Peace Corps service focuses Chisholm's goals
Chase Chisholm's first name is also the verb that defines his life. For as long as he can remember, Chisholm has "chased" new ideas, career goals and a persistent call to mission. That call to mission led the Forest City native to Guyana, South America, with the Peace Corps. For the past two years, he taught basic computer skills at a vocational center for persons with disabilities.
"I had a feeling I'd like it and I did," Chisholm said. "There were incredible stories of people overcoming adversities. "It is inspiring to help a person use their skills and discover they are somebody, and they have a right to have a job."
But before he helped others train for work, Chisholm, 26, cultivated his own career in communications.
Chisholm had set his sights on becoming a television newscaster after gaining experience on FCTV at Forest City High School.
"I knew from the start I wanted to be a reporter, a news anchor," he said.
He entered Waldorf College's three-year accelerated communications program and gained experience in television and radio news reporting. Yet the more ready he felt to launch his career, the more angst he felt in how to do just that.
"There is a transformation time for anyone who goes through college," Chisholm said. "For me, I thought, ‘OK, I have these skills, now how am I going to use them?' "
Chisholm remembers feeling increasingly drawn toward service. Chisholm was asked by communications professor Joy Newcom about his plans after his graduation in 2005."I'm not really sure. I think I want to sell everything I own and find an island to live on somewhere," he said. "I'd like to sail on a boat and find a place where I can make a difference."
And that is close to what he did.
Chisholm spent his first 18 months after graduation in Southeast Asia as part of a traveling ministry group called "Youth Encounter." At the end of the tour, Chisholm landed a morning news position at KDLT-TV in Sioux Falls, S.D.
"I said, ‘Let's get some work experience now,' " he said.
Chisholm worked about six months at KDLT before realizing it wasn't what he wanted to do. He spent the next two years in marketing at the Argus Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls.
"I was always questioning my position and wondering what else I could be doing," he said. "I realized that my interests were still in the area of communications, just not working with a TV or radio station." "By the end I said, ‘this is not for me, at least not now,' " he said. "But I will always use those skills."
Chisholm redirected his path with advice from friends and mentors, such as past communications professors, Mark and Joy Newcom. "Chase is one of the most fascinating students I've had the privilege of teaching," Joy Newcom said. "I could tell his ideas weren't just big talk. They were big dreams. When he dreamed aloud, I always felt called to encourage him because I believed he was ready to live large - whatever that meant to him."
It was Joy Newcom who suggested the Peace Corps, a path he took in 2008, leading him to Guyana where he taught computer skills to persons with disabilities at the Open Doors Centre.
"I wanted to gain that cross-cultural experience," he said. "I believe it's important to put yourself in that situation that could be potentially uncomfortable for a variety of reasons."
Upon his return to the U.S. this past August, Chisholm decided to continue his affiliation with the Peace Corps as a regional recruiter in the Chicago office. He is most excited about recruiting during its 50th anniversary year of 2011 and a renewed focus on the Corps' history and mission. He also finds it exciting that his work with the Peace Corps is coinciding with an increasing trend toward service. The Peace Corps has reached a 40-year high in volunteers; now 8,655 volunteers in 77 countries, a news release said.
"It's very important to have service as part of your life," Chisholm said. "It's important to get to those places that don't have that much. "It doesn't have to be international," he said. "For me, it meant crossing borders while at the same time being an ambassador for the U.S."
But in typical Chase style, he is already considering his next endeavor - a master's degree in special education. "I want to aid in the global effort to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities," he said.
Chisholm received the Waldorf College Alumni Association's Distinguished Service Award this year for being a "compassionate visionary whose life exemplifies the spirit and mission of Waldorf College."
"Chase is always questioning social norms and thinking outside of the box," Mark Newcom, associate professor of communications at Waldorf, said. "He doesn't accept that society cannot get better. Instead, Chase asks ‘why' and then looks for new ways to get something done."
And Chisholm believes the way to get things done is one person at a time.
"You don't have to go in and make systemic changes. Your influence on one person could far outweigh any of that," he said. "You may never know how you influenced someone. They in turn could be the one who makes a change for the betterment of all." "If I make a difference for one individual, it doesn't matter to me how or where that happens."
Story by Heather Jordon, a reporter for the Forest City Summit, a Lee Enterprises newspaper.