Nate Boss, center

Helping kids – Nate Boss, center, helps Xavier, left, and Jessica, right, at Unity Point School. The fourth-graders are among the many children Boss mentors as an SIU Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps member. 

May 11, 2017

Graduating senior focused on helping others

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Nate Boss has discovered that a dream reimagined can be even more wonderful than your original dream.

May is a month of dreams realized for Boss as earns his degree from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, marries Alecia Hammond, moves to Benton, and starts a new job as a financial adviser for Edward Jones.

His original life plan had a different focus though. For as long as he can remember, Boss, a Du Quoin High School multi-sport athlete, dreamed of playing professional baseball. He grew up on the school baseball, football and basketball fields and participated in American Legion summer ball and Youth Club sports, as an athlete and later a coach. He worked to keep his grades up, got involved in community service and thought he was on his way to a career in baseball when he secured an athletic scholarship to Webster University in St. Louis.

There was just one glitch. The rigors and time involved in playing college ball in Missouri didn’t leave much time for Boss, 22, to spend with his little girl, Mya, now 5.

“My dream changed after I had my daughter,” he recalls. “I wanted to make a good life for myself and her and be with her while I pursued my degree. It’s been great having a university like SIU close to home, where I was able to get a high-quality education and still spend time with her.”

He transferred to SIU in spring 2014. It has been a challenge, Boss admits, juggling parental and financial responsibilities, a job at Hit Repair baseball training facility, classes and homework, and volunteerism. But, a week after walking down the aisle with Hammond, Boss will earn his bachelor’s degree in psychology during SIU’s 9 a.m. commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 13.

“It’s been hard at times. I’ve tried to keep my priorities straight and that makes things easier,” Boss said. “Number one is my faith. My grandpa instilled that in me and it’s very important to me. Second is my family and after that is my schooling and it’s very important because I knew if I wanted to succeed and be able to take good care of my family, I needed to persevere. It meant a lot of dedication and really long nights but I kept working at it. Even if I was really tired, I didn’t want to miss class. And I’ve met a lot of really great people here at SIU and everyone has been very supportive.”

One of Boss’ favorite supporters on campus is Mythili Rundblad, coordinator of the Center for Service-Learning and Volunteerism. They got acquainted the past two years as Boss has participated in Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps, helping and mentoring for 12 to 20 hours each week in local schools.

“She’s been a great mentor. She listens, gives good advice, lets me know I’m on the right track and makes me feel good about myself,” Boss said. “I first met her because one of my best friends worked in a nearby office and I started talking to her and she eventually encouraged me to join AmeriCorps. It’s been a wonderful experience. I feel like it has really opened my eyes. Working with kids in local schools, seeing the lives some of them lead and what they experience gives you real insight. You just never know who needs your help and what you can do to make a difference for them. That’s why I always try to help everyone, no matter who they are. And I’m definitely a better person because of it.”

Last year, Boss worked at Thomas Elementary School in Carbondale and this year, he has helped at the Unity Point School District, just south of Carbondale. It’s a 900-hour commitment each year.

“Some students just need help with their homework and some want a mentor, someone stable they can look up to and talk to,” he said. “They’re very honest and they’ll tell you what problems they’re dealing with and what they’re thinking. I try to listen and help. I really enjoy it.”

One of his most memorable experiences involved working with some students who had behavioral issues and were often disruptive in class. Through working with him one-on-one, they got caught up on their academic work so they were no longer embarrassed to be behind and they then came to realize that they were missing out on enjoyable experiences in class due to their behavior.

“At the beginning, if you would tell them to sit down, they’d swallow a whole box of Kleenex if it would get them out of class,” he said. “But once they realized what they were missing, it was a complete turnaround. They’d learn things and be excited to go home and tell their parents about it. It was really amazing.”

“Nate is a super example of a citizen-scholar who has an excellent academic record combined with a commitment to community service,” Rundblad said. “It takes dedication and hard work. Nate is sincere about helping children realize their full potential and getting them excited about learning. Even when he is facing stress, he is calm, polite and considerate. He has a strong sense of values, leads by example and is a good ambassador for our university. It is inspiring to work with Nate.”

Boss actually travels many volunteerism pathways. He continues to lend a hand when needed at the Youth Club and each year he helps with the Girls Indoor Winter Fast Pitch Softball Tournament and the Beaver Rice Memorial Winter Indoor Classic baseball tournament, Du Quoin events that have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Special Olympics Illinois. He’s also a volunteer baseball coach for the Southern Illinois Fall League, a regional high school summer league.

His father is the Dowell police chief and a former Du Quoin officer, and Nate joins his family in helping with the annual Shop with a Cop event at Christmas, assuring underprivileged local children have a nice holiday. He lends a hand with other festivals and holiday events that local law enforcement officers are involved in as well, and is active in the Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton. Boss was a “buddy” for the inaugural Southern Illinois “Night to Shine” Tim Tebow Foundation prom held earlier this year. The event gave special needs people ages 14-78 the chance to enjoy a prom experience, complete with festive attire, makeup, a red carpet and photos.

“I enjoy helping people. I always have. Especially kids in need. I like building relationships and doing what I can to make people’s lives better,” Boss said.

In fact, one of the things that drew Boss toward a position with Edward Jones is the company’s emphasis on community involvement, he said. At SIU, he has taken finance coursework which he said benefitted him in his career choice, as will his other SIU experiences. He was active in the Psychology Student Organization and worked with Chad Drake, assistant professor of clinical psychology, in the Contextual Behavioral Science Lab. In the lab, Boss administered tests, assisting with research involving the evaluation of people’s thoughts, biases and feelings.

“I’ve met a lot of great people at SIU,” Boss said. “I like the diversity here on campus. I’ve had teachers, classmates and friends from all over the world. It’s a pretty campus and it’s given me the experiences and support I needed to reach my goals.”