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Erin Howell: Service at Home and Abroad

Giving News

After graduating from her Houston high school, Erin Howell wanted to experience the world outside of Texas and learn more about herself in the process.

Already accepted to The University of Texas at Austin, Howell took advantage of the university’s enrollment deferral program and joined Youth With a Mission (YWAM). Guided by her strong faith, she journeyed to Hungary and India to help people.

Serving the poor in Hungary and India

Erin Howell in India

Erin Howell in India as part of her service work with Youth With A Mission.

During her three months in Budapest, Hungary, Howell passed out homemade sandwiches to the homeless and taught English in a coffee shop.

“Budapest was very different from anywhere I’ve been in Texas,” she says. “Eastern Europe was a little hard to be in at first because the people were kind of closed off. They weren’t as open and welcoming as people in Texas.”

The university students who attended her English classes warmed up once she got to know them. “By the end,” Howell says, “I just fell in love with the people.”

She enjoyed the rich history and culture of Budapest, visiting museums and soaking up its history. “I served coffee on this one street that used to be part of the Jewish ghetto during World War II,” she says. “There were still bullet holes in the side of the building.”

Her first stop in India was Delhi. “The people were friendly, welcoming, and many spoke English,” Howell says. “It was amazing being invited into people’s homes and just feeling like part of the family.”

Here, too, she fed the homeless and taught English. “I got more than I ever gave,” she says. “Even if the people I was with in India didn’t have very much, they gave what they could.”

After Delhi she moved to Calcutta for three weeks. “There was a huge amount of poverty everywhere we went. There were lots of children on the streets, which is hard to see,” Howell says.

Howell and her team volunteered with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in an AIDS hospice. And though she didn’t speak the same language as the women with AIDS, Howell massaged patients, held their hands, and sang with them, showing the women that they too were loved. “That was a hard but good experience,” Howell says.

Making a difference at home

“I realized when I came to Austin I didn’t need to go across the world to (serve),” she says.

Friendship Walk

Howell co-chaired the 2012 Best Buddies Friendship Walk.

Her first week on campus Howell found her cause.

“There is an amazing organization called Best Buddies that serves people with disabilities,” she says. “I realized right here in Austin I can give back with a great organization.”

Best Buddies paired Howell with Sheli. In her 40s, Sheli lives in community apartments on South Lamar with the Mary Lee Foundation. They’ve become close in the two and a half years they’ve known each other.
Howell says, “Sheli may have a disability, but she has no problem communicating or laughing and having a great time. We celebrate birthdays and Christmas together. Sheli and I get coffee and saw the movie ‘Twilight’ together.”

Erin and her Best Buddy Sheli.

Erin Howell and Sheli at a Best Buddies event.

Last year Howell co-chaired the Best Buddies Friendship Walk at Zilker Park in Austin. Howell led a team that asked different Austin organizations and businesses to donate money and gift cards for the fundraiser. UT, HEB, and Pluckers donated money and gift cards. The charity walk raised $10,000 in donations, and more than 100 people participated.

A future of service

Howell’s experiences abroad influenced her decision to double-major in social work and Plan II.  After she graduates she would like to earn dual master’s degrees through the School of Social Work and the School of Law. She may go into employment law because there are real opportunities to work for people with disabilities through the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This year Howell was awarded the M.B. & Edna Zale Endowed Presidential Scholarship, a scholarship for juniors, seniors, and graduate students enrolled full time at UT. The support she receives from the scholarship has encouraged her to continue her studies abroad. Currently she is applying to programs in Europe and South America, where she hopes to help orphans with intellectual disabilities.

“We have such great study-abroad programs at UT,” Howell says. “This scholarship gives me the ability to go places I would not be able to go.”

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