Student organization keeps late Scholar's memory, influence alive

By Christine Kim, class of 2011
Schreyer Honors College, college relations intern

Three hundred and sixty-seven days is enough time to make a difference and plenty of time to change a community -- just ask anyone who knew Tom Richards.

Tom, a Schreyer Scholar, spent 367 days at Penn State and in that time inspired fellow students through his leadership, mentorship and compassion. His untimely death at the age of 20 in August 2010 shocked many, but a service organization established in his memory is keeping Tom’s ideals about leadership alive and has begun having an impact in this, its first full year of operation.

The organization, the Penn State chapter of the 367 Project, was founded in February of 2011. This fall, the organization successfully completed its inaugural project: a school supplies collection drive for local elementary schools. The drive, which was done in conjunction with the Schreyer Honors College’s orientation program, resulted in more than 500 items being donated.

With the first project a success, Carol Newark, the group’s programming head, expresses high hopes for the organization's future.

"I’m really excited to see it all come together,” said Newark, a sophomore majoring in crime, law and justice. "I hope that we can be some sort of an example, showing people that this is what we were able to do at Penn State and you can do it too, as long as you’re motivated and you work hard."

Each year, the organization will complete a series of community service projects based on proposals from its members. Next on the group’s list for 2011: a project to bring the holidays to terminally ill patients in children’s hospitals.

But the group's goals go beyond projects, said Reneé Lani, the organization’s vice president and a sophomore Schreyer Scholar majoring in chemical engineering and energy business and finance.

"The relationships and connections that people make in the organization are really important to us," Lani said. “Plus, we want it to build leadership because that’s what Tom was -- he was a great leader. We want to help foster leadership and help people show initiative and take charge."

For Mike Kachmar, the group’s president, that’s what makes the 367 Project different from other service organizations.

“At the end of each project, we want to not only look back and say that we made a lasting impact but also that we, as members of the 367 Project, improved as leaders,” said Kachmar, a Schreyer Scholar majoring in kinesiology. “We want to affect the community but it’s about how we get there and how we affect our members. We try to help our members better their leadership skills and become more ethical and effective leaders. I think it’s going to be awesome to see how these leaders evolve.”

The ideas of self-assessment and leadership development reflect how Tom Richards lived his life, he said.

“He would take the time to make himself a better person and, in doing that, he was making other people around him better people,” Kachmar said. “It’s not a one-way street: You can’t help somebody grow as an individual without growing yourself. That’s what the 367 Project is about.”

Alexandra Haeusser, a sophomore Schreyer Scholar majoring in secondary English education, was initially uncertain about joining, until she learned of the leadership-building aspect of the organization. “I liked the mission of the 367 Project: It’s about making leaders and not just doing service,” said Haeusser, a longtime friend of Richards who is now the group’s secretary and one of its programming heads. “I’d like to see it go to the level where you don’t always have to explain what the 367 Project is, people will just know.”

Mike Thomas, president and CEO of the board of directors for the larger 367 Project, echoed that hope. Thomas helped create the 367 Project, based in the greater Philadelphia area near Doylestown -- where Tom lived with his family -- and also helped establish its board of directors, which was formed in September of 2010. Now, his goal is to expand the vision of the 367 Project by establishing new collegiate chapters such as the one at Penn State. So far, the organization has taken root at the University of Pennsylvania, where the newest chapter of the 367 Project started last month.

Through Richards’ involvement in the Schreyer Honors College’s Leadership JumpStart class, a first-year honors seminar that has its participants identify and develop leadership skills, “he embodied everything that most people want to be,” said Thomas, a 2010 Penn State graduate who knew Richards through Penn State’s Mock Trial Association. “He wasn’t just a leader. He wanted to teach people how to lead. He took those leadership values and he put them on steroids.”

Kachmar emphasizes that involvement in the organization is not reserved for Schreyer Scholars or solely for those who knew Richards. “We’re stressing the fact that it’s not a requirement to have known Tom to be part of our organization,” Mike said. “The mission of the 367 Project and what we’re about is very much influenced by what Tom did while he was here for 367 days. It’s taking lessons from Tom and taking what he did to the next level.”

To get involved in the 367 Project’s Penn State chapter, visit http://www.wix.com/367projectpsu/367projectpsu.

 

Last Updated January 10, 2014