A girl, her shoes and 'Berg's 'circle of kindness'

The days and hours leading up to graduation can be a bit chaotic. So much to do, to plan for and to wrap up. ’21 grad Gillian Duer, an environmental science major from Yorktown, Virginia, had to deal with an unexpected snag on her graduation day.

But never fear. This story has a serendipitous twist and a heartwarming ending.

In preparing to move out of her dorm room, all of Gillian’s shoes, which she had stored in a trash bag for the trip home, inadvertently got thrown away. She and her family didn’t realize the mishap until the following evening – the day before Gillian was to begin her summer position as an Americorps volunteer at Belle Isle State Park in Lancaster, Virginia.

“To say that I was upset was an understatement. I was frustrated and heartbroken,” Gillian says. One pair of Crocs was a personalized Christmas gift. There was a new pair of sandals she wore just once when she walked across the stage at graduation. And then, there were her hiking boots – which she needed to start her summer position. Those boots had special meaning. They were Gillian’s first pair and the ones she wore to the southwestern U.S. for a spring break field geology class.

“I had just switched my major to environmental science … and that trip solidified that I had made the right choice,” she says.

Gillian had given up hope that she would ever see her shoes again. Her mom, Rebecca, stepped in and called Heidelberg in search of help. Somehow, her call rang into the office of Nancy Miller, a long-time employee of the National Center of Water Quality Research.

Heidelberg to the rescue

Nancy went above and beyond to try to find a solution for Gillian.

“The call came to me by complete fluke,” Nancy says. “As I followed up with Gillian’s mother to get the details, I felt the need to try to help in any way that I could.”

“Many folks were kind to my kids through the years and it just felt right to pay it forward to that circle of kindness and help out one of our Heidelberg graduates.”

Nancy contacted a number of her ‘Berg colleagues, shared Gillian’s s dilemma and asked for donations to help. She collected $250 and was able to send Gillian a gift card for Zappo’s to replace a few pairs of shoes.

That simple act of kindness made a huge difference for Gillian – whom Nancy had never met.

“I was blown away when I received the gift card from Nancy,” Gillian says, adding that her mom had reassured her that the shoes could be replaced. “The message Nancy sent moved me to tears.”

Through her gratitude, Gillian explains that “this kind of generosity is what I love so much about Heidelberg.”

Settling into summer Americorps position

Gillian’s grandmother helped with a new pair of hiking boots as a graduation gift. A month later, she’s settling into her Americorps position as a member of the Virginia Service Conservation Corps Interpretive Trail Program. Through the summer, she’ll complete 450 volunteer hours where she interprets the environmental, historical cultural resources for park-goers.

Additionally, she is working on a program that the park’s Youth Conservation Corps kids will do later in the summer to build a bee house. She’s also working with another park ranger to develop a junior ranger program and assists with park maintenance.

So far, she’s loving her time with Americorps. She believes this “gap year” and her service position will open up opportunities for the future. “I don’t think I could have found a better way to spend my summer after graduation, Gillian says.

She’s eyeing a second VSCC program for next year and then possibly starting grad school in the fall of 2022.

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