The Richter Center Ambassadors

The student group for the Jan & Bud Richter Center at Fresno State

Make a Difference Where You Can

I’m been volunteering for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Fresno for four amazing months working hard to break the stigma associated with mental illness. In 1979 NAMI started with a small group of families gathered around a kitchen table and blossomed into the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization committed to providing support to those affected by mental illness. Continue reading “Make a Difference Where You Can”

Got hair? You can help!

Photo Credit Ambassador Nicole

I have had many family members and friends that have been affected by cancer or other similar diseases that cause hair loss due to therapy. I have always wanted to find a way that I could help the people facing this. Although I could not even imagine what they go through each and every day and I don’t plan on finding a cure by myself. I thought of an easier way I could be of help. Continue reading “Got hair? You can help!”

The Power of Compassion and Kindness in Mental Health


I served at the Walk to Fight Suicide by giving out NAMI resources and educating people about their services. Photo by Kyle Loflin.

I volunteered for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Fresno (NAMI) for four amazing months working hard to break the negative stigma associated with mental illness. NAMI started with a small group of families gathered around a kitchen table and blossomed into the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization committed to providing support to those affected by mental illness. Continue reading “The Power of Compassion and Kindness in Mental Health”

Kids Day 2k16

Image from Valley Children’s Hospital.

It’s that time of year again! Mark your calendars for March 8, 2016. It is a day dedicated to the kids at Valley Children’s Hospital, also known as Kids Day. This is the 29th year that thousands of volunteers all across the Central Valley team up with Valley Children’s Hospital, The Fresno Bee, and ABC30 to sell Kids Day edition newspapers to the community. Last year over 1,400 Fresno State students, faculty, and staff participated in this event and raised over $41,000. We are hoping to do our best to exceed these numbers this year.

If you are looking for a way to get involved you can: (1) donate $1 and buy a newspaper around campus, (2) help sell papers by signing up with a student club/organization or as an individual here, or (3) Help spread the word and recruit volunteers by sharing this information with your peers.

Prepare yourself, every year the Richter Center has a friendly competition and recognizes the top-selling student organizations on campus. So the time is now! If you or your organization is interested in taking part be sure and sign up before March 1st. If you have any questions contact Madison at or 559.278.7079

I personally remember getting up early and selling newspapers for my high school a few years ago. It is always so much fun to see how energetic people can be at 5 a.m. especially for such a good cause. I cannot wait to be a part of Fresno State’s Kids Day and see the outcome we will have this year! Let’s get ready to serve, sell, and smile.

How will you contribute to Kids Day 2k16? Do you have an memories from volunteering at this event previously?

~Ambassador Nicole

West Care: Setting Foundations

Outside West Care’s MLK Treatment & Rehabilitation Center

The new year enables everyone to aspire for good health, spend more time with family, and other blessings. However, many people may take their blessings for granted and may never give back to those they are grateful for.

In 2006, my father was diagnosed with stage three cirrhosis of the liver, one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. My entire family was shaken to its foundation and for several years, we struggled immensely with his illness. In November of 2013, I lost my dad to alcoholism. This was without a doubt the hardest moment of my life.

My dad and me.
My dad and me.

In hopes of giving back, I took on an internship at WestCare Foundation. West Care is a national non-profit organization that helps individuals in the community struggling with addiction. Their facilities provide care through prevention education, housing, mental health crisis, intervention, and outpatient and residential treatment. My father spent time at two rehabilitation centers here in Fresno, Nuestra Casa, which focused on Hispanic males, and West Care. Initially, I was placed in the same residential program where my dad stayed in; however, I have recently spent more time volunteering in the women’s unit. These women and men both struggle with a range of different substances and are admitted there for health and/or legal concerns. Although West Care is an in-patient residential program, they have a walk out policy where clients can leave if they choose to do so. This rehabilitation center is divided into two sides for men and women. Some women and men have children, who may also reside with them during their time at the center.

In the beginning of October, I began my journey at West Care by doing minor tasks that later progressed to assisting in the completion of client questionnaires. This internship quickly showed me the pros and cons of what living in a rehabilitation center could be like. Although I knew what it was like to be around someone who struggled with substance addiction, I quickly realized this type of work was completely different than what I was used to. I’m currently in my last year at Fresno State, majoring in Liberal Studies with much of my work involving education and schooling. However since day one, I felt like WestCare would allow me to grow in areas that were foreign to me. After my third visit, I became familiar with the clients’ daily routine. The women there quickly grew fond of me and working with them has definitely been an enjoyable learning experience.

One memory I recall that puts a smile on my face was when I spent my Halloween serving at West Care. I brought candy for the clients and their children. The families that came to visit told me, “Thank you. Some of Sharon Badgethese children might not even be able to go trick-or-treating tonight.” This was such a rewarding moment for me to know that something as small as candy would make someone’s day. I was truly touched. Therefore, it has been so gratifying to put smiles on the faces of the women and children.

