Class of 2021
As a Milwaukee native who had moved to Indiana for graduate school, Jill Benson circled the Bloomington-Normal perimeter on road trips. She commented to her husband that they’d live there someday. “Someday” turned into more than twenty-five years of Central Illinois living despite Jill’s affinity for being on or around water. Jill’s rewarding work at Illinois State University for the entirety of that time has solidified her passion for helping others through solution-focused, care-driven work. Jill loves to learn and be on the go, which explains why she’s always up for a road trip with her spiral-bound, tattered Atlas in tow. The joy she finds in making the complex understandable and creating organization out of chaos was handy as a busy working mom of three. Still, as the complexity of family life eases with the child-to-adult transition, she’s looking forward to directing her energies to MCLP and other community engagements.
Lifelong learner and dreamer, Corey Burgess graduated from Illinois Wesleyan with her bachelor’s degree. She then went on to receive her master’s degree from Illinois State. Corey and her husband, Joe, loved the Bloomington-Normal area so much that they decided to stay and settle down in the community to raise their two kids. She loves to explore the many beautiful parks and hiking trails around McLean County with her family.
Corey is passionate about helping the students she works within her current role at ISU. She is also passionate about wellness, yoga, challenging herself, and cooking (mostly) healthy foods. Corey can often be found with her friends, coworkers, and family catching up over coffee or at happy hour. She is also an avid reader and enjoys libraries.
Corey is ecstatic to get more involved in the Bloomington-Normal community through MCLP. She hopes to be able to give back to the community that has given her so much.
Vivian was born and raised in Hong Kong and came to the USA in 1991 with her family. She fell in love with the Bloomington/Normal community when she attended Illinois State University with her brother and sister. Although she moved away after she graduated, she eventually moved back to Bloomington/Normal and began her career with State Farm. After living in the community for several years, her job relocated her away again. During that time, she lived in California and Virginia. Ultimately, she and her husband decided to move back to Bloomington/Normal to be closer to friends and family and raise their twins.
It has always been a dream for Vivian to be an entrepreneur and make a difference in the community. She is currently pursuing her dream of creating a place for people to hang out and foster start-ups and local businesses. She is extremely excited about the opportunity and can’t wait to bring her vision to life. Vivian is a devoted mom and loves spending time with her family.
Ruben is a first-generation Mexican American, one of six kids in a blue-collar community. Going to college and working for an insurance industry leader for 23+ years was not exactly in the cards. His family did not have a lot growing up, so Ruben relied on sports and humor to overcome setbacks. All these experiences, both good and bad, have helped him grow to better understand something fundamental about business: people. Ruben has a great sense of humor and uses it to interact with the diverse and amazing people he meets. He is an avid marathon runner, although he often asks himself why he keeps running so many miles! He has two beautiful daughters who recently married this year and a loving son that helps him understand how expensive college is. (Yikes!) He loves to travel the world with his wife and explore the variety of cultures, food, and history among countries. He is always ready to learn and grow and to be prepared to help others. He appreciates and takes each blessing from God to keep growing and hopefully provide a sense of encouragement to others.
Christina was born and raised on the East Coast. She moved to the Midwest in the 80s when her late husband convinced her that it was a great place to raise a family. He was right! Left as a single mom to two small children, life was busy with work, school, and extracurricular activities. Christina is grateful for the help she received from family, friends, and the community. Now those children are grown and have children of their own. Being a grandma is the best!
Christina is passionate about travel and has visited places such as the Philippines, the Galapagos Islands, Ireland, Alaska, and Italy. Christina feels that travel deepens one’s understanding and appreciation of different cultures around the world.
You can often find Christina taking a class, listening to a TED Talk, or participating in Toastmasters. She also likes to dabble in many types of crafts: basket weaving, felting, and quilting. As a life-long learner and someone who wants to give back, Christina is looking forward to being actively involved in the Multicultural Leadership Program.
Growing up among the cornfields of eastern McLean County, Christy Germanis now resides in the ‘city’ of Bloomington. Still, she didn’t settle down before first traveling west after high school and having a few adventures in the Wasatch Mountains. Christy’s professional background includes digital printing, action photography, and editing a sports magazine to air show public relations, health care, and non-profit marketing. She loves being a “jack of all trades,” meeting new people, and learning about new industries. Christy is a self-admitted Netflix junkie, Star Wars nerd, and chocolate lover. She adores her writer husband, Alex, and their three hedgehogs: Pinnelope, Alfred, and Nea. Together, she and Alex love to visit movie theatres, major league baseball parks, go on country drives, and travel the country. They used to love those things; recently, they have been snuggling on the couch, binging old movies, and playing with their hedgehogs.
