By Tony Galbreath Jr.
If time and money were unlimited, what would your life look like in 10 years?
Columbia College-Crystal Lake criminal justice student Elizabeth Freund was asked this question 11 years ago. For many people, that’s a strictly hypothetical question, and the answers are luxury cars, mansions, yachts and the other trappings of wealth, but without hesitation Freund answered, “I would open a farm for abused and neglected children and horses.”
Freund didn’t begin life with such a mission. Originally from Chicago, Freund moved to suburban Johnsburg, Ill., when she became a wife and mother. She started taking general education classes at a local community college where her instructors were struck by her drive and pushed her to continue her education. She transferred to Trinity International University to pursue an education major, juggling family and school obligations, and still found time to volunteer at a local elementary school.
She says that experience changed her life. “Volunteering at my children’s school really helped me identify the age group I wanted to work with,” she said. She vowed to further her education.
Freund then hit a rough patch. She and her husband divorced, and she became the sole provider and parent to her two children. She also decided to drop out of school: while taking a juvenile delinquency class, she realized how vulnerable her teenage children were after the divorce and realized she needed to focus on them. She began cleaning houses for a living, allowing her to be home when they were home.
Less than a year later she had such a full list of clients she had to hire employees and was booked seven days a week running three crews a day. Her business was booming; she was a success.
After a few years, the business required less of her time and her oldest son went off to college. With just her daughter, dogs and horses living at home, she thought she could again focus on school.
After talking to a friend attending Columbia College-Crystal Lake, she decided to give the college a try. She says she enjoys the flexibility of online classes and that there are Columbia College campuses close to her home.
“The faculty at Crystal Lake is amazing!” she says. “Debra Hartman, the director of Crystal Lake, Erica Poremba, the assistant director, and Amy Placencia, administrative assistant, go so far above and beyond in order to support returning adult students like me.” She plans to graduate this year.
Her favorite classes? Psychology.
“I am fascinated by the psychology of resilience and post-traumatic growth,” she says. “I believe the reason many foster care programs for youth have suboptimal results is because, due to the bureaucracy of child welfare, services are provided in a fragmented manner rather than a collaborative one.”
“Elizabeth has hurdled many obstacles on the road to degree completion, but the personal ownership she takes of her education, in my eyes, is what has driven her success,” says Hartman. “She has a focus and a determination I do not see in every student and a true love for learning.”
Freund currently works as a freelance writer and business consultant for independent owner/operators in the services industries.
Her drive, thoughtfulness and studiousness have accomplished more than making her a great student and role model, however. While studying at Columbia College-Crystal Lake, Freund became only the second Columbia College senior to score above the 90th percentile on two Major Field Tests (MFT) — scoring in the 93rd percentile in psychology and 99th in criminal justice. The MFT is a two-hour, nationally normed exam for various academic disciplines administered to thousands of students in hundreds of colleges to evaluate the effectiveness of an institution’s teaching.
Freund’s two children are grown now; one is a senior at DePaul University and the other has earned a degree in finance and is now living in Somalia where he is director of finance at an American-operated residential high school. And her vision to open a farm for abused and neglected children and horses is slowly becoming a reality. She has spent countless unpaid hours working to advance the mission of Opportunity Services, Inc., a non-profit organization she founded, of which CiroH Academy, or Children Investment Resilience Opportunity Horses, is a primary goal.
Freund says she envisions a residential high school and equine recovery center to serve 100 teens and 50 horses living in foster care. The CiroH Academy service model, which she developed, provides residential, therapeutic and educational services in a collaborative manner under one roof. CiroH Academy is still only a vision but Freund says she does have architectural plans for a campus, a board of directors and has rescued a horse named Phoenix.
Equine therapy programs are widely used in residential treatment settings, as a component of outpatient therapy, even in gang-intervention programs.
“My first career goal is to run a pilot program of our service model, and ultimately, I hope to be the executive director of CiroH Academy. This journey is years in the making. Time and money are scarce, but my vision is clear and within my reach.”
For more on CiroH Academy go to www.cirohacademy.org or http://www.facebook.com/pages/CiroH-Academy/#!/pages/CiroH-Academy/334728268747.