In the last several years, Fresno County has increased the number of people admitted to treatment centers. Substance abuse has been known to not only hurt the individual, but their loved ones as well. While at West Care, I gained a deeper appreciation for what centers like this do for people struggling with addictions in their lives. West Care has been a great place to learn more about what is being done for people who deal with these issues and I truly believe this is a great way to help our community. I want to thank West Care for allowing me to complete an internship there and for the care they provided my dad while he spent time there as a patient.

It feels so empowering to share my story! I hope that this blog draws awareness to these issues and can help motivate others to try to step out of their comfort zones and serve the community at large in different ways.

What will you do to give back this year?

~ Ambassador Sharon

St. Maximilian Kolbe

“The most deadly poison of our time is indifference.” ~St. Maximilian Kolbe

“Kolbe (upper right) with young candidates for the Franciscan order.” All photos graciously borrowed from Patricia Treece’s book, A Man for Others.

This quote fascinated and perplexed me the moment I chanced upon it. I agree with the saint that the “not my problem” mentality is probably the most vicious problem we face as a society. Think about it: if every person chose to use his or her gifts and talents to the fullest and stopped ignoring the barrage of global challenges we face, many problems would be solved.

Even more fascinating than this quote is the man who issued it. So fascinating, in fact, that I was inspired to pick up a few books about his life and legacy. Maximilian Kolbe was not your average Catholic priest. He was a true champion of service who volunteered his time and talents up to the moment of his death in the infamous Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz.

Life began for young Kolbe in a fiercely Catholic and patriotic Polish family. By all accounts, Kolbe was a bright child. He joined the priesthood and went on to achieve two doctorates, his first (in Philosophy) at age 21! He was a priest ahead of his time in many ways, as he obtained a printing press and started a local newspaper with his religious community he founded called “Niepokalanow” (which translates, “the city of Mary,” as in the mother of Jesus Christ, to whom the saint was greatly devoted). Maximilian Kolbe even spent time on a mission in Japan serving, teaching, and founding a religious community of Franciscans there.

“Kolbe at his desk in Nagasaki, Japan.”

Incredibly, Kolbe accomplished these feats while battling severe tuberculosis throughout his life. His work was often thwarted by his illness.  Despite this, St. Maximilian was known for these key traits: loving without limits of race, religion, gender, etc.,  always smiling, being obedient, and above all possessing great humility. He “exerted himself enormously for human souls,” according to colleague Janina Kowalska. (A Man for Others, p. 39).

Unfortunately, World War II brought the Nazis to Niepokalanow, and Father Kolbe was picked up as a “dangerous person.” The Nazis persecuted the religious with intense brutality. Kolbe was eventually destined to don the striped outfit and bear the impossible conditions of Auschwitz.

In Auschwitz, survivors report that Kolbe calmed and comforted them, and frequently gave his portion of meager rations to others. A doctor in the camp, Rudolph Diem, recalled, “In view of the general animal instinct of self-preservation so evident in everyone else, his desire to sacrifice himself for others surprised and intrigued me” (p. 151). “He dispensed love and nothing but love” remarked one Jewish boy, revealing Kolbe’s ability to create fellowship with people from any background (p. 153). He brought rays of hope, but bore much affliction from age and his continuous lung disease.

Auschwitz had a rule: if one prisoner escaped, 10 of the 600 from the escapee’s block would be forced to endure a slow, painful death in the starvation bunker.

On July 31, 1941 a prisoner from Block 14, Kolbe’s Block, escaped.

The Nazi Kommandant chose 10 poor souls, and one, Francis Gajowniczek, cried aloud for his wife and children.  Suddenly and unexpectedly, prisoner 16670 pushed through the lines of men and respectfully requested to take the man’s place.  In perfect German, he addressed the cruel commander, who unbelievably consented.

“Francis Gajowniczeck, the man whom Kolbe replaced in the ‘hunger bunker.'”

Maximilian Kolbe’s good deed shone in the dark moment; he took the worst torture imaginable for a fellow prisoner he hardly even knew.

Interpreter Bruno Borgowiec, who was assigned to the starvation bunker, reported details from Kolbe’s brief experience. Singing and prayer could be heard from the underground bunker; even the SS admired his courage and strength.

Maximilian Kolbe was one of the last to die; in fact, he had to be injected with carbolic acid because he lasted so long. He died August 14, 1941.

Francis Gajowniczek survived and lived 54 more years. He told Maximilian Kolbe’s story all his life.

As the Catholic church made him a saint, Polish Cardinal Wyszynski stated, “Whereas people trust in material resources like tanks, planes, and armies, Kolbe shows that only one thing is necessary to gain peace and unity for the world, the practice of love” (182).

As one of the millions of victims of the holocaust, pervasive “indifference” proved fatal to Maximilian Kolbe. The apathy can be seen in our society today as well. Bottom line is, there’s so much more to life than school, work, social media. Aimless, mundane life is awful. Be the next Maximilian Kolbe; live with purpose and turn to service! Do something. Kolbe gave his life to the service of others, and in the end with compassion for a stranger. For what would you give your life?

“Kolbe in 1940.”

What are you being indifferent to right now that you could change for good? Why do we honor suffering and sacrifice? What champion of service inspires you and why?