Alpheaus “AJ” Johnson is a native of Richmond, Virginia, and a graduate of Hampton University. He’s spent the last 29 years building his career and leadership skills. He has a passion for coaching, training, and finding positive ways to inspire those in his community. Alpheaus prides himself on being willing to engage in difficult conversations. He believes in exposing one’s self to learn about different cultures to unite communities.
AJ enjoys spending quality time with his family and friends, playing sports, and, most of all, traveling to new places and trying new ethnic cuisines. He’s a firm believer that life is abundant with either successes or opportunities to learn. His motto is “the person who collects the most memories and experiences while positively contributing to others’ lives wins.”
Hannah Johnson, an (almost) lifelong Bloomingtonian, has traversed the local educational landscape from D87 (shout out to her fellow Bent Superstars!), to IWU, to ISU, to now serving as the Education Program Coordinator at the McLean County Museum of History. Despite her fierce independence, Johnson has an affinity for the collaborative arts—particularly theater–which informs her community-minded museum work on the regular. As a historian by education, both an educator and editor by trade, and a Bloomingtonian (not quite) by birth, Johnson appreciates the many opportunities her current world affords her to marry her love of learning, her exacting eye, and her passion for this place. Though her familial line extends little into the local history books, she is honored to carry on the Johnson family’s creative legacy in Bloomington-Normal. When not working, she can be found buying food from farmers, shopping second-hand, and staying active outdoors.
Kara grew up in the small farming community of Hoopeston, home of the Cornjerkers. She has worked in social services since graduating from ISU in 2007 and has been with the YWCA Labyrinth program since 2018. Kara enjoys connecting with others in the community through work and volunteering. She enjoys spending time with friends and family and being outdoors as often as possible. She lives with her husband, dog, and two cats. Kara is excited about this opportunity with MCLP and looks forward to a year of growth and unity.
Kelsie Langheim is a two-time alumnus of Illinois State University. She graduated with both a bachelor’s and master’s program at Illinois State University with degrees in Criminal Justice Sciences. She is an affectionate dog mom of two, married for almost two years, and passionate about helping others! She thoroughly enjoyed her time as a student at ISU, but now enjoys being a member of the Bloomington-Normal community and an advocate for others. Her goal through MCLP is to become more involved in the community she calls home. She is passionate about helping survivors of sexual assault and gets to live out that passion every day by being the Program Director at YWCA – Stepping Stones.
Valerie credits much of who she is to two experiences – growing up on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma and being the first female in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree. She is a southern lady at heart and can’t wait to move south in retirement (or sooner!). She is a devoted mother to her son, Isaac, who will be 9 in October.
Valerie is a lifelong learner, enjoys volunteering in the community and at her church. She recently picked up the hobbies of fishing and kayaking.
In her spare time, Valerie always has a home project in the works and enjoys interior design and décor. She also likes diving into a sewing project and canning jams, salsa, and other items from her garden. Once things “normalize,” Valerie looks forward to traveling and sharing more experiences and memories with her son.
As a marketing and communication professional, Emily Nafziger believes in practicing what she promotes. Civic engagement is important to her, and her current position at Illinois State University’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning allows her to explain that importance to students, faculty, and staff. She regularly volunteers, both personally and professionally, and is on the steering committee for The Baby Fold’s Annual Festival of Trees.
In her personal life, Emily loves to make people laugh, often writes what she refers to as “bad poetry,” and dotes on her cats. Two years ago, Emily moved back to the Bloomington-Normal area after many years away so that she could be closer to her family. Emily is an incredibly proud aunt who now enjoys regularly attending school and sporting events to cheer on her nieces and nephews. She also loves quiet evenings with her family, including time spent playing with her brother’s baby goats.
Hailing from the northwest suburbs of Chicago, Amanda Papinchock moved to Bloomington-Normal as a transfer student in 2010. During her undergraduate career, Amanda and her husband Matt “fell in love at ISU.” Ten years later, she is still a proud alumna and has continued her “Redbird for Life” career path. She currently works as an Academic Advisor at Illinois State University. Amanda embodies the values of Illinois State University in everything she does. She is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, along with collaboration with colleagues and individualized attention for every student. Amanda is authentic, empathetic, genuine, kind-hearted, and optimistic. She strives to provide people with a safe space to be themselves. When she’s not working, she’s likely spending quality time with her husband, dog, and two cats. They love to entertain family and friends with great food, good company, and board games. Amanda identifies herself as a “life-long learner.” She possesses a strong desire to grow and is always challenging herself with new experiences.
