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Redbirds in the Community: The Path to Fulfillment

written by Todd Kober, Associate Athletics Director for Athletics Communications Hobbled by a torn ankle ligament in September 2009, John tests that must be graded at a 90-percent level in order to advance. Navarro, a long-distance runner on the Illinois State’s cross country and “Ultimately we just look for someone who is ready to learn and ready track and field teams, responded to an e-mail sent by a local non-profit to be committed,” PATH Program Trainer Jennifer Nettleton said. “We organization reaching out for volunteers. The organization was PATH have a pretty intensive training program, so we have to know that they (Providing Access to Help), which serves McLean, Livingston and Dewitt are going to stick with it and give us some time afterwards. We ask for counties. 120 hours at least of commitment after training.” PATH began on the campus of Illinois State University in 1971 as So, how does Navarro rate? “He’s been with us awhile and it can a drug hotline. PATH has well over 100 volunteers who answer the be a stressful job,” Nettleton said. “He’s a calm, level-headed person hotline 365 days a year, as well as volunteers who provide assistance to that has been able to deal (with the stress) on a long-term basis. He’s senior services programs. In 2010 alone, PATH received 79,242 calls into dedicated, and we can count on him to get those hours in. It has been the crisis hotline center. Navarro didn’t recall the wording or context a passion of his to help others.” Navarro’s passion for philanthropy was of the e-mail from PATH, but looking back, it should have read like the instilled by his Polish grandmother who raised him. “I had a lot of Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” obstacles and hardships to deal with (growing up),” Navarro said. Really the only person who stayed there was my grandma, and she helped me see life through a different way. She helped me see a lot of things to “… two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one help people. She helped me a lot and eventually, near the end of her less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” life, I helped her out. I think that is why I joined PATH, so I continue to help.” Navarro took the road less traveled, by bicycle in fact. The Redbird Now that Navarro is well beyond the training and has served 334 distance runner doesn’t own a car, so in order to begin this volunteer hours of service through the end of the spring 2011 semester, there process he had to ride his bike to the downtown Bloomington location. were still strong time demands like the once-a-month overnight shift. And volunteering at PATH isn’t a simple show up and put in some hours “The overnights are pretty difficult, especially considering my time type of service either. The process to become a volunteer is an event in schedule now, as opposed to when I was being redshirted,” Navarro said. itself. With a nine-week training period to become a volunteer, Navarro “You have to stay up all night and take all the calls. I’m just exhausted wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work with PATH had it not been (the following day) because I have to go to my classes and then go to for his injury and subsequent redshirt season. “I wouldn’t have had the practice.” time to do PATH (without the injury),” Navarro said. “I see it as fate. It Even though Navarro was a blessing.” has contributed all The nine-week training program, which includes presentations the time, he is from agencies in the area to educate the volunteers on the services grateful for the that are available, prepares the volunteers for the call center through opportunity role-playing and guidance from the trainers. There are also multiple to serve. “PATH has done more for me than I have done for it,” Navarro said. “It has helped me expand my communication skills and really opened my eyes to some issues in our society. You look at people in a different prospective.” Frost’s poem is a nice analogy for Navarro’s story, but maybe the more appropriate reference would be Harold R. McAlindon’s quote, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” According to Karen Zangerle, the PATH Executive Director since 1985, Navarro is a trailblazer of sorts. “We have not had a lot (of student-athletes), but the ones who we have had, have been committed,” Zangerle said. “So certainly, people who are involved in sports can do it.” At this time, Navarro’s it – in terms of PATH volunteers who are also competitive student-athletes. “Considering I am the only student-athlete (volunteering at PATH) right now, everyone refers to me as ‘the athlete,’” Navarro said. “It’s nice to feel like I broke ground. It wasn’t too difficult and it was manageable as a student-athlete.” He didn’t just manage. Managing occurred when Navarro wasn’t competing due to his injury. What he has done has been amazing – volunteering as a competitive studentathlete, while riding his bike across town, including during the dead of winter. Why? “I’m not much of a quitter,” Navarro said. “I gave them my word and I saw the benefits of working at PATH. I enjoy it. It’s great helping out people and it’s also nice getting to know people over the calls.”

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A Path to Fullfillment  

ISU's John Navarro assists Bloomington-Normal one call at a time

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