~Ambassador Lilliana


Royal, Robert. The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century: A Comprehensive World History. New York: Crossroad, 2000. Print.

Treece, Patricia. A Man for Others: Maximilian Kolbe, Saint of Auschwitz, in the Words of Those Who Knew Him. 1st ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. Print.


Ambassadors Lilliana and Alma with Alternative Spring Break Team Leader Ramiro spread kindness on World Kindness Day.

On Friday November 13, 2015 Richter Center Ambassadors tabled for World Kindness Day at Fresno State. The goal was to inform students about World Kindness Day and to encourage them to do an act of kindness for someone— someone they love or even a stranger. Suggestions ranged from feeding a vending machine, thanking someone, or volunteering time at an organization. These acts of kindness can certainly make someone’s day as well as be rewarding to the person who does them. There are endless possibilities on what you can do for others, and a plus is that most do not involve spending money.

Although there are certain days in the year in which kind acts are done on a large scale, I encourage you to do a random act of kindness whenever there is an opportunity to do so.
Will you act on Random Acts of Kindness Day on February 17, 2016?

~Ambassador Alma

Lessons in Service: Saturday Sports

“This is so much fun!”

I cherish these words from the students at Ericson Elementary School during a recent Saturday Sports activity.  Saturday Sports is a program organized by Every Neighborhood Partnership (ENP), with a mission “to connect churches and community partners to elementary schools and to equip them to serve through their active presence in every neighborhood.”

What it boils down to is being a better neighbor.

Our boys at Ericson Elementary engaging in an intense game of flag football.
Our boys at Ericson Elementary engaging in an intense game of flag football.

Last year, I heard about Saturday Sports through the Richter Center Student Leadership grapevine. Although I was not an Ambassador at the time, I was very much interested in completing personal service hours with kids. I was already a tutor for Wise Old Owl, the after school program for kids in the Lowell Neighborhood, organized by the Fresno Institute for Urban Leadership (FIFUL).  However, as I started a new job this year, I was no longer able to commit the time for after school tutoring.

I sure miss the kids from Wise Old Owl, but sometimes life forces you to pick up your things and move on. This can be especially difficult for the kids because some are familiar with inconsistency and people entering and exiting their lives.

On a Thursday night at my church’s college community, there were sign-ups going around for Saturday Sports at two nearby elementary schools. Ericson Elementary, was going to be led by my former internship staff member, Daniel, and his wife Brenda. I was excited about the opportunity, but also worried that I would be inconsistent in my attendance and use being a busy college student as an excuse. However, I wanted to try because even if I connected with one student, and could be a consistent presence in his or her life, that would be enough.

The first Saturday in September was a hot one; typical Fresno weather. I showed up before our site leaders and any other volunteers, and I was hopeful that it was going to be a good day. I met Chris, Josh and Jonah among the adult volunteers from the Valley Dream Center, for a total of ten volunteers. We did not expect the overflow of children at 9 a.m., but that is what we got. Nearly 30 children showed up for a first Saturday Sports. We played soccer, flag football, colored, sculpted with Playdough, and more. Kids were elated and never short of energy. Parents even joined in on the games. They just wanted more time to spend with us.

Kevin waiting to topple a train of Jenga pieces.
Kevin waiting to topple a train of Jenga pieces.

I even received a colored picture of a turtle from one of the young girls in attendance. I pinned it to a wall in my room, next to a mish-mash of other special handwritten notes and photos.

The beautiful turtle colored and autographed by Davine.
The beautiful turtle colored and autographed by Davine.

After the conclusion of a recent Saturday morning, volunteers were invited to an ENP training. We met the staff of ENP, heard their history, and their vision for the city of Fresno. At the training, we discussed engaging parents in our program as part of their Five Step Process. This was of particular interest for me because I want to build a relationship with the families attending our program.

One takeaway from that discussion was it’s not about us (the volunteers) imposing our ways and our thoughts of what makes a “good neighborhood.” It’s about our neighbors (both parents and kids). Parents especially have many valuable assets because they know more about the neighborhood than we do. It’s encouraged to let parents lead activities and share their skills with us and the students, even if that is simply teaching a student how to play checkers.

It has been seven weeks since the first Saturday Sports. I recognize faces and remember names. They are no longer just the boys from Daniel and Brenda’s apartments, the artistic girl in middle school, or the twins who like to play badminton. They are Kevin, Jesus, Jorgie, Skye, Jay’den, and Dav’ion. I know their teachers’ names, what type of music they like, how many siblings they have, and the like. No Saturday has been the same, but each Saturday has taught me something new about service.

What are you doing to serve your neighborhood? What volunteer experiences have made an impact on your life?

~Ambassador/Reflection Facilitator Erika D. Castanon

To Plant a Tree

On Saturday, October 24th, I volunteered at Make a Difference Day, which was planned and hosted by the SERVE committee, another Richter’s Center Student Leader group in charge of organizing the many different one-day service events through Fresno State. I woke up early, walked down to the school, and checked-in to the location with all the other volunteers that were set to serve that day – all before 8AM. Continue reading “To Plant a Tree”

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