The Intersection of Purpose and Passion in a Pandemic – Ms. Summers’ Story

Article by Daniel Riemenschneider, Administrative Pastor

What does a pandemic make possible? For Belinda Summers, a foreign language teacher at Marquardt Middle School, the school’s spring closure provided her clarity to set out to draw a “postcard portrait” and validate each of her 121 students.

How do you gain this inspired alignment on what you are designed to do?

I first met Belinda when we met at Bloomingdale Church for a site visit on behalf of her leading Marquardt’s after-school intramural program. As we walked through the gymnasium, Belinda’s questions went beyond functionality. She was curious about what we were doing with the space for people in the community. I was happy to share how for the past 20 years, we have a community center for students called “Friday Night Coffeehouse.” Belinda’s objective was more than finding a suitable space for the program⁠—she was on a mission to build partnerships on behalf of her students. Ms. Summers cares about her students in and outside of the classroom. For example, she often invites students to eat lunch with her whom she has noticed are looking for a trusted adult.

Belinda and I connected again in the fall when she was invited by her colleague and friend, Therese Ziecina, to the IPSAT Course at Bloomingdale Church, an identity self-awareness tool and learning community. Belinda was curious and invested in the learning process. I enjoyed talking through the content together in our table coaching group and often after each class. For Belinda, it is not just about knowing the value she brings as a professional person. She is on a spiritual journey to explore faith.

On March 14, 2020, the day after Illinois schools were closed, Belinda and I were meeting for a phone coaching conversation. I remember asking what she would like to have accomplished at the end of this season. Exuding her growth mindset, Belinda explored the opportunity to develop as a teacher with e-learning, which excited her. She also generated an idea to write a note to each of her students expressing the strengths she saw in them. Ms. Summers has 113 students in her class rosters. She also volunteers as a Strength Champion with 8 additional students. This was a sizable goal, intensified by her added plan to draw a portrait of each student on the postcard which takes a couple of hours. Belinda seized the opportunity: “The quarantine had created a useful filter to help me focus on essential things only.”

Belinda shares, “As I spend time on each card, I am giving my presence to this student. I am thinking about who they are and what makes them special.” Take a moment to think about the gift of presence⁠—being there fully for another person. This is an interesting play on words as each postcard is truly a present to the student. “I am being given a gift to be able to do this,” Belinda highlights.

Belinda “knows her why” in taking on this project. “One thing is clear, my purpose and passion have intersected at a time where students are hungry to feel joy, and I would not have been able to articulate that without the IPSAT Course and coaching! I am thriving on being able to validate students by highlighting their strengths and unique oneness both visually and writing to them in the same missive.”  

Ms. Summers knows who she is and what her purpose is today. “When I want to do something I feel is right and necessary, it feels as if I’m almost unstoppable. It’s an unparalleled hunger. I find that hunger can only be sated by doing the thing of value and purpose that I know to be essential, good, ethical, and joyous service to young people.”