big the world is,” Pronger said.
While everyone is getting ready for the holidays, Kuldeep Sra is preparing to return to India at the end of January. He will spend two months there meeting with the 32 girls his organization, Dheean Pukardian, funds the educations.
The Naperville resident and retired Fermilab machinist has raised enough money since July to add 30 more girls to the list.
Dheean Pukardian means “daughter’s outcry,” and Sra started it when his eyes were opened to the UNICEF and the World Health Organization estimate that more than 11 million female fetuses are aborted in India and China alone. Sra is hoping to change this by educating these middle-class girls and keeping them from forced selective sex abortions.
He has given countless presentations in the area — Naperville, Downers Grove, Lisle, and Aurora — in the past six months, opening the eyes of people to what is happening in India. Girls are pressured into the abortions because having a baby girl means the family will have to pay a dowry when she is later married.
“The major problem there is the dowry system,” Sra said, adding that he will take video of the girls for the funders to see. “I want to know from their own perspective, not do things because of activism.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s in this country or another,” said Sra, intending to travel into India’s rural areas where not many people go or girls’ voices are heard. “I only believe in one ‘ism’ and that’s humanism.”
There have been mixed blessings for Todd Ramsbottom since his bone marrow transplant in late April. While Todd, a 1994 graduate of Naperville North High School, has not been able to return to teaching at Lincoln Junior High School, he has spent a lot of time with his wife, Liz, and their three children.
That’s time they weren’t sure they would have when he was diagnosed with leukemia in January.
A fundraiser brought in several thousand dollars to help them cope with the lost income. Todd hasn’t been in the classroom in almost a year, and they incurred expenses because he had to live in a sanitized setting from his surgery until the beginning of August. Liz ran two households: one in Oswego where they reside and another at the hotel where Todd was regaining his strength.
“It’s a catch 22,” he said. “I love to be around my family and kids, but I miss work and the people at work. Going back to work is my final step to normalcy.”
He most likely will not return to the classroom until flu season has ended.
Life at home has changed: the Ramsbottoms must be more careful with germs because Todd can’t get sick. He also can’t be exposed to the sun or go outside 24 hours after a rainstorm because it stirs up the mold spores.
“At this point,” Liz said. “we’re just waiting, but we hope this will have been a cure. This truly changed the way we look at everything.”
For Ken Kaden, the opportunity to adapt Nick Hornby’s “A Long Way Down” novel into a play to benefit youth suicide prevention served multiple purposes. His son Jonathan, a 17-year-old student at Naperville Central High School, died by suicide in July 2011.
“The play was not only therapeutic for me but a way to give back,” Ken said.
The weekend performances in March raised more than $6,500 for the American Association of Suicidology’s National Center for the Prevention of Youth Suicide.
“It did feel like a step forward,” Ken said. “I felt like I did something for bringing a certain amount of awareness.”
Ken also learned that a woman checked herself into a hospital after the performance. The story, focused on a group of suicidal people, made her realize how much her feelings preyed on her. He called it the “little nudge” she might not have gotten otherwise.
The play has led to more fundraisers and opportunities.
Karen Moloney, who owns the Dairy Queen on Wehrli Road where Jonathan worked, held a fundraiser the weekend of Jonathan’s birthday in the spring. One of Jonathan’s favorite parts about his job was making Dilly Bars, and he went so far as calling himself “Dilly Bar” on his Facebook page. Moloney also is planning a golf outing at Tamarack Golf Course on June 23 to benefit suicide prevention.
And Ken is in talks with the American Association of Suicidology to take the play to its annual conference, which will be in Los Angeles in April.
Sarah Zeitlin is grateful to be back at work. After surviving breast cancer that included multiple reconstruction surgeries, she found an assistant editor job on the television show “The Mindy Project.”
While Zeitlin, 32, graduated from Waubonsie Valley High School, she now lives in Los Angeles. But her family is still in the Naperville area. The geographic distance made it challenging for them to support her physically during her cancer treatment. Her sister Deb helped arranged a fundraiser in April to aid Sarah’s care.
“The people who came forward to help were so overwhelming,” said Sarah, who was an active member of the Stepperette community growing up. “It’s amazing how people can show up for you.”
The experience has taught Sarah to make her health a priority, especially what she eats and how much exercise she gets. While she is still enduring physically therapy to build up strength from her reconstruction surgeries that included part of a pectoral muscle that was removed, she also still struggles with fatigue from the experience and the toll it took on her body.
Sarah has begun speaking to various cancer-related organizations about her story, talking about how she found her lump. And she is there for her friends, some of whom are going through their own breast cancer treatments.
“It’s still an everyday struggle, but there is light on the other side,” she said.