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    Gratitude and Inspiration

    The Urban Child Development Resource Center (UCDRC) has been graced with strong, inspired leadership. In 2002 Sandy Szczygiel, as the first director of UCDRC, launched the program along with Linda Russell who was serving as a school counselor in an urban Catholic school. Sandy Eisenhut, another urban Catholic school counselor, joined the team part time during the second year. This inaugural team met the needs of children and families through creative, caring, committed work. In 2007 Linda Russell assumed the role of director with a clear mission and vision for growth and excellence. Under Linda’s steady, focused, forward thinking and guidance, UCDRC gained recognition in the community as a responsible, impactful program that mitigated the non-academic barriers to learning. One of Linda’s first tasks as director was to hire a new counselor. She demonstrated her intuition and recognition of talent in hiring Rhonda Mercs. Soon after Linda’s initiation in the role of director, principals not being served by UCDRC clamored for service from the counselors of this transformational program. As Linda continued as director, the program moved to more schools with additional counselors and family advocates. One of Linda’s greatest accomplishments was to demonstrate the worth of the program to generous philanthropists who have offered support and resources. Life brings changes and these changes have moved Linda to consider a new role as development director and clinical advisor for UCDRC. While she relinquishes her role as director, those of us on the Center for Catholic Education team are so pleased to know Linda will remain as a grant writer and reporter and as an advisor.

    Having experienced Rhonda Mercs’ leadership as she served as site coordinator of UCDRC, all were in agreement that the last five years of Rhonda’s work and commitment evidenced her skill and ability to become the third director of UCDRC. With continued mentoring from Linda, the transition of leadership has been smooth, filled with hope, and once more inspired.

    Earning both a B.S. in Psychology and an M.S. in Mental Health Counseling from Wright State University, Rhonda has been a licensed professional clinical counselor in the state of Ohio since 1996. Before coming to the University of Dayton she served as a therapist for children with mental health challenges in a variety of settings. As a member of the UCDRC team, Rhonda has developed the very successful Peacemakers program created by Linda eight years ago and has grown it to where it is today. A select group of 7th and 8th grade students, chosen by their peers and staff, the Peacemakers focus on promoting peace in their schools and communities through service and leadership. A valuable component to the Peacemakers program is a partnership with the Marianist Leadership Scholars (MLS) of UD who serve as mentors, a partnership which Rhonda was instrumental in creating. MLS have developed training sessions to enhance leadership skills and have visited schools to assist the Peacemakers in many of their fundraising activities.

    Excited about her new role, Rhonda is looking forward to growing the wonderful partnership between UD’s Center for Catholic Education and local Catholic schools in under-resourced neighborhoods. When asked about her vision for the program, Rhonda responded, “UCDRC is a phenomenal program which I would like to see touch the lives of more children and their families in the community. UCDRC will continue to provide quality services to all of our schools.”