Baker, WV’s Chris Windley expects to graduate community college next year with a double major in business and wind energy turbine technology, and purposeful future goals. “I want to go into research and development,” he said, “and get on the ground floor to help with cancer research.”
Currently carrying a 3.8 GPA at Eastern WV Community and Technical College, Windley also serves as president of the Student Government Association (SGA), an elective post that keeps him actively involved in student activities and college events.
“I’m a very involved person,” acknowledged Windley, who serves as a peer tutor in math, English and computers. “I liked helping other students, so I decided to run for president — and I got elected.”
As SGA president, he is determined to expand the numbers of students who get involved. To Windley, that mission may seem like relative child’s play. Because there was a time, not long ago, when the idea seemed distinctly far-fetched — if not impossible — that this Phi Theta Kappa honors student might ever even enter a college classroom.
Since birth, Windley has endured and coped with cerebral palsy. “I need help doing simple things, buttoning a shirt, clipping my fingernails,” he explained. It used to cause him pain, and still gives him muscle spasms and leaves him prone to seizures.
But for Windley, that was the easy part.
In 2008, doctors in his home-town of Virginia Beach told Windley he had cancer. “I’d had health issues for about a year-and-a-half. They did every test on me under the sun, and that winter of 2007, I ended up pretty sick.”
Diagnosing him with stage 4, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the doctors told Windley that “if I had waited a week, I’d be dead.” Last July 1, the same day he took office as SGA president, he passed his five-year survival mark. “They caught it, and I’m very lucky,” he said.
“And I’m not one of those people who are closed-off about having cancer,” he emphasized. “I want to share my story.”
His openness has empowered him to support a number of other cancer patients. “I’ve been a mentor to them, and walked them through it,” he said. “It was very life-changing for me, and something I’m very passionate about.”
Last March, an Eastern SGA activity allowed Windley to harness that passion towards a very positive goal. “Amy Crites [the college’s Student Services Specialist] was setting up a basket bingo fundraiser, with all the proceeds going to ‘Relay for Life’ — something I’d wanted to get involved with ever since I was diagnosed. So I saw that as a perfect opportunity to contribute, and I took the lead on the project.”
Windley put together a team with five fellow students that visited as many local businesses as they could, to recruit owner and employee sponsors for SGA’s ‘Relay for Life’ team. “Our SGA goal was to raise $15-hundred in one year, and we ended up raising about $2-thousand in that one event,” Windley noted.
That success, invigorated with his own passion, led Windley and his team to commit to the ‘Relay for Life’ activity as a yearly SGA event. “So we’re already lining up sponsors and getting set to do it for next year,” he said.
For Windley, the ‘Relay for Life’ also opened the door to Eastern’s SGA. Now, as president, he is determined to keep the organization growing and active, and last year’s five-fold increase in the SGA election turnout has fueled his enthusiasm. “I’ve gone around asking people what they would like to see done, and what we can do to get more people involved.”
Numerous students volunteered for last spring’s outdoor movie night and Extravaganza vendor day, to which the SGA invited the entire community within Eastern’s six-county district. And together with the SGA membership and cabinet (Angela Beard, vice-president; Jillian Taylor, secretary; Dawn Lockard, treasurer), Windley has begun an imaginative activity agenda for fall semester. First off, “We’re doing a community trick-or-treat,” he said.
From the trunks and hatchbacks of their vehicles in the college parking lot, students will hand out Halloween goodies and prizes, from 5:30 to 7:30 on Halloween evening, October 31. Eastern’s “Trunk-n’-Treat” invites all children up to the age of 12 to come enjoy the fun, said Windley, and “we are strongly urging people throughout our surrounding communities to come be trunkers, as well.”
So anyone interested in decorating a vehicle for the event and handing out candy, should contact Amy Crites (304-434-8000; firstname.lastname@example.org) for further details, he said.
The SGA cabinet is percolating with other ideas, too. “There are not a lot of activities for the people who come in the evening,” Windley pointed out. Relieving that shortage will stay high on the cabinet’s priority list, he said, along with motivating greater student involvement.
Reach Out & Engage
Windley recently attended a statewide SGA conference at Jackson’s Mill Center 4-H Camp in Weston, for sessions on leadership and motivation. Later, Crites and Kimbra Chirchirillo, Eastern’s administrative secretary and staff advisor to the college’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK, the international honor society for community colleges), organized a leadership training for local students. Officers and members of Eastern’s SGA and PTK participated.
“It was rather productive and gave us solid direction for this academic school year,” Windley noted. “There are a lot of people who want to, or are willing to, participate and help — but don’t necessarily know how to, or understand what’s going on to help with.” Windley wants to reach out to those students, and engage them in resolving problems and strengthening plans.
Also an active member of the honor society, Windley, together with his fellow chapter members, is working on PTK’s “Honors in Action” Initiative. This year, national PTK concentrated on ‘The Culture of Competition’ as the honors topic, and Eastern’s chapter chose ‘Food Fight: Competition in Food,’ with “a focus on corn and ethanol,” Windley said. The chapter team plans to compile a report that includes data from a survey of Eastern students and dialogue with local businesses.
“This college is a great vehicle for change and growth,” the SGA president affirmed, naming several staff members, and singling out Crites for special recognition. “She’s extremely supportive, and good about giving me knowledge I can use, and constructive criticism.
“The faculty and staff at Eastern do amazing work — I don’t think I would be where I am without them,” Windley acknowledged. “It’s like I have another family here.”
For more information about Eastern’s financial aid opportunities, programs of study, workforce training, community education and events, call 304-434-8000; or toll free: 877-982-2322; or check the College’s website: www.easternwv.edu.
Serving the residents of Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Mineral, Pendleton and Tucker counties, and fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College is a comprehensive and equal opportunity community and technical college bringing the resources and assets of Education That Works to the families, communities and employers of the Potomac Highlands.