Pride and Joy

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Joy Gaeraths gives back through the Volunteer Alumni Network.

You are just as likely to find Joy Gaeraths cheering on the Lumberjacks at a basketball game as you are to find her placing pins on students’ lapels at a graduation ceremony, or handing out certificates at a high school award night. Gaeraths is much more than just a member of the Volunteer Alumni Network (VAN) – she’s one of Northern Arizona University’s most passionate alumni.

As an undergraduate at the university between 1995 and 1998, Gaeraths says she loved the campus experience and attending sporting events with the friends she made in her residence hall.

“It was a given where you were on a Saturday afternoon – if there was a basketball game, you would be there,” Gaeraths says.

Gaeraths now works in Phoenix with Arizona Child Protective Services. Despite the distance, she maintained her love for the university, and wanted to give back. Through VAN, Gaeraths discovered that giving her time was an extremely valuable way to contribute to the place that had meant so much to her.

“She has consistently been such a huge supporter of Northern Arizona University and VAN in any way she can help out,” says Beth Bourget, the coordinator of the program in the Office of Alumni Relations

Driving VAN forward

Bourget explains that VAN members are essential in helping students across the nation learn about Northern Arizona University.

“We have alumni volunteer assist undergraduate admissions in their events,” Bourget says. “We have VAN members all across the country – wherever a recruiting event is being held, we can get alumni to help out with it.”

The program also encourages alumni to return to their alma mater to help put on special events, such as the Welcome Week barbeque on campus and Homecoming events. These events provide alumni like Gaeraths a great way to revisit the campus while helping ensure the current student experience is the best it can be.

“On Family Weekend, I always visit for the game, anyway,” Gaeraths says. “If alumni need any help with anything, I usually contribute, and I also help with the alumni booth at Homecoming. Actually, last year was the first year I wasn’t able to help, and that’s because I was getting an award. They had to tell me I wasn’t allowed to volunteer that year because I was a recipient.”

The Jeff Ferris Volunteer of the Year Award is given annually by the university to an alumna or alumnus who goes above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of others. Bourget says the award – named after a past president of the Alumni Association – is intended to recognize individuals like Gaeraths.

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Gaeraths says she is deeply honored to be recognized for what she sees as a natural extension of her time at Northern Arizona University.

“I’m never in it for the recognition,” Gaeraths says. “But, from what I hear about how amazing Jeff Ferris is himself, it’s just an honor to be recognized by my peers and the university that I love so much.”

Following in alumni footsteps

Gaeraths visits local high schools in the Phoenix area to participate in senior awards nights. Often, she will be the one to personally present scholarships to prospective Northern Arizona University students. It is an activity that she thoroughly enjoys – she says working with young people and seeing their excitement reminds her of when she was first starting her undergraduate career.

“Northern Arizona University has even more to offer this generation of students than it did my generation,” Gaeraths says. “I always have a few people come up to me and say, ‘I can’t believe you do this for free.’ I love the look on the students’ faces when they get these certificates and know they’re going to the university and they’re going to have a great experience.”

Gaeraths is not alone in her endeavors. Bourget says there are many alumni who genuinely believe the university can be as life-changing for today’s students as it was for them.

“Their time at Northern Arizona University had an impact on them,” Bourget says. “Their experiences here – whether it was their connections to the people in their residence halls, being part of student clubs, playing sports, or connecting with professors – helped them see the difference that being at the university can have on someone’s life, and that motivates them to encourage other people to go.”