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World traveler says she's most at home when serving others

February 19, 2008|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN - Although Kathryn "Kat" Bearese still calls Hagerstown home, there are many places around the world that are, in a way, home to her.

Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., where Bearese is a senior psychology major, is one such place. During her college years, she was named a Bonner Scholar, which provided her with scholarship money in exchange for community service.

It was a perfect fit for Bearese, 22, who grew up in a global-thinking, service-minded family. The Bearese family lived in the Middle East for six years, first in Saudi Arabia, then Bahrain, when Kat was in elementary and middle school.

The family moved to Hagerstown. Kat attended Northern Middle School for a year, then went to Saint James School, from which she graduated.

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"We grew up traveling. I fell in love with other cultures," said Bearese, whose vacation destinations included Europe, Turkey and Greece.

After graduating from Saint James, Bearese served as an AmeriCorps volunteer for 10 months. She trained in California, then undertook service projects in Oregon, San Diego, Sacramento, Calif., and Alaska.

"It helped me academically. It helped me refocus," she said. AmeriCorps is "a great way to benefit your country if you don't want to go into the military," she said.

As a Bonner Scholar, she began volunteering at Achieva Resources, an Indiana program that serves people with special needs.

Bearese leads activities in the Adult Room, and helps some of the participants earn spending money by doing simple jobs such as putting roses in boxes for Valentine's Day.

She is the Bonner Scholarship senior intern for the college's service learning office.

During 2006, Bearese made two trips to Mexico through an off-campus program at Earlham, one in May and one during the fall semester of her junior year. She volunteered at a school for special-needs children.

Through her volunteer work, Bearese said, she learned she wants to work with people with special needs.

"It's not an extra thing for me. I just love doing it so much. It's just a part of me," Bearese said.

Andrew Ball, her maternal grandfather, inspired her with his passion for fighting hunger.

"After his death, I realized all the things he had done. I didn't realize what a powerful man he was," she said.

Last summer, she worked in Atlantic City, N.J., at a vacation beach house run by a camp for people with special needs. Bearese said she looks forward to working there this summer after college graduation.

As the recipient of a $10,000 Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, she plans to spend three months in Quito, Ecuador, in the fall. She began studying Spanish her sophomore year at Earlham and looks forward to using her Spanish skills.

Then, she'll serve for three months as a program assistant during spring 2009 in London for an international study-abroad program through Earlham.

Her parents live in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, her oldest brother lives in the Netherlands, two of her brothers live in the family home in Hagerstown and her sister attends college in York, Pa. After she returns from London, Bearese said she plans to move to Arizona, where her aunt, uncle and some cousins live.

"Once I get to Arizona, I will find something with special needs. That's what makes me happiest," Bearese said.

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