USF professor and students produce book highlighting work of Blue Jacket

October 4, 2022

FORT WAYNE, Ind.—Dr. Monica Heller remains amazed at the dedication and work her University of Saint Francis students (now alumnae) Tyra Grischke and Twyla Herron poured into the book, “Second Chances Earned.”

Heller, USF associate professor of psychology, knew of her students’ gung-ho attitudes toward highlighting the work of Blue Jacket, Inc. But they astounded her with months of devotion to the project after they were no longer earning a grade for their work.

“It’s a testament to these students and the hearts they have,” Heller said. “They earned special project course credit in the fall of 2021, but we were nowhere near finished with the book. As with any project, to do it justice took a lot more time than I envisioned. They stayed on board and continued voluntarily for another seven months to see it through to publication.”

“Second Chances Earned,” published in August and credited to Heller, Grischke and Herron, features first-person stories about people whose lives were changed by being graduates of the Career Academy at Blue Jacket. Blue Jacket provides training and opportunities to anyone with a barrier who is striving to earn gainful employment.

The paperback book is available for $10 through Monica Heller at [email protected] or by contacting Blue Jacket. Proceeds go to Blue Jacket’s mission.

Heller found inspiration after reading a book, “Fifty Sandwiches: Humanize the Homeless,” by Justin Wilder Doering.

“We wanted to bring awareness to the mission of Blue Jacket, giving people a second chance at living fulfilled, productive lives,” Heller said. “We want to build awareness in the community of the great work and opportunities that Blue Jacket offers, and bring awareness to the various people out there who are deserving of our respect.”

Blue Jacket Executive Director Anthony “Tony” Hudson and his wife, Angela, are USF alumni. Tony Hudson’s USF connection—and the organization’s mission—fit perfectly with Heller’s vision to do something for a local organization that is making a difference for people in the community.

“I approached Tony about the idea, and he was all on board,” Heller said. “Tyra and Twyla just soared. They really did. They just took off with it. What I envisioned in my mind, they surpassed.”

“I was floored by the professionalism Dr. Heller and her students had in interviewing our clients and treating them with the utmost care,” Hudson said. “In shining a light on an uglier past that our clients may have been through, they had to be delicate with words and imagery to articulate this. They did so incredibly, with honor and respect for those individuals who have done well for themselves.”

Grischke conducted interviews of the Blue Jacket participants and turned those interviews into first-person narratives. Herron took all the photographs and created the art design throughout the book. Both students graduated with degrees last May. Grischke is in medical school and Herron works at Sweetwater, as well as freelancing as a photographer.

“I learned so much from this experience, not only about my community but about myself and what it takes to pull off a project like this,” Herron said. “It was an amazing experience to interview all the clients and hear their stories. I felt very honored that they trusted us to put their words out in the public and share their experience with life and how Blue Jacket influenced them.”

Grischke, too, was stuck by how the experience left a lasting impression.

“I could never have imagined how much I would learn from those I interviewed,” Grischke said. “Every story was so unique, but they all demonstrated more resiliency than I knew was possible. I just hope others read the book and become inspired to give everyone a second chance.”

The project further strengthened the connection between USF and Blue Jacket, particularly with those involved in the project. Hudson praised Heller, Grischke and Herron for demonstrating the university’s commitment to Franciscan values with the project.

“I’m proud to be an alumnus and see how the students and faculty continue to carry out this ministry to the Fort Wayne community,” Hudson said.

Founded in 1890 in the Catholic Franciscan tradition, the University of Saint Francis offers more than 60 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs through the College of Health Sciences and the College of Arts, Sciences and Business. In addition to its traditional programs, USF designs focused curricula for working adults in Fort Wayne, Crown Point and online. USF Downtown houses the music technology and graduate health sciences programs while offering enhanced internship and networking opportunities for students. The University of Saint Francis, recognized as an NAIA Five-Star Champion of Character institution, has 18 athletic programs boasting two individual and four team NAIA national championships. Approximately 2,200 students from a broad geographic region attend USF.