BY JACLYN ROSE –
Lori Sullivan is the daughter of an FBI Agent and an educator. Though born in Fresno, California, her family moved to Polk County so Sullivan and her brother and sister could be raised outside of the city. As a young child, Sullivan knew she wanted to do something to help people. “I always wanted to join the Peace Corp and even as a very small child I always wanted to watch the Save the Children commercials and would beg my mom to adopt one or two children,” said Sullivan.
After graduation, Sullivan went on to start her family and is blessed with two children, Jackson and Sarah. She also earned her teaching degree and began her career as an elementary teacher, a field she worked in for 14 years. “I loved being a teacher. My mother was a teacher and I really think I gained my love for helping people from her and my dad who always believed you helped anyone that needed it simply because it’s the right thing to do,” explained Sullivan.
Sullivan was teaching during the tornado that devastated Polk County in April of 2009 and two of her students, one from the previous year and one from the current year lost their home. New York Says Thank You (NYSTY), a non-profit based out of New York City, selected them to be the recipients of a new home that the organization built as a service project. “I have seen a lot of good causes come in and out but I saw how NYSTY really brought together the community. They went above and beyond a basic project. Jeff Parness, the founder, talked me into volunteering during my breaks from school and I did that for one year. During this time NYSTY was working on developing their 9/12 Generation Project, which is geared toward 11-22 year olds and works to inspire, educate, and activate youth through service,” explained Sullivan.
Sullivan was extremely drawn to the project, even as a volunteer, and in 2011 became the Program Manager for the 9/12 Generation Project. “We work with middle schools, high schools, and universities and allow youth to identify smalls needs in their communities; the youth then do service projects. It really educates the community on the value of service and I learn every single day with what I do. If I will stop talking and listen to this age group, I can learn so much through their creative thoughts. They are unfiltered and they can find what needs to be done and do it. It seems like they can find a way to solve a problem so much easier than adults,” explained Sullivan.
The 9/12 Generation Project is co-sponsored by KPMG LLP and the KPMG Foundation and works with some fun sponsors, such as the NFL, as well as a lot of local community sponsors and partners with teachers to allow the community to lead in their projects. “It is important to us to allow the communities to take ownership of their projects. We are there to support them and help them in any way but they are the leaders. Doing the actual service projects is the best part of my job. Getting my hands dirty with the kids and seeing them grow is worth all of the hard work. I am very, very blessed. I believe that God puts opportunities and risks in our paths and there are times in life when you know something is just right and this was one of those times for me,” Sullivan explained.
“I love the serenity of the land in Polk County. There is a definite sacredness about the mountains and the waters and the fields. Its not just home but it’s also the people. There was a time when I did not realize that but that has changed, as I’ve grown older and wiser over the years. Every time I go away for work, when I land in Little Rock and drive home, there is a peace that I’ve never found anywhere else and I not only want that for myself, I want that for my children,” said Sullivan.