Jill and Robert Thomas Make $1 Million Challenge Grant for StepUP

Thomas familyJill and Robert Thomas of Tulsa, Oklahoma, are on a mission to erase the stigma associated with addiction and recovery—and it starts at Augsburg. They’ve made a $1 million challenge grant for Augsburg’s nationally recognized StepUP® Program, which helps students champion lives of recovery, achieve academic success, and thrive in a community of accountability and support. “The StepUP program is the Gold Star standard for collegiate recovery,” says Jill.

The couple is leading the drive to raise $10 million in endowment for the program and challenging others to “step up” to the plate to meet the urgent need for effective collegiate recovery programs.

Philanthropy + Advocacy = Change

Jill and Robert envision StepUP emerging as the program of choice for students in recovery and the employer of choice for top professionals in the field. They want to lift up StepUP as a model of excellence and see it replicated on campuses across the nation. They hope to see misconceptions about addiction and recovery shattered by the success of adults with addiction in their past. It all adds up to profound change. “First we have to start talking more openly about addiction and recovery, and then we have to start supporting it financially,” says Robert.

“We believe that our efforts can help organizations make a difference and move the needle in some very important things for people,” explains Robert, who served on the Alzheimer’s Association National Board and received the Maureen Reagan Award for outstanding Alzheimer’s Advocacy in 2010. Both he and Jill are leaders in Alzheimer’s advocacy and involved in several community organizations, including the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma and the Tulsa Area United Way.

They are parents of daughters Allie Thomas ’14 and Olivia Jordan, who currently serves as Miss USA.

Desperation, Love, and Hope

Jill and Robert learned about StepUP the hard way, through daughter Allie’s struggle with chemical dependency and her eventual recovery. “The despair and the fear of all it was all encompassing,” says Robert of that time in their lives.

Allie was living out of state when she hit the proverbial rock bottom.

“My dad swooped in and we came home to Tulsa,” says Allie. I had a series of stints in treatment centers, then stints of relapse. I was really unwell. It’s is so sad to think back on the person that I was.” Continue reading “Jill and Robert Thomas Make $1 Million Challenge Grant for StepUP”

Brewtel Means Big Things for Finnegans

Jacquie-headshotAuggie superstar and 2014 Spirit of Augsburg award recipient Jacquie Berglund ’87 is excited about the newest plans unveiled for the downtown Minneapolis block that is the proposed headquarters for the general contractor Kraus-Anderson. The Finnegans owner says news of the “Brewtel,” a hotel and Finnegans brewery concept will be a game-changer for Finnegans if approved. The beer company, which donates 100% of its proceeds to fighting hunger through donations to local and regional food shelves, would create a three-story brewhouse, event space, and a “Finnovation Lab” that would function as a business incubator for social entrepreneur start-ups. Read more about the news in the Star Tribune. Finnegans celebrated 15 years in business on Sept. 1, 2015. Next to the Newman’s Own brand, Finnegans is the second longest-running company in the country that donates 100% of its profits. Finnegans has given more than $500,000 to anti-hunger efforts since 2000.

Berglund will also serve as co-chair of Homecoming 2015 with Devean George ’99, and is excited to be back on campus to see Auggies from all classes.

Homecoming Convocation Honors Exceptional Auggies

Homecoming is the time to honor alumni and friends of the College who have contributed to Augsburg or who have made significant accomplishments since their graduation. This year at Homecoming Convocation at 10 a.m. in Hoversten Chapel, we honor Dan Anderson ’65, Grace Herr ’57, and Harvey Peterson ’52 with the Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of significant achievement in vocation, for outstanding contribution to church and community, and for a life that exemplifies the ideals and mission of Augsburg College. Physics professor Mark Engebretson and longtime manager of the Centennial Singers Mike Walgren ’64 will receive the Spirit of Augsburg Award, which honors alumni and friends of the College who have given exceptional service that contributes substantially to the well being of Augsburg by furthering its purposes and programs. Keme Hawkins ’05 will receive the First Decade Award, which is presented to Augsburg graduates of the past 10 years who have made significant progress in their professional achievements and contributions to the community, and in so doing exemplify the mission of the College. Continue reading “Homecoming Convocation Honors Exceptional Auggies”

StepUP® Program Gala Recognizes Jill and Robert Thomas

Gala Web Banner_2Two leaders in the addiction recovery community will be recognized for their commitment and generosity to Augsburg College’s StepUP® program for students in addiction recovery.

