Ivy Leaf - Spring 2011

A Gift of Impact: Overcoming Obstacles

By James Caltagirone '85, '87g


Richie Smith, a member of Ivyside Pride — the college's choral ensemble — had only one obstacle in his way of traveling with the group for its upcoming international concert tour: a passport. The obstacle was financial, as Smith could not afford the fee to obtain it. He didn't realize that he had an even bigger obstacle to overcome, and that his trip with Ivyside Pride would change all that.

In April 2010, Penn State Altoona Advisory Board member Carol Logan made a gift to support Ivyside Pride's international tour, specifically to fund the passport fee for Smith. Logan's generosity enabled Richie Smith to realize a dream. States Logan, "I did not want that fee alone to deprive one of our students from such a wonderful opportunity to travel abroad. I am extremely gratified that Richie benefited from the trip in ways that will enhance the quality of his life."

When informed that his financial obstacle had been cleared, Smith said he was brought to tears. With passport in hand, he joined a group that toured northern Germany and Switzerland, performed in concert, and visited museums and cathedrals. In addition to providing members of the choir with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the tour showcased the talent of Penn State Altoona students to audiences of a different culture.

For all members of Ivyside Pride, the tour was a valuable educational, cultural, and artistic experience; for Smith, it represented the start of a new life.

Smith's interaction with citizens of the host countries was intensely personal. There were occasions when individuals openly ridiculed him for bearing excessive weight. Fortunately, Smith possessed the strength of character to turn negative comments into a transformative experience.

"Before I went to Europe, I was very overweight and didn't care much because everyone accepted me for who I was," Smith states. "Being in Europe, I found out how much being overweight was unacceptable, and I realized that something had to be done."

In the four months following the trip, Smith subjected himself to a strict regimen of diet and exercise, trimming 125 pounds off his 385-pound frame and proclaiming himself in the best shape of his life.

"Not until I returned from Europe did I understand how big a gift I received, how much it was going to help me achieve," Smith says. "It opened up a whole new social network for me and created a new career option. When I graduate with my degree in integrative arts, I'm going to pursue a career in law enforcement, which is now possible because I lost all that weight."

"People often run away from something they fear. I feared weight loss because I thought it was something that was never going to happen. Any time you have a goal or an aspiration, it should inspire you to do whatever you thought was impossible. At the end of the road, you will find success."

N. Susan Woodring, director of Development and Alumni Relations, says Smith's story illustrates the impact a gift of any size can have on a student's life.

"Penn State Altoona is grateful for every gift received because all acts of philanthropy enhance a student's academic achievement and personal development in meaningful ways," she states. "Carol's generosity demonstrates that a gift from the heart can make a world of difference."