By Chris Scoggins
William Steven Steele
Former officer, gentleman and embodiment of the Aggie Spirit, William Steven Steele graduated from Texas A&M University in 1974. Since returning to Bryan as a lawyer for the Davis & Davis Law Firm, Steele has made it a priority to be involved in a number of organizations that give back to the community.
Growing up an Aggie fan, Steele says he always knew he would attend Texas A&M. When he enrolled, Texas A&M did not offer a pre-law program so Steele decided to major in history. He was a member of Company F-2 in the Corps of Cadets.
“I knew when I was going to A&M, that I wanted to be a lawyer,” says Steele. “The whole Aggie experience trained me to be a decision maker and express myself, so when I went to law school it wasn’t that difficult because the Aggie experience had matured me quite a bit.”
Steele then attended law school at Baylor University and obtained a commission as an officer in the U.S. Army as a Judge Advocate General. After retiring from the service, Steele returned to Bryan/College Station as a civil attorney joining Davis & Davis in 1988.
“Ever since I was at A&M, and having been raised in the church, I always believed that God directs you to perform certain service for your fellow man,” says Steele. “Anytime the opportunity or the request has been made, I see that as God tapping me on the shoulder.”
Steele currently holds a position as the president of the board of directors for the Brazos Valley Center for Independent Living and is involved with Habitat for Humanity and the Bryan Rotary Club. Steele also has been active with the Arc of Bryan/College Station, an organization that holds social activities for those with intellectual disabilities. Steele credits his time at Texas A&M with having a direct impact on his commitment to community service.
“The Aggie community is very important in building that camaraderie, and the idea of giving service to your fellow Aggies and the university itself is paramount,” says Steele.
Steele is also a former board member of the Aggieland Humane Society and is a supporter of the Brazos Valley Booster Club, which helps those with intellectual disabilities compete in the Special Olympics. Steele also is an active and giving member of Covenant Presbyterian Church.
“There’s nothing special about me,” says Steele. “There are lots of wonderful giving people in this community. I am just privileged to know many in this community who are supporters of the community, and I admire their involvement.”
By Chris Scoggins
Changing lives is not a routine part of everyone’s profession or volunteer commitment, but it is all in a day’s work for Dr. Angela Sturm, a facial plastic surgeon. Aggie Class of 2002, Sturm’s medical practice is with Facial Plastic Surgery Associates; she also uses her skills as a surgeon to help victims of abuse.
“I knew I wanted to go into the medical direction but wasn’t sure if I wanted to go more of the research or the clinical side,” recalls Sturm. “After volunteering at the ER while going to school at Texas A&M, I liked the patient contact and being able to affect their lives, and that started my path.”
In her volunteer life, Sturm focuses on helping victims of domestic abuse and violence and is a supporter of Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse. She also provides free facial care through the Face Foundation.
“The Face Foundation is really my passion in helping victims of domestic violence,” says Sturm. “I feel like you practice medicine in the community, because how you affect them most is helping them where they live. Whether it’s medication, surgery or community outreach, if they need help that’s what I’m here to do.”
Sturm also is involved with Leadership Houston, an organization that encourages individuals from different industries to seek leadership roles within the community. Another of Sturm’s volunteer passions is for the D-tag program, which provides laser tattoo removal for young adults who are coming out of gangs or re-entering the workforce. The program helps by providing removal of body art that employers might view negatively.
“The D-tag has really been rewarding,” says Sturm. “Seeing the kids through the whole process, it’s a different person than you see from the beginning.”
Sturm graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in molecular and cellular biology and a minor in music. She then attended medical school at Baylor College of Medicine. As an undergrad, Sturm says she was immediately attracted to the selflessness typical of Aggies, recalling it as something she experienced as a student. Those experiences stuck with her and influenced her to give back to others.
“Aggies are so generous,” says Sturm. “Even as an undergrad I had a scholarship because someone else decided to give back. When you get to the point where you are able to give back, I feel more compelled and more inspired to do it because I see so much of what other Aggies do and how helpful they are.”
Sturm’s work to help the community has made an impact, but she suggests that anyone who is motivated can do the same.
“Find out what your passion is and what you really want to devote some time and yourself to,” says Sturm. “There are so many different causes, but you can really make a big impact in one area.”
