What does McLean’s own Kirsten Lodal have in common with Faith Hill and Lance Armstrong? All three are recent recipients of the Jefferson Award, a national award for public service.
Lodal, a graduate of the Potomac School and Yale University, is the CEO and co-founder of National Student Partnerships (NSP), which has 15 locations stretching from San Antonio, Texas, to New Haven, Conn. NSP is an organization that Lodal and Brian Kreiter founded in 1998,while undergraduates at Yale to bridge the gap between the university and the community that surrounded it. They designed a program that recruits volunteer college students to help community residents find employment, housing, child care, health care, legal aid, transportation and other services, including resume-building and even listening to clients’ problems. The program was such a success that it was exported to other communities across the country.
Receiving the Jefferson Award was certainly a shock for Lodal, who considers Kreiter and herself to be “joining the ranks of our heroes.” Lodal is quick, however, to offer up praise to the volunteers. “It’s so exciting to be getting this on behalf of all the volunteers who have done such hard work,” she said. She hopes that this award will be a way for the NSP to touch even more lives in the community. Yet for Lodal, creating the NSP was never about the awards; it was always about the people. “It would be impossible to do this work if you weren’t constantly reinspired by the people,” she said.
ONE SUCH INSPIRING STORY is that of Cynthia Kimbrough, who was helped by Sangeeta Prasad, a volunteer in NSP’s D.C. office. “I had obstacles in my way and she removed them,” said Kimbrough, smiling at Prasad. Kimbrough, who says she feels “great coming to Sangeeta,” only wishes she could get the word out to more people about NSP. Prasad credits Kimbrough for working hard to reach her goals.
“It’s the people who are motivated who really get a lot out of our services,” said Prasad.
The NSP is ripe with stories of success like that of Kimbrough — not only of the clients but also of the volunteers. Lodal considers one of the most rewarding aspects of her job to see “the transformations that happen with people who come in as freshman and cut their teeth with us and leave as seniors, as experts.” The students help the clients whatever ways possible, but there are limits: students cannot do all of the work for the clients, as it is important for the clients to be interested in their own successes. “We want clients to feel like they’ve climbed the mountain themselves and just have had helpers,” said Lodal.
WITH HER ROOTS IN MCLEAN, Lodal hopes to expand NSP services to Northern Virginia one day. “Even though you may not see the pockets of poverty in Northern Virginia, they are there,” said Lodal. She emphasizes that many people that the NSP are able to help do not fit into the traditional image of poverty; often, it is the middle-class individuals going through life changes and struggles twho seek out the NSP’s services for help through tough times.
Since Lodal’s D.C. offices are so close to her hometown, she feels blessed to have the support of her family. Her parents, including her mother, Elizabeth Lodal, principal of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, are proud of their daughter’s work in the community. “I feel very lucky to be close to home and close to such a supportive system,” said Lodal.
For more information on the NSP, visit www.nspnet.org.