Clarke Alumni Taking IMPACT Worldwide

Click on the names below to view the whole story.
Mary Jean Jecklin  |  Tom Williams  |  Ian Hart

Mary Jean Jecklin

Mary Jean Jecklin, class of 1969, has seen a lot of the world and experienced life in more than 50 countries.

Mary Jean Jecklin photo oneShe and her husband, Kelley Rea, even spent more than a year in Ireland and Northern Ireland researching their book "Buy the Best of Ireland: Shopping and Learning Guide to Irish Goods and Crafts," published in 2004.

With the help of former Clarke history department chair Sister Dorita Clifford, BVM, she immediately started grad school in Dayton, Ohio, after graduating from Clarke. Jecklin then taught in Canada, took part in a teacher exchange program in Japan, and taught secondary school in Nigeria. She returned to Minneapolis to teach English as a second language to adult refugees from southeast Asia after the Vietnam War. During the subsequent decades, she and her husband visited every continent except Antarctica.

But it was a six-week, self-planned trip throughout southeast Asia in 2009 that really moved her.

"We took along pencils and began giving them to children," Jecklin said. "I'll never forget the children in Lao People's Democratic Republic who came running for a pencil. But the moment that touched my heart was seeing a mother with an infant sleeping on a walkway over a Jakarta, Indonesia, busy highway. The pencil I left was so inadequate."

She decided she wanted to do something to help children living in in developing countries.

Jecklin, 65, Rea, 68, started small. They began buying small, soft toys, picture books and school supplies to give the underprivileged children they would meet. 

"Now we don’t just go on vacation," Mary Jean said, "we interact with some of the neediest children in the world. We see needs everywhere we travel. We spend a tiny fraction of our travel time assisting children in a small way."

Jecklin and Rea quickly realized that giving small gifts not only benefited the children, but also benefited themselves.

"We travel a lot," said Mary Jean, "and now the richest, most rewarding part of our trip is meeting those children.

"If you go on vacation to a developing country, you're spending thousands of dollars. Why not give a little bit (less than half of 1 percent of the cost of your trip) to someone else? Someone unexpected will benefit from your visit. In turn, it may turn out to be the most rewarding aspects of your travels. In our pictures, you can see from our smiles and the smiles of the children how rewarding those visits have been."

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The next step for Jecklin and Rea was sharing this message. They wanted other people to know the need – and the reward – of giving in developing countries. So they created a website,

"We want to help people understand how to give more effectively," Mary Jean said. "We want to explain how to give gifts in the best possible way." details the best things to give (school supplies, soft toys, picture books), what not to give (candy, battery-operated toys), where to find things to give, how to find organizations or groups in developing countries to give to, and – literally – how to pack for kids.

"It's important not to just give money away randomly," Mary Jean said. "Learn the most impactful way to give. PACfordkids details this process.

"We have the same situation in the U.S. People are advised not to give to beggars on the street, but find an organization that meets your particular desire for giving and reflects your personal interests." also has a "Frequent Questions" section and a link where people tell their stories of sharing in the developing world.

Mary Jean and Kelly have their own stories to tell.

Mary Jean Jecklin photo two"I went with a friend to a children's cancer ward in a hospital in Hanoi," recalled Mary Jean. "The children clustered around me and in return for my gifts they gave me beautiful smiles. Some of them had no hair and some were hooked to IVs in a minimally maintained hospital room. It was both a heart-wrenching and uplifting experience.

"On a trip to South Africa, my husband and I visited preschool where the adorable children thanked us for our gifts with big hugs. After another visit in South Africa, one darling girl called out to me, 'Bye granny.' In Mexico, a little girl fiercely hung on to my husband. Both of us were enchanted. It's no wonder we feel such emotional rewards for our efforts."

Their efforts have been rewarded in another way. In 2012, National Geographic Traveler magazine honored them as one of their 10 "Travelers of the Year." A brief story and their photo appeared in the December 2012-January 2013 issue, available in hard copy, on the internet and as a link from their site.

Jecklin, who lives with her husband in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Sarasota, Fla., in the winter), says her time at Clarke influenced her.