By Chris Scoggins
Bonnie Boatwright says her love of helping others grew from her childhood experiences of watching her grandfather always lend a helping hand to others in need. Over the years, Boatwright’s selfless acts have impacted the community, changed lives, and since 2012, helped fill hungry bellies as a volunteer for the Brazos Valley Food Bank.
“I grew up with my grandparents,” says Boatwright. “My grandfather was always helping other people and doing things for others. I grew up around older people who always needed help, so I’ve just always done it.”
Boatwright has always been active in helping the community based on her grandfather’s example, but says she feels her greatest impact is the work she has done with the Food Bank.
“My initial perception was the food bank was for people who didn’t work,” says Boatwright. “But after I did some research, I realized the Food Bank was really more for middle income families going through hard times, and they just needed some extra help. I realized that with all the charities I helped, this one was the most important because it gives back to all people who really need it. It helps everyone not just one particular type.
“Most people don’t know that one out of four families in the Brazos Valley use the Food Bank; The Food Bank distributes over 30,000 backpacks with food for the weekend to children in need every year and they distribute over 300 packages to senior citizens every week of the year. For every $1 you donate to the Food Bank, it will buy five pounds of food, which is equivalent to three meals.”
Boatwright is currently volunteering with the Food Bank to put on a dinner, “Because Hunger Won’t Wait,” to raise money for their capital campaign. As a graduate of Texas A&M University, Boatwright says she feels she went somewhat against the grain in her choice of schooling.
“I grew up in Burnet and everyone who grew up there went to the University of Texas,” says Boatwright. “There was no question on where I wanted to go to school; it was just a matter of when.” She chose to go back to school at the age of 30 and after finishing her degree she says she was compelled to devote herself to serving others.
“I had already been out in the workforce and had already been doing volunteer work for years before I went to A&M, but A&M was for me an end product,” says Boatwright.
Despite her activism, Boatwright doesn’t feel her actions merit any praise.
“I don’t ever want recognition for anything I’ve ever done,” says Boatwright. “I just think you should do things for the right reasons.”
By Chris Scoggins
Maria Lazo’s introduction to the Aggie spirit was watching her older brother become both an Aggie and the first college graduate in the family. It was while attending Texas A&M University that she first discovered her love of anthropology.
“At school I did Anthropology Society, but I did a lot more involvement after I graduated,” says Lazo. “In one class we put together an exhibit, which got me into museums.”
Lazo graduated from Texas A&M in December of 2002 with a degree in anthropology, and now as the associate director at the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History, she strives to share her love of the study of humanity with all who visit her exhibits.
“As a student I started off with a heavy science background,” says Lazo. “I always had those interests.”
In addition to her job at the museum, Lazo has been involved with Habitat for Humanity, the Rotary Club and has volunteered with the Rape Crisis Center for four years. Lazo credits her Aggie experience as being an influence in her charitable work.
“For me, I can see [service] as a way you would behave in a family,” say Lazo. “I come from a big family so we always have to help each other out, and for me, A&M was a big extension of that.”
Although Lazo has been involved in numerous charitable organizations, she feels her work at the Rape Crisis Center has had the greatest impact.
“I believe that supporting survivors of sex assault is an important part of helping out the community, and I loved every second I volunteered there,” says Lazo.
Lazo views her work as a volunteer as a part of the bigger picture of helping others. She supports non-profits because of her belief that one person cannot do it alone, but that people must come together as a community to help others.
“It’s a group effort,” says Lazo. “I just think it’s important for everyone to give back and if you have the ability [to] you have the responsibility to give back. If I have a skill I can share with other people, I try to.”
Lazo says she balances her work at the museum with her community activities. She most enjoys working with women and children, but notes there are many opportunities to help others in the community.
“There are always opportunities to volunteer, but you need to find an organization that truly means something to [you]. That way [you] can feel like they are making a difference internally, not just seeing it happen.”
Ashley Tesar & Jennifer Terry – Restore Her
By Elizabeth Crawford
Once upon a time, two Aggies both had the dream of helping girls and women who were ensnared in the nightmare world of human trafficking and sexual slavery. Both had done research on the subject while in college and one of the young women even helped start FREE (Father Redeeming the Enslaved and Exploited) while a student at Texas A&M University hoping to educate and reach out to those at risk of being exploited in sex trades.
