Short Stories

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Hitting Her Stride

By Ruth Keyso, Director of Alumni Relations & Giving

Cindy Nielsen ‘07 believes in magic: The magic of people. The magic of connection. And the magic that occurs when individuals band together for a common good.

In her world, magic happens every day. Cindy is a development manager for the Chicago council of Girls on the Run (GOTR), a non-profit organization that supports and empowers girls in grades three through eight to become their best selves. Its curriculum is designed to instill confidence in young women, to help them realize their potential, and to teach healthy habits and life skills. The after-school program also incorporates a running component. At the conclusion of the 10-week experience, girls participate in a 5K race. Cindy describes the program as a journey, an opportunity for young women to discover they can do anything.

“It’s so positive and empowering,” she explains. “It changes people’s lives.”

An unfulfilling job in PR in New York City after college pushed Cindy into the world of non-profits. Looking for a career that would feed her need for storytelling while allowing her to have a positive impact on people, Cindy discovered GOTR and knew it was the perfect match.

“I need to work at a place where the mission matters,” she says.

In her role, Cindy connects individuals and corporate sponsors with GOTR and secures funding to keep the organization strong and viable. She has even served as a running coach for a cohort of girls. While all aspects of her job are rewarding, Cindy says it’s those moments when she steps away from her desk and interacts with the young women that are the most meaningful.

“That reminds me of why we do [what we do],” she says.

One particularly satisfying experience occurred when she paired employees at a financial firm in Chicago with a group of girls from the city’s Austin neighborhood. The firm bused the girls from the west side to North Avenue Beach, where they buddied up with employees at the company and practiced together for the 5K race. Cindy recalls the excitement and sense of accomplishment the girls felt in completing the training course and interacting with these adult mentors, who encouraged and supported them throughout the workout.

“They did so much more than running that day,” Cindy says.

Growing up, Cindy knew she wanted to help others but wasn’t sure how. As a sophomore at LFA, she volunteered for the first time, traveling twice weekly to the local Boys & Girls Club, where she assisted children with their homework and taught them how to read.

“I fell in love with it,” she says about the volunteer experience. “It was a changing moment for me.”

So changing, in fact, that she vowed to stay involved in service throughout her life. In addition to her work with GOTR, Cindy also mentors a young woman in high school through the iMentor program in Chicago. She shares insights about how to apply to college, choose a major, and determine a life path. Cindy’s best advice for her young mentee? Look at people you admire and ask them about their job, what’s their favorite thing to do.

“It can be overwhelming, there are so many options,” she admits, recalling her own high school experience and the life decisions she once faced. She encourages young people to stay open to change. If their original life plan is not working, mix it up. “There will be trial and error,” she says. “But it’s never too late to change [careers].”

And when you find the fit that’s right for you, presto: That’s magic.

Cindy Nielsen is a 2007 graduate of LFA and a 2011 graduate of Colgate University, where she earned her degree in sociology and anthropology. She lives in Chicago. Learn more about GOTR at:

Posted by Ms. Grace Kim in Spring 2017 on Friday April 28, 2017
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Reaching His Goals

By Ruth Keyso, Director of Alumni Relations & Giving

Talk about living the dream. Midfielder Jourdan Gooden ’12 is one of those lucky athletes making a living playing the sport he loves: soccer.

But Jourdan prefers to think of himself as blessed. Hard work, a supportive family, and lots of sacrifice combined to make his childhood dream of becoming a footballer a reality.

“That’s the most rewarding part of this job: to get up every day and play the sport you love,” he says. “It’s a blessing, this opportunity. Not everyone gets to do it. I don’t take that for granted.”

Jourdan has been playing soccer since age four. While he dabbled in other sports growing up—basketball, American football, track, swimming—his soul is tied to soccer.

A former member of the U-15 National Team, Jourdan attended LFA for his senior year of high school, where he was part of the Caxy varsity squad while also playing for the prestigious Chicago Fire Academy.

He says everything stands out about his one year as a boarder at LFA.

“I brag about LFA til the lights go out,” he says, laughing. “There were lots of opportunities,” he explains, citing prep school life, a challenging academic environment, and a community of students from different backgrounds and cultures.

“People accepted me for who I was [at LFA]. They were happy to have me there,” he remembers. “LFA was an all-around great community to be in.”

Jourdan cherishes the friends he made at the Academy and the teachers who instilled thoughts and philosophies he draws on today. He credits English teachers David Wick and Nat Small for encouraging a love and appreciation for writing, a pastime he engages in regularly.

Photo Credit: Ana Maria Pinto Costa

From LFA, Jourdan signed on with the Eagles at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), where he played for the Div I team for two years before transferring to Mercer University. One of the highlights of his college playing days was winning both the regular season conference title and subsequent conference tournament, and making it to the NCAA tourney as a freshman.

“This was a good start, the right start [to my career],” he says.

In January 2016 Jourdan signed on with the Portuguese semi-professional football team Associação Naval 1º de Maio. A midfielder, he is the only American on the squad, which comprises men from Senegal, El Salvador, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, and Portugal. The international players speak English among themselves, he says, but when around their Portuguese teammates they do their best to speak the native language of their new home.

While he misses his family back in Florida, Jourdan says he is adapting well to life in Portugal, learning the language and appreciating the culture of this southwestern European country. He has even developed a taste for one of the region’s most well-known dishes: bacalhau (codfish).

Looking ahead, Jourdan hopes to make soccer a lifelong career. One of his biggest accomplishments thus far is rising to this level in the sport. He says he has been guided by good advice along his journey: believe in yourself, in your ability, and in your capacity. To young athletes who aspire to play sports professionally, Jourdan offers the following:

“Identify what you love, what you get a thrill out of, then pursue that with everything you’ve got,” he says. “You don’t know where the road will take you. The most important thing is to listen to your heart.”

Jourdan’s Favorites

Food: salmon
TV show: Teen Wolf
Junk food: pizza
Hobby: Fishing
Music: hip hop, soul, R&B, reggae, dance hall, electronic dance
Pro sports team: Manchester United
Sports role model: David Beckham
On his bookshelf: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, The 33 Strategies of War, Only the Strong Survive, Beckham: Both Feet on the Ground, The Bible

Jourdan Gooden is a 2012 graduate of Lake Forest Academy. A native of Florida, he matriculated at Florida Gulf Coast University and Mercer University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, with honors, in business administration and management in 2015. Since January 2016, he has been playing semi-professional soccer in Portugal with the Associação Naval 1º de Maio.

Posted by Ms. Grace Kim in Spring 2017 on Wednesday April 12, 2017
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