More Salt & Light

By Carol Elliott and Christine Cox | Fall 2015

Bob Burke (ACCT ’94) was 22 years old when he started the nonprofit Ladder Up in Chicago in 1994. The organization originally offered tax help to impoverished families, but has grown to offer tools and education in banking and college financial aid.

Burke’s continuing dedication has expanded Ladder Up’s reach. The organization now serves more than 225,000 families through 24,000 volunteers. It has returned in excess of $475 million to working poor families through the Tax Assistance Program (TAP) and LIFT. “It is an honor to use my accounting and business skills to make a difference for so many families,” says Burke. “I’m grateful to Notre Dame for giving me the tools and the compass to guide these efforts.”

 A homecooked meal is a powerful thing. It’s delicious, nutritious and comforting. It shows care and love. It can even strengthen a community.

Alice Griesemer Sheehan (MBA/Science ’10) experiences this power through Community Cooks in Somerville, Massachusetts. Along with 600 other volunteers, she faithfully contributes homemade dishes for residents at a nearby shelter. These efforts not only reduce food insecurity, but also show diners that their neighbors support them.

“I love the idea of banding together with friends to cook for neighbors in need,” says Sheehan. “Community Cooks makes a huge impact and has given me the gift of community.”

 Jordan Karcher (MBA ’15) combined his passion for animal rescue and his love of coffee through his company, Grounds & Hounds Coffee Company. The company donates a full 20 percent of sales to no-kill animal shelters across the country.

Karcher launched Grounds & Hounds in April 2014, while earning his MBA. He has since moved operations to Nashville, Tennessee.

His rescued Dalmatian, Molly, helped inspire the business. Says Karcher, “Every time I look at Molly, she reminds me why we do what we do.”

 Luis Javier Lopez (MBA ’85) still gets tears in his eyes when he thinks about the earthquake that struck Armenia, Colombia, in 1999. With a magnitude of 6.2, the quake caused an estimated death toll of nearly 4,000.

At the time, Lopez was a private contractor for the highway department. He and his crew worked through the night to clear roads so blood, food and assistance could get through. He also volunteered as a liaison between the governor’s office and a help and rescue team from the United States. For four days, the team searched for survivors while enduring riots, gunshots, fire, hunger and rain.

“There never was a time when the neighbors, despite their poverty and critical conditions, wouldn’t come up with a dish of food for me,” he says.

 Ernest Gomez (EMBA ’07), now an independent consultant, has built his career with such high-profile organizations as the City of Chicago Police Department, the U.S. Treasury, Procter & Gamble and Accenture. His lifelong commitment to community service includes volunteering with women’s shelters, therapeutic horseback riding, environmental projects, soup kitchens, pancake breakfasts, church functions and more. He has won awards for heroism and carried the Olympic torch. But the ESL students at his local library in Washington, D.C., simply know him as the patient tutor who helps them improve their English language skills.

 Tom Varga (MBA ’85) co-founded CFO Selections 15 years ago. From the beginning, the Seattle-based company wove philanthropy into the fabric of its culture.

This includes the CFOS Foundation, a small, community-based foundation that supports direct needs-based programs for foster children in Washington state. In addition to bestowing grants, the foundation also encourages executives to donate time and expertise to nonprofits.


During his class’s Executive Integral Leadership Week, Matthew Belter (EMBA ’09) remembers Management Professor Leo Burke (ND ’70) asking students how they planned to serve the community after graduation. “I wasn’t sure what that would mean to me,” Belter recalls. “But I believed my calling would come.”

Upon return to Southern California, he connected with the WISEPlace, a transitional home for abused women. Belter, a business owner, volunteers as vice president of finance and fund development.

Last year, he developed BOLT for Charity, an event that attracted 70 professional kettlebell lifters, including Belter. “This would have never happened without Leo Burke’s challenge,” he says.

 During his time at Mendoza, Kevin Callahan EMBA (’05) helped reunite a refugee family from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rebels tried to kill the husband for supporting non-violence, but he escaped to Uganda and came to the United States as a refugee. His wife and 4-year-old daughter made it to Uganda, and Callahan worked with the Ugandan consulate for two and a half years to reunite the family.

Two days before the mother and daughter were set to arrive in Chicago, they were refused boarding on the flight because the consulate made paperwork errors.

Callahan called the U.S. embassy in Uganda and demanded to speak to the ambassador. He was connected to the vice ambassador, who ultimately arranged for the mother and daughter to fly out.

Once in Chicago, the girl hugged Callahan and his wife, calling them grandma and grandpa. She and her siblings have been their grandchildren ever since.

Fresh out of the Notre Dame MBA program, Eileen O’Brien (MBA ’85) joined the Claretian Volunteers. For three years, she served as a business manager for four inner-city parishes in St. Louis, Missouri. The career counselor at Notre Dame joked that people like her are not included in the calculation for starting MBA salaries because they would certainly bring down the average.

But O’Brien made a career in church administration. She has served as director of facilities and operations for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for 27 years.


In her full-time job Sarita Harcourt (MNA ’88) works on behalf of the homeless through the Community Development Commission in Los Angeles County, California. And she still finds time to volunteer with the National Charity League, Meals on Wheels, PIH Community Hospital and the local middle school instrumental music program. Her latest volunteer commitment is serving as new board member with the Notre Dame Club of Los Angeles.


Rev. David T. Link, CSC, (BBA ’58, JD ’61) ministers in six Indiana state penitentiaries. His experiences have made him passionate about changing the mission of the criminal justice system from punishment to healing.

In the late 1990s, his wife, Barbara, suggested that he volunteer to minister to prisoners, which he greatly enjoyed. After Barbara’s death in 2003, the father of five and grandfather of 13 entered the seminary to become a priest dedicated to serving as a prison chaplain full time.

“We will always need to have prisons,” Link said in a recent interview for the Catholic Virginian newsletter. “However, I am here to tell you that the vast majority of the people whom I am privileged to serve in prison are not bad people. In fact, they are good people who have made some terrible decisions.”