When he first began the college application process, first year Mark Mlella was on his own. He had no college counselor, and he found the process a little intimidating. Luckily, Mlella was finally able to get a college counselor, although it was very expensive, who made Trinity a possibility. Now, Mlella would like to use the skills he obtained during his college application process to help other students who might not have college counselors. With the aid of the new Ann Waldie Boelens Make a Difference Fund, Mlella hopes to create a project that would help him do exactly that.

Designed by Jim Boelens, the alumni sponsor for the Class of 2016, to honor his wife, Ann, the Make a Difference Fund is intended to assist Trinity students in making a difference in the campus, local, national or global community through one of five categories: water, food, health, literacy or energy.

To be eligible for the fund, students may not receive funding from other sources such as ASR or TUVAC. Students may submit an online application, and funding will be dependent upon community need and the thoroughness of the application. Funded projects should have a completion date of December 2013, and students whose applications are funded must agree to work with Campus and Community Involvement to make necessary payments, to supply a minimum of five photos for the project, to write a summary of the outcome of the project and to write a note thanking the donor.

Edwin Blanton, coordinator for community service and engagement, believes the fund is a great jumpstart for projects that are stalled because of monetary issues.

“I think it’s a really good way for students to make a difference. In a lot of cases, they want to make a difference, but they just need a small amount of seed money to really get started,” Blanton said.

Boelens and his wife firmly believe in the importance of volunteerism, and they want to challenge Trinity students to become involved in programs beyond the campus.

“It’s a great feeling to be altruistic, and we want to assist students at Trinity in becoming lifelong philanthropists. We think it’s important for people to have fun and find meaning in life, and charitable service is one mechanism we use to accomplish these goals. You don’t have to be rich to be philanthropic; you just have to enjoy giving,” Boelens said.

Boelens was inspired to create this fund by his wife’s dedication to selfless service.

“Though Ann retired this year as a schoolteacher due to a very serious medical condition, she still finds time to volunteer twice a week at Woodridge Elementary School in their reading program. She supported my career in the military and endured countless moves while we were in the Army. She was very active in supporting military families; in fact, she was named Volunteer of the Year for the U.S. Army in 1996 based on her involvement as an instructor in the Army Family Team Building program, coaching youth sports and her involvement in teaching Sunday school in post chapels,” Boelens said.

Students will not only derive satisfaction from performing services that may truly impact the lives of others through their work with the Make a Difference Fund, but they will also gain valuable experience that will undoubtedly help them when they enter the job market.

“We also hope that this program, if used wisely, may allow students to develop skills and make contacts that may be marketable on a résumé. We expect students to be creative and demonstrate initiative in tailoring a project to fit a specific need and these two qualities alone demonstrate great potential to employers,” Boelens said.

The project that Mlella described in his application to the Make a Difference Fund focuses on Tanzanian high school students who need help applying to colleges.

“If this project will be funded, then I will organize a group of Trinity students who will act as college counselors for high school students. As counselors, we will recruit well-rounded Tanzanian students with the best academic grades, which made them attain local or national recognition. These students will be our advisees as we will be giving them advice and directions on the American universities’ application process, which will include proof-reading application essays and supplements,” Mlella said.

By giving Tanzanian students the tools they need to get access to American higher education, Mlella believes that they will use what they learn in college to improve the quality of life back home in Tanzania.

“The outcome of this project is to enable Tanzanian students to attain better overseas education so as to create a group of trained and talented Tanzanian scholars who will be able to initiate development in their community, country and the world as a whole,” Mlella said.

Boelens, who was fortunate to benefit from need-based scholarships and student work programs while at Trinity, feels a desire to give back to the university that gave him so much. He and his wife are excited to see Trinity students’ passion for volunteerism, and they hope the Make a Difference Fund will allow Trinity students to succeed in their charitable pursuits.

“Ann and I want to remain part of the Trinity community through our giving. We believe in the strength of the institution, the value of the education, the professionalism of the administration and the merit of the students,” Boelens said. “With this in mind, the question really is why would we not want to give back?”