"I often think about Sister Dorita Clifford. The thing I most remember about her was her passion for history. I always loved history and she reinforced that. And without her help, I wouldn't have earned my MA in history at the University of Dayton.

"Another lifelong influence was Sister Barbara Kutchera," Mary Jean said of the late Clarke professor of English and education. "I grew up in a Midwestern, secluded environment and she helped open my eyes to the needs of other people."

Now Jecklin's mission is to follow in Barbara Kutchera's footsteps.

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"Explore the world beyond Dubuque and meet people in developing countries," Mary Jean said. "When you go on a tour in a developing country, the tour company makes sure you go through the ritzy part of town. They don’t want you to see the slums. Tourism shields you from that.

" is a way to go beyond that and have a meaningful interaction, if just for a short time."

Jecklin requests that if you use Facebook, you like "PACforKids" on its website, helping spread the message of how to have a deeper level of engagement with local people, and be confident you (with your children or grandchildren if they accompany you) will have a positive, memorable experience while traveling in the developing world.

Tom Williams

A friend of Tom Williams once told him about a service trip to Colombia being put together to provide medical care to children in that South American country. Williams, a Dubuque surgeon and a member of the Clarke University Board of Trustees, was interested in going along.

That was nearly 25 years ago, and in February Williams made his 35th service trip, this one to the Philippines. Williams' reason for making the trips is simple:

"We're making a difference."

The latest trip was sponsored by Uplift International and titled Operation Taghoy. A team of 40 volunteers – four surgeons (including Williams), pediatricians, anesthesiologists, registered nurses and others – traveled to Siargao Island in the Philippines.

Tom Williams photo oneWilliams, who has a dental degree and a medical degree graduated from the University of Illinois and did his residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery at Bellevue Hospital  in New York City. The trip to the Philippines, like most of his trips, treated children with cleft lips, cleft palates and facial deformities.

Most of the residents on Siargao live in poverty.

"There is no running water, no electricity, few paved streets," said Williams. "Fishing is a big industry. Bikes and motorcycles are the primary means of transportation. There are very few cars."

It is in these areas of high poverty that the incidence of cleft lips and palates are highest. One in 1,000 people in developing countries are born with a cleft palate; the incident rate in the U.S. is 1 in 2,200.

While a cleft lip or palate can be due to a genetic defect, it can also be caused by poor nutrition, a poor water supply, inadequate prenatal care or pesticides.

During Operation Taghoy alone, the surgeons treated 115 children in less than two weeks – and they will be returning to treat more in February 2014.

The hospital that the team worked in was in Dapa, but children came from throughout the island and from neighboring islands as well.

"The word got out by the locals that volunteers were coming," said Williams. "Two brothers traveled 13 hours. Their mother used her life savings - $50 - to get them to Dapa."

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Two of the Operation Taghoy team members visited the brothers following their surgery. That trip had its own adventures.

"They (the brothers) were from an area controlled by guerillas," Williams said. "When a photographer and a nurse went to visit them, they had to be escorted by special forces from the Philippines military."

Williams, who recently retired from his practice in Dubuque and who is also on the staff of the University of Texas at Houston, took a Clarke nursing student on a service trip to Colombia. He said he would like to take another Clarke student on his trip to the Philippines.

Tom Willimas photo twoIt is a pricey proposition, however. The service team members pay their own way. And getting to some of these remote locations is not easy. Williams left on his trip to Dapa from Fort Myers, Fla., and spent 25 hours on a plane.

The team also traveled about 10 miles a day on unpaved roads from where they were staying in General Luna to Dapa.

But for Williams and the rest of the team it is all worth it. The children they see, despite their deformities, lift their spirits.

"You want to take half of them home," Williams said.

One surgeon saved the life of a woman who had collapsed outside of the operating room, suffering from eclampsia.

"The head of the hospital just said, 'There's nothing we can do. She's going to die,'" Williams said. "So they came to Steve Krebs, the head of Uplift International, and he said, 'Well we're not just going to let her die.'

"One of the doctors performed a C-section and they delivered the baby. The baby was blue. They performed four minutes of CPR and resuscitated the baby. Mom and baby lived. Dick Hendershot was the doctor and the mother was so grateful she named the baby Ricardo after him. He was really taken aback."

