Brooke Liberto remembers.
Her mother would come home and tell her middle child about what all she saw and heard at a local prison in New Jersey where she worked as a secretary.
Her daughter heard stories of hard luck and broken dreams. But she wanted to do more than just listen.
When she came to HPU as a Presidential Scholar, she majored in psychology and minored in criminal justice to help the broken and the traumatized. Since her freshman year, she has worked to make that happen.
Three years ago, she joined HPU’s chapter of To Write Love On Her Arms and helped the organization raise awareness about the importance of mental health.
She is now a senior, the organization’s president. She has helped create events that have educated and helped hundreds of people, including a man from Georgia.
Meanwhile, she has worked as a research assistant for a local neuropsychologist and exhibited once again what her HPU adviser, Dr. Christopher Lootens, calls “sophisticated intellectual curiosity.”
That curiosity has helped her become HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for October. But her compassion helped, too.
She does have much of that.
A Poignant Moment, A Lesson Learned
Liberto saw the documentary, “The Crash Reel,” and she knew she wanted to bring ex-pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce to campus.
The film showed how Pearce nearly died in a snowboarding accident in 2009 and how he bounced back from a traumatic brain injury. Afterward, Pearce started LoveYourBrain, a non-profit that raises awareness about brain health.
Liberto received $8,000 from SGA and brought in Pearce to speak on campus in the spring of 2015 for an event sponsored by To Write Love On Her Arms.
She picked Pearce up from the airport, brought him to HPU and watched as about 100 people came to hear him speak in the Extraordinaire Cinema. One of those people came from Georgia.
He drove to campus with his wife. He was a former BMX racer in his 20s, and after an accident, he needs a wheelchair to get around. When he met Pearce, he got up from his wheelchair and shook Pearce’s hand. His wife cried.
“He’s never done this,” she told Liberto.
“When that happened, I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, I facilitated this,’” Liberto says. “He wasn’t some random stranger. He drove all the way from Georgia to meet his hero. That makes it worthwhile.”
For the Pearce program, Liberto received from HPU the Extraordinary Programmer Award in 2015.
But that wasn’t her only award for her work with HPU’s To Write Love On Her Arms chapter.
In February, the group screened more than 300 people for eating disorder risk factors, and in September, the group’s suicide prevention campaign reached more than 1,000 students.
For her work this year, Liberto received HPU’s Community Builder of the Year Award for 2016.
The campus outreach reminds Liberto of her favorite quote from poet Maya Angelou: “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
“It’s how you connect, that is what life is all about,” Liberto says. “It’s those moments when you say, ‘I hear what you’re saying.’ That is the purpose of it all.”
Finding Strength, Moving On
That compassion comes from her extended Irish-Italian family. Then there is her mom.
Nancy Liberto has volunteered at a local soup kitchen, and a decade ago, she went from being a bank secretary to a prison secretary near their home in Sewell, New Jersey.
She works at the Camden County Correctional Facility, a prison located in what’s considered New Jersey’s most dangerous city – Camden, New Jersey.
“My mom – she’s little, tiny blonde – and people told her she wouldn’t last a week there, but she did, and every single day, she’d come home and tell me a story,” Liberto says. “She’d say, ‘This child could be you if you were born one town over,’ and that got me thinking about people’s lives.
“Like an 18 year old she told me about. He’s in jail, and I’m in my perfect world.”
Like her internship last summer.
She heard about an outpatient mental health facility near her hometown needing a clinical intern, and she went after it. She got it and worked with patients struggling with mental health issues.
Her gumption helped open her eyes to what she wanted to do after she graduates in December – go to graduate school in clinical psychology and help people recover from trauma.
“I can’t imagine a more fulfilling job,” she says. “I’ll be helping change someone’s life and helping make the pain more bearable. People aren’t willing to go into the dark places, let alone with a complete stranger. But I’m strong enough to do that.”
Dr. Lootens sees that. He describes his star student as dedicated, open-minded and compassionate.
Liberto says HPU helped her discover that within herself.
“Everywhere you turn, there is this sense of ‘You can do it,’” she says. “It’s a mindset of limitless possibilities for your future. If you work hard enough, you can have it all. I believe that.”