Today, Ashley Tesar, Texas A&M Class of 2011, and Jennifer Terry, Class of 2012, have seen those dreams become a reality through the Restore Her program at Still Creek Ranch in Bryan. Restore Her rescues and provides long-term care for girls who have been enslaved in the sex trafficking business.
Tesar was involved in the organizations Breakaway and Sigma Phi Lambda, a Christian sorority, while at Texas A&M. During her senior year, she was in charge of planning an event at Still Creek for her sorority and she stayed in contact with Still Creek’s staff.
While at Texas A&M, Terry and five of her friends had learned about human trafficking and started FREE on the Texas A&M campus. Terry was in charge of the organization’s outreach program for girls at risk of being taken into sex slavery and had invited a woman rescued from human trafficking into her home one summer. Getting to see the aftercare and restoration of the woman stirred Terry’s heart to continue this type of work, she says.
After Terry was introduced to Still Creek Ranch through a previous job, the two girls were asked to attend one of Still Creek’s staff meetings. The organization was close to launching a new program to rescue and restore girls from sex slavery. Both Tesar and Terry had been doing research on sex trafficking in Houston and shared the information at the meeting. Still Creek hired the girls on the spot.
Terry and Tesar immediately moved out to Still Creek Ranch and became house moms in one of Still Creek’s homes for girls. “We were just in shock that we could have a paid job doing what we loved,” Terry recalls.
As directors of Restore Her, Tesar and Terry live at Still Creek Ranch fulltime and do everything from administrative work to providing basic care for the girls in the program. “We wear a lot of hats,” Tesar says. They also coordinate the volunteers who help Restore Her and are involved with process of rescuing girls who are still enslaved, Terry says.
For Tesar, the best part about being involved with Restore Her has been seeing the girls in the program come from having no hope for a future to being totally transformed, she says. Restore Her gives the girls a place to flourish and grow, she adds. Living with the rescued girls fulltime comes with seeing both the good and the bad; the restoration process for them is real and lasting, Terry says.
Being a part of Texas A&M and the student organizations she was involved in has played a huge role in Tesar’s motivation to give back, she says. Much of her inspiration also comes from her faith, she adds. Terry loves Texas A&M and the values of character and selfless service that the university represents, she says, noting that being in leadership positions as an Aggie student prepared and inspired her to live a life of service.
“It’s so easy to find [volunteer] opportunities when you step out of just yourself,” Tesar says. Finding something and being faithful to it will allow you to see how effective it can be, she adds. “I don’t think anyone could regret giving up themselves to another,” Terry says. “One of the most valuable things you can give to another person is your life and your love.”
By Elizabeth Crawford
Matthew Rush, Texas A&M University Class of ‘96, has recently moved back to Aggieland to take his place as head of school at Allen Academy in Bryan. Rush says he believes in selfless service and hopes to instill the same concept in his students at Allen Academy.
“Part of being a human being is to subscribe to the theory of selfless service,” says Rush. Helping other people, whether they are in a better or worse situation, is very important, he says. “The idea of selfless service is very much at the core of the Allen Academy, and it connects pretty easily to being an Aggie as well,” Rush says. “It’s what I would want from any student who graduates from our school.”
Rush and his family came back to Texas in June after following his vocation in teaching and learning around the United States for almost 13 years. With a doctorate of education, Rush and has been in education for 20 years. As he settles into the role of head of school at Allen Academy, Rush will oversee everything from curriculum to teacher evaluations to student life, he says. “It’s like being the president of a small college; everything is ultimately my responsibility,” says Rush.
Both Rush and his wife are Aggies and native Texans, so when the opportunity to be back in Texas came up, it was hard to say no, Rush says. “Everything lined up both professionally and personally,” he says. Rush and his wife have three children who will be students at Allen Academy in the upcoming school year. The Rush family’s adjustment to Aggieland is going well, he says, adding, “The kids are sad to leave their friends and a place where they were known and loved, but they are looking forward to a new adventure.”
Tyler Luxion – Chilifest
By Elizabeth Crawford
It’s one of the annual rites of spring. Every April since 2000, thousands of fans of country music, chili, and good times transform 15 acres of pastureland around the Starlight Ballroom in Snook into one of the most successful local fundraisers in town.
Through Chilifest 2012, the organization has donated more than $2 million to dozens of local non-profits including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Brazos Valley Children’s Museum, Burleson County Go-Texan Association, Brazos Valley Boys and Girls Club, Brazos Valley Children’s Museum, Down Syndrome Association of Brazos Valley, Still Creek Ranch, and Gary Blair Charities.
