By Terri Perrin / Published November 2017
Molly Lembezeder grew up in the small town of Peosta, IA, and from a young age, she learned to set—and achieve—goals for herself. A four-sport athlete and student council member in high school, the now 21-year-old is a senior at the University of North Iowa (UNI) in the city of Cedar Falls, which is about 100 miles from her hometown and family. She will graduate with a degree in elementary education in May 2018 and, after a semester as a student teacher, she will receive her diploma in December 2018.
An avid reader and advocate for literacy, this energetic and charismatic young woman has set a career goal to become a teacher. She is completing her education on an 80 percent swimming scholarship, as well as a 2017 scholarship from the Cleaning Equipment Trade Association (CETA) Education Foundation. Her connection to CETA comes through her father, John Lembezeder, who is the Director of Fabrication at Mi-T-M Corporation.
I caught up with Molly for a quick phone interview one September morning—between her swimming practice and afternoon classes—to learn more about what activities helped earn her the CETA scholarship. After speaking with her, I regretted not being able to meet her in person!
In addition to a myriad of other personal achievements, Lembezeder told me about two programs that are close to her heart that caught CETA’s attention.
“The first was a literacy coaching project I was involved with during the spring 2017 semester,” she explained. “Some of the kids in the group were low-level readers; others just lacked interest. Our job was to improve their skills and teach them that reading could be fun.
“I worked with several students, but working with one ‘reading buddy’ in particular was especially gratifying. My first few meetings with this boy were diagnostic: I got to know him, so I could bring books that he could enjoy reading, and I worked to develop a comfortable relationship with him. I identified his skills, working on re-telling stories. On top of that, we built up his vocabulary and confidence. I taught him that it is okay not to know an answer. That was a big thing for him.
“The literacy project was such a fun experience, and it proved to me that I have the ability and passion to teach younger students to fall in love with learning. I am on the right career path.”
A three-year investment of time into the UNI’s legendary Dance Marathon fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) was the second program that helped Lembezeder earn the CETA scholarship.
The idea for the UNI Dance Marathon was created in 1994 by a group of motivated students at the University of Northern Iowa who wanted to do something unique to support their local chapter of the CMN. Twelve months of planning and hard work generated an impressive $31,000 that first year.
Fast forward to 2017 and, in addition to the signature 12-hour Dance Marathon event, all combined fundraising initiatives to benefit CMN for the 2016/17 academic year totaled a whopping $453,278.06. This extraordinary result put the University of Northern Iowa in the ‘Top Ten’ fundraisers for the Children’s Miracle Network in the USA. (In previous years, they had made the Top 20.) The total raised for the CMN by UNI students, faculty, alumni, and the community through the Dance Marathon since 1994 is $1.5 million.
Lembezeder joined the program in her freshman year as a ‘Morale Captain.’ Her job was to bring excitement to any events. In 2016/17, she was the Director of Community Relations, and she was tasked with getting athletes on campus involved.
“The Dance Marathon fundraising program runs from September through March and is tailored to college kids,” explains Lembezeder. “Students fund-raise throughout the fall and winter, and the program culminates in a one-day, 12-hour event that we hold on campus in the spring. We have a DJ for entertainment, and we dance and play games. Our tagline to promote the event is: ‘We stand on our feet, without caffeine, from noon to midnight. If kids can fight for their lives, we can put ourselves in their shoes for 12 hours.’ We have about a thousand college students at the event—and some CMN families that come for shorter periods—and there is literally no sitting. None! I love the fact that this event gets 20-year-olds raising money for something bigger than themselves.”
When asked what motivates her to work so hard to raise money for her community, Lembezeder was quick to answer. “I have two main motivators!” she says with a laugh. “What I love about the Dance Marathon is that it is not just the child with the illness who we get to meet and interact with but the whole family. Our job is to make all of them feel special. Siblings of a sick child may miss out because their brother or sister requires so much care and attention. We love the whole family, not just the sick child, and I love seeing entire families at events.
“My other favorite part is the people whom I have gotten to know in university. In high school, I never formed super-close friendships. I just worked hard as a student and as an athlete, and I got along with everybody. Now, I have formed friendships that I know will last a lifetime. And I think about some of the kids I meet who may never get to college to make those kinds of friends. That’s what motivates me to help.”
When she graduates, Lembezeder hopes to be able to be part of the alumni program for the Dance Marathon and to continue her commitment to giving back. “I hope I will always be connected to this organization,” she states. “But if I move away and I can’t, I know that wherever I end up living, I will find local organizations to support. I could join a national organization, but I think I will focus on staying local, so I can see the difference I am making in the world.”
When asked who inspires her, Lembezeder is quick to reply that her parents (John and Jennifer) and her two brothers (Nick and Jacob) have always been her biggest inspiration and strongest supporters. “I think back to the hours my parents spent driving me to swim lessons, and to the good examples they set themselves being involved with the community,” she recalls. “Mom sings in the church choir, and she encouraged me to play the piano with them. Dad is on the school board and the local booster club. Both of them were very involved with all three children growing up.
“To be awarded a scholarship from CETA was an honor, and it makes me feel good to see my hard work pay off,” concludes Lembezeder. “Yes, I have worked hard to give back, but I never lose sight of the fact that I have also had support from my family and fellow students. I feel proud but also blessed and honored that I have opportunities to give back to begin with.”
Learn more about the UNI Dance Marathon at: http://www.unidancemarathon.com.