At a young age, Brittany decided that her purpose in life was to start a babysitters’ club. She loved reading the book series about the girls’ adventures, and she wanted to have those same experiences. Brittany was born and raised on the south side of Chicago but currently resides in Normal. She graduated from Illinois State University and now works in the Adult Education department at Heartland Community College. While not quite the future, she envisioned as a youngster, her passion for adventure and helping others has not wavered. Brittany’s heart is dedicated to the success and joys of her students and those in her community. She is always willing to lend a hand, words of encouragement, and feed you if you are hungry- even when you aren’t (she’s quite persuasive). When Brittany is not working, her hobbies include writing, art, music, literature, and, most importantly, spending time with family. Brittany believes that one must use their actions to bring positivity into the world. Her motto is: In everything that you do, be uplifting, edifying, and encouraging.
Donnelle is a lifelong Illinoisan, born in Peoria. She moved around the state and settled in Normal, where she has lived for the last 25 years. She has deep roots in service from her teacher mother and minister father. Her father’s helping the poor nourished a passion for social work in her young heart. She believes that her true calling is to be of service to improve the lives of others. Donnelle is a board member with Dreams Are Possible and volunteers with Integrity Counseling and Wesley UMC. In these roles and as a mother, she exemplifies the values of integrity, vision, and perseverance. She is a role model to youth, passing these values on to her two daughters.
Donnelle recharges by reflecting while gardening, traveling, being near water, and bird watching. Her other pursuits include cooking, bicycling, reading, and tackling world problems during exchanges with loved ones on her front porch.
Phenomenal, inspiring, encouraging are a few words used to describe the sassy and 60-year-old Linda Randle. She was born and raised in Decatur, Illinois, and moved to Bloomington-Normal in 1993. She is the mother of two adult children Tiara Randle ’19 and son, Tony. Linda is a grandmother, but she prefers the name Glam Mama. Linda’s passion is assisting different generations of women to become their best. She volunteers for a small women’s group where she teaches to inspire and empower participants. Linda admires Mary McLeod Bethune, who was born to former slaves. Bethune started a girls and women’s training school in Daytona, FL, where Linda had the opportunity to tour Bethune’s home. Linda enjoys listening to live praise & worship, classic R&B, and smooth jazz music. She states the highlight of her life has been her trip to Israel. Linda’s motto is, “It is never too late to become who you were created to be.”
Tony Reis is a small-town guy at heart. Born and raised in Fairbury, he moved to Bloomington-Normal to attend ISU and has resided here ever since. As life sometimes seems to come full circle, Tony now finds himself as an employee of ISU, returning to his alma mater. As a husband and father of two boys, ages 6 and 6 months, Tony spends much of his free time either attending youth sports events or changing dirty diapers. An avid cornhole player, Tony has participated in the annual charity Brats and Bags tournament hosted by the Bloomington Normal Sunrise Rotary for the past seven years, with one first-place finish to his credit. He believes in approaching new experiences with a positive attitude and that a new friend is only a smile and handshake away.
Sim Sandhu is a lifelong resident of the Bloomington/Normal community and graduate of Illinois State University. For the past eight years, he has been fulfilling his passion for helping others and being an agent of change at the Illinois Farm Bureau. Presently in a leadership role that focuses on business analytics and innovation, he believes there are always opportunities for improvement, but the key to any successful change is exceptional communication. Sim is someone who thrives on conversation, especially when it provides a chance to learn from others. In his free time, you can find Sim tackling a house project (and trying to decide if he regrets homeownership), consuming copious amounts of coffee, spending time with his rescue pup Carl, or figuring out what to cook for whichever group of friends is coming over next.
Madheswaran “Madhesh” Singaravelu was born in India and moved to the United States in 2001. He completed his bachelor’s of Engineering in India and has since worked for both public and private organizations in leadership roles. For the last 18 years, he has lived in Bloomington.
Madhesh and his wife, Shanthi, have two adult children. Their son is working on a start-up venture, and their daughter is a registered nurse taking care of COVID-19 patients. Madhesh has a natural inclination to help people.
