Posted on Monday, August 7, 2017
“Moving to New York City was a total mistake,” says no one ever— except Westminster alumna, Elizabeth “Liz” Buechele ‘15. Although she misses the quaint, country views of Western Pennsylvania, she’s settling quite happily into her life as an “adopted New Yorker.”
“I love being here. I’ve made incredible friends, been challenged in new ways through work, and experienced all the ups and downs that come from taking on a colossal thing like the Big Apple,” said Liz.
If you were to ask Liz how she ended up in NYC, she would tell you it was an accident —just like many of the profound things in her life that start that way. Thanks to her “say yes to everything” and “make the most of it” mentality, somehow things just work themselves out for Liz.
“And by somehow, I mean with a lot of hustle and sleepless nights,” she added candidly.
When she graduated in December of 2015, Liz had an internship lined up in Europe with a travel company. Although she was excited to travel and see Europe, she felt uneasy about her new role and quickly realized that she wasn’t in the right place.
“At that moment, I kind of realized that I didn’t have to make the Europe internship work for 90 days if I wasn’t going to be happy with every moment. That’s not to say I wanted perfection – or even expected it – but I quickly realized I had other options.”
While still in orientation, she received an interview for an internship with DoSomething.org, “a global movement for good” that helps millions of young people make positive change, both on and offline. This wouldn’t be Liz’s first opportunity with DoSomething.org. Under her term as Service Chair for SGA, Liz led Westminster in placing 3rd in DoSomething’s “Close the Loop” clothing drive. Westminster was also recognized with the spirit award that year. Having dreamt of working for DoSomething.org since she was 15, she found herself on a plane to NYC for two reasons: 1) that’s where DoSomething.org was located but 2) it was the cheapest way to get back to America.
With no job, no back-up plan, no idea of where she’ll live, Liz suddenly found herself on a wildly freeing, yet slightly terrifying journey. She had four internship interviews lined up at DoSomething.org and one for another nonprofit, The Riverside Church. After interviewing with the four DoSomething managers, one by one they all said, “no”.
“That’s when I panicked a little,” admitted Liz. “I had a job in Europe. I quit THAT job to fly to this crazy, messy, expensive city.”
Luckily, Riverside Church offered her a position in their Stewardship & Development office. However, the position was only part time. As she sat desperately trying to make her small bowl of vegetable soup last long enough for her to contemplate the offer— and conspicuously conceal that she was only hanging around for the free Wi-Fi— she thought about everything from other part time jobs to moving back home to PA. As she crafted her response to Riverside, DoSomething emailed her stating they made an error and wanted to know if she was still available for a spring internship— another “accident” that set her on her profound journey of service and selflessness. She excitedly signed on.
“I ended up working for DoSomething and Riverside Church, and had an amazing time at both organizations. I cannot speak highly enough about what both groups do and the people I met at both places. They taught me so much about professionalism, NYC, and just life in general and I will forever be grateful that they gave me the first ticket to stay in New York.”
Now that she’s found her footing and her experiences at DoSomething and Riverside are behind her, Liz works full time at the American Heart Association as an Individual Giving Specialist out of the NYC office. She’s the volunteer race director for a Veteran’s nonprofit called the Travis Manion Foundation and she’s a Big Sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters. She's in the middle of training for the NYC Marathon that will take place in November; and her nonprofit, The Smile Project, just received 501c3 status.
“The Smile Project is plugging along. I recently received a $1,000 grant, and was mentioned in the Huffington Post. I’m working on getting a lot of logistical and legal stuff in order before the start of the school years. I want my SPARK clubs to have a great second year and I want to really grow The Smile Project more throughout this upcoming school year.”
Starting as one of her many rewarding accidents, The Smile Project began in late fall of 2011 as Liz drove home from school.
“It was unusually warm for that time of year and I had my windows down and my radio up. I couldn’t tell you a single song that was on the radio, but I remember I was happy,” she recalled. “It was more than that though. Most days I would have just felt the emotion of joy, smiled, and moved on. But something deeper hit me.”
“I got home and I did what any 17-year-old would do in 2011 when they think they have a life-altering message to communicate with the masses. I posted a Facebook status stating, “Day 1: Happiness is… those perfect car rides where the radio just plays all the right songs.””
As day 1 turned into day 2, 3, 4 and now nearly 2100 consecutive days of finding joy, The Smile Project has grown into a full-fledged happiness campaign with one simple mission: share joy. The Smile Project operates Random Acts of Kindness Clubs in educational institutions through “SPARK” clubs (Strengthening Positivity and Reinforcing Kindness). SPARK clubs give young people the opportunity to learn valuable leadership skills, build a culture of giving, and create ripple effects of kindness. There are currently clubs at three colleges: Westminster College, Slippery Rock University, and Lebanon Valley College; and one high school, Red Bank Valley High School.
After seeing significant success at Westminster, Liz attributes the growth of The Smile Project to the support of her peers, professors, and staff who constantly believed in her and pushed her to the take her organization further.
“Whether it was my first-year RA, Maggie Hess '15, sharing all happiness related news with me; or my communications advisor, Dr. Merrick, allowing me to focus my Capstone heavily on research that would help me build The Smile Project; or a business professor I never even formally had for class, Professor Brian Petrus, constantly being there to answer all business-related questions, the support system I gathered from Westminster really gave me the tools I needed to build The Smile Project. The people I met at Westminster have always believed in The Smile Project – even at times when I couldn’t. And that’s worth more than gold.”
Although sometimes she still worries that The Smile Project feels small in comparison to the major issues that are facing the world today, the huge impact her initiative has on her peers, her community, and her followers is undeniable.
“It’s easy to feel that what we do is so small, but none of us will ever truly be able to grasp the profound impact that our lives will have on one another. Happiness and kindness are just another way to express love and that’s something I think we could all use a little more of right now.”
Thanks for the smiles, Liz. <3
For more information, contact Tom Fields at 724-946-7190 or @firstname.lastname@example.org.