Inspiration can be found in the least likely of places, leading us to take chances that forever change our lives and often times, uncovering hidden passions that lead us to our life’s mission. For Teddy Fitzpatrick, his inspiration was revealed working as a teacher in North Carolina correctional facilities. After graduating with a bachelor’s in Special Education from Florida State University in 2000, Teddy began teaching in juvenile facilities in Florida, eventually taking a job at a correctional facility in Butner, NC. Needless to say, with the Bureau of Justice Statistics reporting that only 46 percent of incarcerated individuals have a high school diploma or its equivalent, his classrooms were full.
Among his students were men and women of all ages, 18-70, with different achievement levels and from various corners of globe. For inmates with disabilities, attaining a GED was more challenging and working towards the basics of learning to read, write and basic computation were long term goals. Though he taught plenty of students, Teddy realizes that “those guys taught me so much more than I ever taught them.” It was in those moments when students shared stories of their homelands, illuminating their cultures, that Teddy felt a strong desire to live simply, to strengthen the spirit and to connect with others. After searching for a way to turn this dream into a reality, he stumbled upon an opportunity with the Peace Corps. It was the right fit: exciting, uncomfortable, challenging and raw.
And so, his journey began— the Texas native packed his stuff and immersed himself in the Peace Corps on a two-year venture in the Dominican Republic. With experience in special education, Teddy’s role as a Special Education Promoter and Teacher Trainer was extremely valuable as he developed effective after-school reading programs for Dominican middle school students with special learning and behavioral needs. Simultaneously, he facilitated teacher training workshops focusing on non-traditional teaching methods, classroom management and curriculum adaption for children with special needs. Devoted to making a difference, he also partnered with the school psychologist to organize parent support groups and reunions that promoted the value of literacy skills. He also developed a camp, “Jóvenes con Futuro”, that addressed pressing issues in the lives of youth including healthy relationships, substance abuse, nutrition and HIV/AIDS. Of course, Teddy made sure there was room for fun as well, creating an organized activity for the children through a competitive intramural basketball program.
If these sound like daunting tasks, well, finding the drive for these endeavors was easy. “The energy the Dominicans carried was contagious, Teddy explains. “As soon as the roosters got their early morning crow on, the Dominican families bounced up, shined their shoes, and started the day with a strong shot of coffee and real sense of aliveness. The DR felt to me like one giant community; everyone took care of each other. I felt welcome with each home I entered.” Although he had made quite the impact in education here and abroad, Teddy recognized the constant but ever-evolving need for healthcare. Slightly changing course, he realized he wanted to be part of this field of learning where he could continue to make a difference in our communities. After 30 months in the Dominican Republic, this teacher would begin his transformation from professor to pupil, seeking a school of nursing that paralleled his passions for community service at both the local and global level and to better the human condition.
Teddy’s research led him to Villanova and he was immediately drawn to the College of Nursing through their mission and commitment to service. Specifically, Teddy recalls, it was recognizing “the value the program places on providing holistic care to the sick, disabled, impoverished populations” and feeling strong that this “is a responsibility that I wanted to take on.”
Now living in Bryn Mawr, and a junior in the accelerated program, Teddy looks back on his time in the Dominican Republic and acknowledges the lasting impression. “Learning and working in the education system, working with political parties, tourist industries and within the health care system shifted my perspectives.” Because it was a time of deep appreciation, for sound health, family and education, he developed a compassion for others which only strengthened his already strong will to serve. These experiences inspired him to further his education and training, and the field of nursing seemed to support this path. Teddy’s ultimate goal is to serve as a patient, compassionate, competent nurse in environments where the quality of care and education is limited. As he continues on his nursing education, he is still searching areas of interest, but is always open to new opportunities. As he discovered eight years ago, you never know where the road ahead may lead.