He is an out-of-box thinker who strives to address issues or any problem. Though Madhesh seems a little introverted, his friends know that subtle humor always runs beneath. He readily jumps to conversations and makes them lively. Outside of work, he loves to meditate, read non-fiction, watch movies, and practice hatha yoga. He was part of his college cricket team and enjoyed playing during his school days in India. Madhesh has been serving as a steering committee member for a meditation center in Chicago for many years. He is passionate about growing in all dimensions and is always looking for opportunities to give back to the community.
When he moved to Bloomington-Normal in 2008, Jesse thought it was just a stepping stone to somewhere else. Before long, however, he fell for the charming and welcoming community and knew he was home.
Jesse can at first seem quiet and reserved, but once he is comfortable in a crowd, that notion goes out the window. He has a strong need to learn more about any subject that catches his eye, and that is especially true of his desire to explore human experiences. He loves gaining new perspectives and understanding of the people of the world. This is part of what led him to study anthropology.
Jesse’s interests are extensive and eclectic. He is almost constitutionally incapable of passing up the chance to try new foods, discovering new tastes with zeal. He has come to accept that collecting books and reading them are two separate hobbies, and he hopes to one day indulge the latter as much as he does the former. While he enjoys exploring and crafting other worlds in stories and games, his world is his wife, Mariah, and their son, Roland.
Mariaton Tate is a native of Chicago. Having lived in Bloomington-Normal for almost a decade, she considers it home. One of the most important things to Mariaton is to do meaningful work. Through her experiences, she has had the opportunity to build relationships with different people – most recently – college students. Mariaton enjoys learning, exploring, and creating. When she’s not working, you can find her hanging out with her son, AJ, reading, watching YouTube, or participating in community projects through her local church. Mariaton looks forward to continuing to serve the Bloomington-Normal community through the Multicultural Leadership Program.
Harsh Thakkar (yes, you read it right, Harsh!) is from Mumbai, India. Mumbai has traits of NYC, such as population, skyscrapers, diversity, and where people stand for each other. He has a hard time justifying the meaning behind his name, which is totally opposite in Hindi than in English. Born and bred in a fast-paced yet nurturing environment makes Harsh a people person and a firm believer of unity in diversity. He never hesitates to go the extra mile for someone in need or pursuit of a job well done. Harsh came to the US to pursue his master’s degree in computer science at Illinois Tech Chicago. He has a rich multicultural experience by having lived and interacted with people in several cities, including Chicago, Manhattan, and Johannesburg. Harsh now calls Bloomington home. During his free time, he loves biking the Constitution Trail and explores new places with friends.
Jenni Thome grew up in eastern Iowa. She moved to Illinois to attend graduate school at the University of Illinois and then to Bloomington. Jenni feels privileged to work in the field of mental health and is a fierce advocate. She considers herself a lifelong learner and believes in the importance of giving back to her community. Jenni has been active in volunteering as a youth sports coach for PCSL and BNGSA. She also serves in her church’s nursery and childhood religious education programs. Through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team in Training Program with the Fox Creek Promise Council, Jenni has grown as a leader. In her spare time, she enjoys fitness, nutrition, playing board games, music, and discovering new places to explore.
Ben Wright is a Hoosier, born and bead, but now living happily in Bloomington, Illinois, with his partner, Bob, and their dog, Beau. Growing up, Ben’s family instilled in him the importance of giving back and being community-focused. During his time in college, he started to understand the importance of being an active citizen and how leadership is a process. It was such a transformative experience that he decided to make it a profession and work in higher education.
Ben is a lifelong learner and enjoys meeting new challenges. Ben enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling, performing, and volunteering in his spare time. He is looking forward to participating in MCLP and is excited to become a more authentic leader through personal growth and development.
Desiray is an enthusiastic young professional who seeks to approach each day with positive energy and an optimistic attitude. Desiray is a passionate registered dietitian by day and a dog mom who loves to cook, spend time with her fiancé, and enjoy the great outdoors when the workday is over. Desiray has an eclectic mix of interests like staying current with nutrition research, doing yoga, painting, and aromatherapy. When it comes to books, TV, and movies, she believes in finding a healthy balance between science fact and science fiction. Desiray loves to notice the little things in life like the joy of a good meal, how it feels to be barefoot during sand volleyball, or the feeling a great playlist can give you. Desiray believes in the philosophy “If I am a little bit better, the world is a little bit better. Be the change you wish to see.”