Saving a life is a bonus. Williams and the rest of the team members are satisfied with performing life-changing surgery for thousands of children over the years.

Williams said there is something in it for him as well.

"We get a lot out of it," he said. "It benefits us to a much greater degree. You meet people are like-minded and make wonderful friendships.

"You do something that is pure medicine and not for the money."

Ian Hart

Ian Hart graduated in May from Clarke University with a degree in biology. But before beginning his venture into the working world, he had an opportunity to take a trip to Peru with Mission Opportunities Short Term (MOST) Ministries and jumped at the chance.

"A friend of mine that I went to church with in my hometown (Peoria, Ill.) Facebooked me two weeks before graduation," said Hart. "She asked if I wanted to go with. I said, sure, why not?"

He had no regrets. He called it an "eye-opening" experience.

Ian Hart photo oneThe team Hart signed on was headed to Lima (pop. 7.6 million) to help with eye care and provide eyeglasses to the poor in that developing country.

They held clinics for two days in La Victoria and for two more days in Los Olivos.

La Victoria is one of 48 districts that make up the municipality of and is one of the poorest districts in the city. The largest retail district of Lima is located in La Victoria, so there are many street vendors and shops. Most of the children in the area are forced into labor at a very early age and have very little supervision while growing up. 

"It was crazy how different the neighborhoods could be," said Hart. "You could have a real nice neighborhood, and only a few blocks away were slums.

"La Victoria is basically slums. We set up the clinic in a park there. We had people come in who were in their 60s and they had never had an eye exam before. Peru has socialized medicine so you would think all of these people would be able to see a doctor, but that was not the case."

Hart and the other nine missionaries on this trip found some of the conditions startling.

"The toilet system was not strong enough for toilet paper," he said, "so you couldn't throw toilet paper in the toilet. And a lot of times the running water was only cold – no warm water."

Los Olivos is a region in southern Lima. It is one of the most prosperous regions in Lima, however it still has thousands of people living in poverty.

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All total, the group saw about 600 patients and dispensed around 800 pairs of glasses.

The group split into stations at the clinic. Hart was at the nurses' station/medical station where he checked to make sure the patient had no communicable eye diseases. There was a flip chart of most of the diseases he would see.

The other stations were:
Testing station - The missionaries used prescription flippers to test distance and reading vision.
Dispensing station - They distributed the eyeglasses and make sure patients received the correct prescription. They fixed glasses, cleaned them and gave patients a cloth case.

Adjustment station - They made sure the glasses fit and made any adjustments needed. After the adjustment station, patients paid one sol for each pair of glasses they received. The purpose was to add some monetary value to the glasses so that they were not resold or unused.

Witness station - The missionaries shared the story of Jesus and invited the locals to upcoming events at the church.

The purpose of the clinic was twofold; to help aid in sight and to witness to the people.

There were many interesting visitors at the clinic.

"The governor of La Victoria, he was like the mayor, but they call them governors, came to our clinic in the park," said Hart. "He had never been there before. We introduced him to the park."

Several police officers also stopped by. On day two at La Victoria, the riot police were on hand to provide security because they didn't want the clinic interrupted.

Ian Hart photo twoAt Los Olivos, the first patient of the first day proved to be very difficult. He was an elderly man and a member of the church in Los Olivos. He has very poor vision and the group could not find a pair of glasses that worked for him, so they offered him a white sight cane that they brought along in case they found someone in need. The man was very receptive of the cane and before he left he was a lot more comfortable using it.

"The coolest thing was to see how grateful the people were," said Hart. "Everyone left with a smile on their face."

That included Hart and the other missionaries.

"Before I left I was worried about getting a job – like the weight of the world was on my shoulders," Hart said. "When I got down there, being able to help people, I realized I was headed in the right direction as far as a career in medicine goes. I had my doubts, but going down there and seeing how grateful the people were – this is what I want to do."

Hart recently received his emergency management training (EMT) certification and now plans to take the GRE in order to apply for physician assistance schools.

"I'm a Christian, not part of the Catholic faith," Hart said, "but Clarke helped me continue to grow in my faith."

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