Jill and Robert Thomas, residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma, will receive the Toby Piper LaBelle Award at the Augsburg College StepUP Program Gala on October 24.

Thomas familyStepUP program alumni and families are invited to a special program, brunch, and open house to begin the Day of Gratitude at 9:30 a.m.

Alumni, parents, and friends are invited to an evening of inspiration, entertainment, and fellowship at the StepUP Program Gala celebration in Si Melby Hall on the Augsburg College campus at 5:30 p.m.

Married more than 30 years, Jill and Robert Thomas are the proud parents of two daughters: Allie, age 28, and a 2014 graduate of Augsburg College and the StepUP program, and Olivia Jordan, age 26, currently serving as Miss USA 2015.

Robert Thomas co-owns Senior Star, a company that owns and operates senior living retirement communities throughout the Midwest. Jill and Robert are both graduates of the University of Tulsa, Robert with a BS degree in 1974, and Jill with a BS degree in 1977 and a JD degree in 1986.

They have both been actively involved in Alzheimer’s advocacy through the Alzheimer’s Association. Robert has served on the National Board and been the recipient of the Maureen Reagan award for outstanding Alzheimer’s advocacy in 2010. They are actively involved in several community organizations including the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma, Alzheimer’s Association, and the Tulsa Area United Way, to name a few.

The Thomas family has given significant time and resources to the College’s program, which is a leader and award-winning model for residential addiction recovery communities at campuses across the nation.

The Toby Piper LaBelle Award is given to a person or family that has consistently supported young people in recovery. It is named in honor of the first recipient, Toby Piper LaBelle ’96, for his insight and ability to advocate for the needs of recovering college students on a college campus. LaBelle was a lead advocate for students in recovery while he was a student at Augsburg College.

To attend the Gala, and to celebrate the contributions of the Thomas family, please register at augsburg.edu/stepup/gala.

Urban Scrubs Campers Explore STEM & Health Fields

Augsburg hosted Urban Scrubs Camp for the sixth consecutive year this July. Scrubs Camp invites high school students interested in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and medical fields to immerse themselves in an experience-based program that exposes students to many fields, including dentistry, psychology, engineering, nursing, and more. During the week-long day camp, students participate in hands-on sessions, tour medical facilities, experience a variety of healthcare activities, and are exposed to numerous career options. It’s a fun way to learn about health-related careers, meet others, and get a sneak peek of life as an Auggie.

This year, Augsburg hosted 76 students and several alumni engaged as volunteers. Alumna Mary Ann Kinney MAN ’04, DNP ’11, a registered nurse at Mayo Clinic’s St. Mary‘s Hospital in Rochester, served as a keynote speaker and discussed her work in community building. Kinney has had extensive immersions through her graduate studies at Augsburg in Mexico and Guatemala and with homeless populations in Minneapolis and Rochester. She served as delegate to the first International Conference on Women’s Health in Beijing, China.

Urban Scrubs
Urban Scrubs campers at work in the Boston Scientific engineering workshop.

This camp provides a unique experience for metro-area students who otherwise might not have access to healthcare education. Last year, 70% of participants were students of color and 20% of campers were local to the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

Scrubs Camp is made possible by generous support from corporations, foundations, and community members. For the third year, Boston Scientific employees volunteered at Scrubs Camp. Steve Oommen facilitated two engineering workshops for campers.

Mike Newman Receives the Augsburg College Golden Bow Tie Award

Bow TieIn April, President Pribbenow invited Mike Newman, Vice President of Community Relations at Travelers Insurance, to celebrate five years as a partner institution with the Travelers EDGE® program, Empowering Dreams for Graduation and Employment. The cocktail hour and focused program on campus highlighted key aspects of the EDGE program:

  • Increase the pipeline of underrepresented students to Augsburg
  • Help underrepresented students graduate from Augsburg
  • Build awareness of careers in the Insurance and Financial Services industries

Newman is a true champion of education, and advocates strongly for access to higher education for all students. As a surprise to Mr. Newman, President Pribbenow presented Mike Newman with the Golden Bow Tie Award, which is bestowed upon a leader within the Augsburg Community who exemplifies outstanding contributions, embodies the core values of an Augsburg education, and inspires great pride for all Auggies. The award was named, playfully, after Paul Pribbenow’s daily ritual of wearing a bow tie, a tradition he started to initiate conversation with students. Along with a certificate, Newman also received bow tie cufflinks. Continue reading “Mike Newman Receives the Augsburg College Golden Bow Tie Award”