The list goes on, and so does Chilifest, Inc.
Chilifest was started in 1991 by the Texas A&M fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon and held in a Wal-Mart parking lot. In 1999, the event incorporated becoming a separate entity from the fraternity. Since then, through ticket sales and sponsors Chilifest has grown into a successful small business that begins planning for the next Chilifest the same day it’s held.
Tyler Luxion is the current Chilifest president and Texas A&M University Class of 2015. He has been active in Chilifest since his freshman year and says Chilifest is a 365-day operation with organizers always working to improve relationships with people in the community. He notes that Chilifest returns 100 percent of its proceeds back to area charities.
As a beginner volunteer, Luxion hammered in stakes, mapped out the grounds, and helped judge the chili contest. He was soon invited to join the board, and now as its president Luxion is in charge of organizing a volunteer network of more than 700 people, all of whom are involved in the charities that receive Chilifest donations.
Those volunteers do everything from drawing out the parking lots and mapping out the site to manning the entrance and exit gates and cooking a meal for all the people who help run the event, say Luxion.
Chilifest staff then track the number of volunteers and hours dedicated from each organization and splits each year’s proceeds accordingly, he says. In 2014, Chilifest donated to $131,000 to 35 different Brazos Valley charities. Luxion notes that EMS workers and firefighters in the county are also given support for their efforts to keep Chilifest fans safe during the event.
Luxion offer some advice for those looking for a way to give back. “Identify what you are passionate about,” he says. “If you can’t find an existing cause that meets your expectations in regards to how you want to make your impact, and who you want to make it on, don’t be afraid to create your own.
“That’s what we did 23 years ago, and look where we are now,” he says.
Joe Nussbaum – The Big Event
By Elizabeth Crawford
At this year’s Big Event more than 20,000 Texas A&M University students volunteered to complete almost 2,000 jobs ranging from painting and yard work and to cleaning around the Bryan/College Station community. Already the largest one-day, student-run service project in the nation, The Big Event has expanded to 110 other schools across the nation and now to international schools in Spain, Australia, Germany, Pakistan and Italy.
Every success story starts somewhere. For the Big Event, that start traces back to Joe Nussbaum, Texas A&M University Class of 1984, who helped create the first Big Event back in 1982. As Texas A&M’s student government vice president, Nussbaum was head of a committee charged with doing more service projects. He envisioned a project that would bring all student organizations on campus together to do a service project on the same day, he recalls. His committee got to work, and the result was the Big Event.
“The original plan was to help a lot of people,” says Nussbaum. Though the Big Event has evolved through the years, the goal is the same. After starting out as a service project for only student organizations at Texas A&M to help out organizations around Bryan/College Station, Big Event now includes individual students and helps out individual people around the area as well. “It has grown, and it’s just really neat to see,” says Nussbaum.
Nussbaum and his wife, who was also on the original Big Event committee, try to be a supportive voice and give the students encouragement. He describes their involvement with the Big Event nowadays as being “old Ag cheerleaders.” Although the Nussbaums run the manufacturing company ACP International in Arlington, they try to go back to the Big Event every year, he says, adding, “It’s the easiest thing in the world to stay involved with.”
Nussbaum says he took the Aggie spirit for granted as a student, but adds that being part of the Aggie family absolutely inspired him to want to give back to the community. “The Aggie Spirit is about seeing something that needs to be done and going and doing it,” he says. No other Big Event surpasses Texas A&M’s because of the Aggie Spirit, he adds.
“When I look at the Big Event and see the way students pull it off, it is an incredible logistic accomplishment,” he says. These are students who do it as volunteers, and it would be incredible even for a professional organization, he adds. “It absolutely blows me away to see what they accomplish.
“It’s just infectious,” he says. Seeing the leadership development of the students involved is both humbling and gratifying, he adds. “I’m very grateful to have been a part of it in the beginning. We planted this seed and now this big tree has grown; but, it is because of all the collective efforts of everyone who has ever done anything for it,” he says.
“People could look at what we do with our time and money and say it’s a sacrifice,” Nussbaum says. “I could not think of a better thing to do with our time and money than to use it on The Big Event. It is inspiring and also gratifying to be able to do that.”