Sharon Solfest '84 hammers away at a Habitat for Humanity construction project in Australia.
Other alumni interested in service opportunities might like to consider the next alumni service trip. A St. Norbert group is headed back to the Gulf Coast June 16-24 to work on Hurricane Katrina clean-up.
Time out for service
A mind once stretched, never goes back, and that's how it's been for
Sharon Solfest '84, as she looks back over her recent adventures.
After 20 years of working in marketing for Northwest Airlines and American Express, Solfest decided to take a two-year break to focus on traveling and volunteering.
She said that, besides attending St. Norbert College, it was the best decision she ever made.
"The service trips I did on spring breaks really had an impact on me, and made me committed to do more in the future," she said.
In addition to fulfilling a lifelong dream of taking a road trip through the Southwest and hiking the Grand Canyon, Solfest participated in a Habitat for Humanity project in Australia and traveled to New York to assist displaced hurricane victims. She also pitched in on a variety of maintenance projects for a Catholic church in West Virginia during the first alumni service trip in May 2005.
In February 2006, she made a trip to New Orleans, where she worked gutting and cleaning homes through the St. Bernard Parish Recovery Project. She and the other volunteers had a chance to meet some of the homeowners, all of whom shared stories of how they evacuated, how long they had lived in the houses and what their future plans were.
Solfest says she started with a list of things she wanted to do, but didn't really plan anything. One thing just led to another. It became two years of experiential learning that daily allowed her to appreciate the small things in life.
"You gain so much by putting yourself in others' shoes, living in their culture and their environment. If you don't understand the problem, you can't be part of the solution," she said.
Solfest says she was blessed to have the means, health and desire to take time off from work to serve others. She thought about it for quite a while before she took action, but ultimately, she felt that in 20 years she would have more regrets about not taking this "sabbatical" than she would about missing two years of income.
"It was very self-empowering and deepened my faith—in God, people and myself. Everything just fell into place effortlessly. That is when you know you are living life right, and graced with great angels, friends and family!"
From a career perspective, she feels the time off actually helped her. In fact, she was able to land a new position relatively quickly once she started actively looking.
"I think my experience made me rememberable and demonstrated my drive to contribute and learn," she said.
She is now back in Minneapolis, working as an independent consultant in the Ovations e-commerce division of United HealthCare. Her work entails helping to create online strategy, processes and capabilities.
Although she's working full-time again, Solfest remains committed to volunteering when and where she can. She continues to travel and is considering returning to New Orleans for a Habitat Women's Build in 2007.
She also welcomes the chance to help others reconnect with St. Norbert College through her work on the alumni board.
As a member of the involvement committee in the Minnesota Community of St. Norbert, she's excited about the number and variety of events being organized and led by different alumni in the area.
"There is so much momentum, energy and interest in giving alumni the opportunity to connect, grow and reflect now, and I want to help increase awareness of that," she said.