Once Terry McGlasson got started in humanitarian work, there was no going back.
Soon after his first volunteering experience on the West Coast in 2005, the Central Michigan University counseling and special education faculty member got an opportunity to travel to India on an anti-suicide initiative.
India at the time had a high suicide rate and few places people could turn. McGlasson and other counselors wrote a prevention curriculum and taught it to local professionals. The experience changed him.
"You hear this all the time," he said, "but I just couldn't see the world the same anymore."
Since then he's helped with American Red Cross disaster relief after hurricanes on the East Coast and in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and with Global Volunteers serving in Appalachia, the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, Mexico, Brazil, Nicaragua, Cuba and more.
"What we hope is that each of our students in their own way will develop a transcendent appreciation for humanity. And then counseling will just be their vocation, but their care for people won't be limited to that." — Terry McGlasson, CMU faculty member
McGlasson takes two or three humanitarian trips a year, mostly through Global Volunteers, which handles all logistics and arrangements.
When not globetrotting, he's often working with Extra Mile, the student volunteer service group he started in 2016 to meet needs in Michigan.
"The younger generation is often willing and able to serve but don't know where to start," McGlasson said. If he were to present the opportunities, "I believed people would come and do it."
He said 25 showed up for the first volunteer outing, and the group now has 50 active participants including faculty and staff. Extra Mile offers monthly one-day service opportunities. Often, the assistance focuses neither on counseling nor emergencies, but simply helping local service agencies with whatever work needs to be done.
"We're the behind-the-scenes support for nonprofits," McGlasson said. "No job is beneath us."
It's this kind of work that drew the attention of his CSE colleague Allison Arnekrans, whose nomination led to him receiving the American Counseling Association's 2018 Gilbert & Kathleen Wrenn Award for a Humanitarian & Caring Person. The award was announced in April at the ACA's annual conference and expo in Atlanta, Georgia.
In the wake of the award announcement, McGlasson sat down to answer six questions:
Q: What does humanitarianism mean to you, and why is it important?
A: Drawing on the best of humanity, drawing on the "better angels of our nature," trying to do something for fellow human beings because it's the right thing to do. It's secular, it's religious, it's all those things, depending on who you're working for, but the motivation is just to try to make a difference, one person at a time.
Q: How does your humanitarianism relate to your students' classroom experiences?
A: My contention is that we have to learn to be good people before we can be good professionals. If your heart's in the right place, we can give you the skills. But it doesn't work in reverse. So what we hope is that each of our students in their own way will develop a transcendent appreciation for humanity. And then counseling will just be their vocation, but their care for people won't be limited to that. I think there are some things in life that we shouldn't be reimbursed financially for, but we just do because they're the right things to do.
Q: What humanitarian values do you see expressed at CMU?
A: That's the great thing about being at a university. I think that CMU, one of its greatest benefits is that it serves as proving grounds and a launching pad. It brings in young minds, helps them to see a bigger world, a more diverse world — both the good and the needs there. We have an amazing Volunteer Center here. I just partnered with several residential colleges, and we had a whole service day. It isn't just the Extra Mile. These things are being endorsed and encouraged all over campus. It's one thing to do volunteer work. It's another thing when you immerse yourself in a culture of people who are very unlike you, because it stretches all of us, and at the same time you see how universal we all are. College is the perfect place for that.
Q: What's the largest humanitarian crisis that you personally have been involved with?
A: Hurricane Sandy (which struck the East Coast), by far. I was out there at Christmas in 2012 with the Red Cross as a disaster mental health responder. While the trucks are going out serving the hot meals, disaster mental health responders ride on the trucks, and their job is just to offer comfort to people. You're standing in their gutted houses where they lost the entire first floor, and everything they own is underwater. You're looking after the well-being of the Red Cross workers, too, who are under tremendous stress. It does a lot to people when they're hit on that level, and they're left very vulnerable. You're not doing therapy, you're just trying to be a good human being, to offer them some comfort. Mostly, you're just listening.
Q: What's the greatest humanitarian success story you know?
A: It wouldn't be anything that makes the headlines. This is going to sound so cheesy, but it's all of the little connections and moments. So often I go to countries where English is not even spoken, and I'm just continually amazed at how you find ways to communicate with people on a human level. I was in Costa Rica just recently, talking to a sophomore in high school who doesn't speak English, and I don't speak Spanish very well, and we spent two hours together with him sharing with me that he's hurting. His home is not well, and he lost a dear friend. You begin to realize that things like joy and pain and loneliness and fear, they're universal languages.
Q: What more can you tell about the Extra Mile initiative?
A: Each service project is self-contained, so there's nothing that carries over. We send out information: "Here's where we're going to be, here's what we're going to be doing, either reply back with 'accept' or 'decline.'" We get a team of 25, and we take off. It's all volunteer. It's not officially associated with CMU; it's just a group of people who want to make a difference. We've been all over the lower half of the Mitten now. That's 13 projects, hundreds of lives. We pack food, we rebuild churches, we do just about anything they need us to do. We serve the organizations so they can better serve their constituencies. It plants such an important seed for my graduate and undergraduate students that volunteerism really does make a difference.
Interested in Extra Mile? Contact Terry McGlasson at firstname.lastname@example.org or find Extra Mile on Twitter.