A flutist who planned to teach, Carrie Phillips Gerard chose The College of Wooster for its excellent music education program. But a religious studies course, taken to fulfill a College requirement, quickly changed those plans.
“It sounds like a cliché,” says Gerard, “but that one class, Liberation Theology with Professor Charles Kammer, changed my life. The idea that God takes the side of the poor and oppressed—it awoke in me a passion for service that I didn’t realize I had.” Gerard ended up majoring in religious studies, then went on to earn a master’s degree at Yale Divinity School, following a stint with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps.
She now directs a nonprofit service organization, Eastern Area Community Ministries, in Louisville, Ky. Gerard knew in seminary that she wanted to pursue community work rather than parish ministry. In this job, she says, she stays in touch with churches and church members (over 100 volunteers keep EACM running) while assisting society’s most vulnerable citizens—and hopefully effecting structural change on their behalf.
Gerard has been involved in community ministries in Louisville since 2002. The city is unique in its comprehensive network of agencies such as EACM, with one to cover each region. The agencies coordinate services and apply for joint grants. Gerard began in emergency assistance and then moved into administration, assuming the EACM director position in January 2009.
She says she has seen the demand for assistance climb, even as the economy struggles out of recession. “The need has risen for folks who don’t normally access these services,” Gerard says. “These people are not used to navigating the system. They could be former volunteers or even former donors.” In addition to other aid, EACM provides food for 15 families a day, freeing up limited family dollars for expenses such as rent or gas. Though many of her duties are administrative, Gerard likes to interact with volunteers, clients, donors, and pastors.
At Wooster Gerard appreciated the chance to interact with faculty. She says that Prof. Kammer, who became her I.S. adviser, has played a critical role in her life. “It has been great, knowing him as a person as well as a professor. His character shaped me dramatically.” She also fondly remembers the dramatic presentations of another religious studies professor, Sam Murrell, in his course on the prophets. Murrell served on Gerard’s I.S. committee.
Although she chose another major, Gerard did not have to give up music while at the College. She played in the Scot Marching Band for all four years and loved it. “Those were some of my happiest memories,” she recalls. “A roommate, Susan Roberts, and I enjoyed doing duets and participating in a quartet.”
Gerard credits Wooster with developing her concept of service. “Volunteering fits so well with the spirit that The College of Wooster tries to instill in its students,” she says, “edifying yourself for the purpose of edifying others.
“I’m so proud to see the incredible ways that Wooster faculty, staff, and alumni give back to the community.”
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