Auggies Give and Share Thanks

staff thank you note writingCelebrate Philanthropy Week March 30-April 2

Did you know that 95% of Augsburg students receive financial aid? Or that student support services like tutoring, the Writing Lab, and the CLASS office are available to all students at no extra cost? Financial aid, student support programs, faculty-student research and more are all made possible thanks to generous donors to Augsburg. Each year, more than 2,400 alumni, parents, and friends give more than $1 million to The Augsburg Fund. Philanthropy Week is an opportunity to teach current students about how their education is supported by donors, and thank current donors for their generosity. Come to the Christensen Center to write a thank you note. Staff will be tabling at the following times: Monday, March 30, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Tuesday, March 31, 11 a.m.–1 p.m.; Wednesday, April 1, 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.

Want to get involved?

  • Share what you love about Augsburg and why you support the College on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #auggiesgive.
  • Join us for a special Philanthropy Week lunch on Thursday, April 2, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. in East Commons to help thank donors for their support and encourage them to make a gift this year (RSVP to Ben Krouse-Gagne ’11 at 612-330-1179 or krousega@augsburg.edu)
  • Become a donor to Augsburg! Make your gift online at augsburg.edu/giving.

In Mentorship, the Journey Never Ends

Dani Bonilla
Dani Bonilla on graduation day, 2013

When Dani Bonilla ’13 was a sophomore at Augsburg, TRIO/Student Support Services led her to discover Scholastic Connections, a scholarship and mentorship program for high-achieving undergraduate students of color.

She realized that she met most of the requirements, and could be matched with a mentor who would provide extra support and guidance during her college years. Five new recipients are selected for the program each year. Each receives a $5000 scholarship and is paired with a mentor who is a successful Augsburg graduate of color.

After Bonilla was selected to participate, Cindy Peterson, director of Scholastic Connections, searched to connect her with a professional living the life and career that would be a perfect match. Bonilla was looking for a mentor she could relate to—someone who had overcome obstacles, whom she could trust and turn to for guidance. She was eager to learn how to achieve her academic goals and find her career path.

Martha Quick MSW '10
Martha Quick MSW ’10

She found Martha Quick MSW ’10,  who was excited to offer mentoring to someone interested in social work. Once she and Quick connected, they worked together over the next three years before Bonilla graduated with a psychology major in 2013.

As Martha’s mentee, Bonilla was responsible for setting personal and academic goals each semester. They met twice a month, for coffee or sometimes dinner, and Quick met with other mentors monthly. They shared stories with each other. “I truly enjoyed spending time with Dani, and we were able to exchange meaningful experiences,” Quick says. “I continue to watch Dani grow in her life as I did when she was in college. Being able to witness a young lady transform professionally gives me great pleasure.”

“Martha made me feel as part of her family—there were times she even invited me to family outings,” Bonilla says. Between their monthly visits, Bonilla checked in with Martha by phone at least once a week. “As I got closer to graduating, my schedule got busier with classes, work, and internships, but Martha and I made it work, even if our meeting was short.” Continue reading “In Mentorship, the Journey Never Ends”

Hollenbeck is Nurse of the Year at Children’s

Lani HollenbeckWith two sisters and a mother as strong role models, Lani (Langanki) Hollenbeck ’77, MAN ’11 wasn’t surprised by the rewards of working with fragile newborns and their families. But, drawn into nursing after having already earned her B.S. at Augsburg in Social Work, she discovered that combining the two areas allowed her to expand her worldview practice by looking at new ways of supporting those families at a crucial time—in the midst of challenging healthcare situations.

In her work as a staff nurse at the Minneapolis-based Infant Care Center of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, she supports parents as they nurture their newborn infants. Recently named 2014 Nurse of the Year by March of Dimes neonatal, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics, and Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, Hollenbeck knows it is hard for parents when births don’t go as planned or babies arrive too early, and she has always felt drawn to help them and their tiny babies. She believes these little ones deserve nurses who are committed to supporting their little bodies and souls for survival, growth, and development. Continue reading “Hollenbeck is Nurse of the Year at Children’s”

You Gave to the Max, and We’re So Grateful

Give to the Max Day was Nov. 13, and we’re still beaming with pride. We came in #1 for giving among all MN colleges and universities again this year, but we’re even more proud to say that 1,300 Auggies near and far—including students, alumni, parents, friends, faculty, and staff—donated more than $432,000 to support The Augsburg Fund and 34 excellent Auggie projects. If you supported Augsburg on Give to the Max Day this year, we thank you for your generosity. Please enjoy our sincere, campus-wide appreciation for the good work we all did together.