When Bridget Collier goes home to Stamford, Connecticut, she visits her mom.
She’ll drive 15 minutes and find the stone bench that sits five feet from her mom’s final resting place, a granite headstone that holds an Irish cross and her mom’s smiling picture.
Sometimes, Bridget talks. But sometimes, she simply sits, stays silent and lets her mind replay the good memories of a life well lived. Her mom, Bridget says, was her best friend.
Claire Gormley Collier was a married mother of three. She was a runner, a volunteer, an advocate, a community leader and a non-profit organizer. She died in May 2009 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known to many by its acronym — ALS.
Claire was 46; Bridget was 12.
During her five-year fight with a crippling disease, Claire started her own non-profit to raise awareness and money for ALS research and lobby Congress to make legislative changes to help patients like her.
Claire did have moxie. But so does her middle daughter, the exercise science senior.
HPU has recognized Bridget as its Extraordinary Leader for August because of her own work her mom would know well. Bridget is an advocate, a volunteer, a student mentor and a campus leader who organizes events that encourage positive mental health.
Like mother, like daughter.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Continuing A Mother’s Legacy
The little boy’s name is John Jeffrey. He’s 4, and he’s an orphan.
Collier met him last spring in Haiti when she and other HPU students went down for a week. They stayed in an orphanage, built a home, played with children like John Jeffrey and helped them with their reading and English.
At first, John Jeffrey didn’t show emotion. But then, he got to know Collier. When he saw her, he’d smile, laugh, grab her hand and coax her to play soccer.
Collier is familiar with mission work. In the fall of 2015, she and a dozen other HPU students went to Guatemala for 10 days to install stoves and water purifiers for 200 families.
Even with the little Spanish she knew, Collier could understand the families’ gratitude. She saw it in their faces. She saw the same thing in John Jeffrey’s face, too.
Collier sees a photo of John Jeffrey every day. It’s on the save screen of her iPhone, and it reminds her of what they did together and what she does alone. She sends $33 a month to the orphanage to help John Jeffrey.
She does it because of her mom.
“When she died, I had this hole in me, and I didn’t know how to fill it,” Collier says. “But I filled it by helping others. That’s what my mom used to do.”
Facing The Challenge of Science
Last spring, in a service-learning course taught by biology professor Dr. Veronica Segarra, Collier helped create laboratory modules to challenge seniors at High Point’s Penn-Griffin School of the Arts to think like cell biologists.
Collier used that experience as the basis for her undergrad research poster presentations at HPU’s Research and Creativity Symposium, better known on campus as HighPURCs, and at the Serves Showcase, an event that highlights students’ service projects.
A committee of faculty and staff selected Segarra’s class service project as HPU’s most innovative, and today, Segarra keeps that certificate framed in her office.
Segarra’s Cell Biology course, BIO 3000, was HPU’s first upper-level science course tailored with a service-learning component. Segarra created it to prompt HPU students to ask themselves, “As a scientist, do I want to contribute to the scientific literacy of my local community?”
During her graduate work at Yale, Segarra worked with middle school students on their science fair projects. So, because of her own academic past, Segarra will remember this course, BIO 3000. But she’ll also remember Collier, too.
“Bridget doesn’t shy away from a challenge,” Segarra says. “Her service project may look easy from the outside. But how do you get there? You’re not just talking to high school students or giving them instructions. You’re challenging yourself to challenge them. That is how you grow.”
Collier’s Next Step
At HPU, Collier has grown.
She is a Presidential Scholar and a member of three honor societies on campus. She also is a resident assistant at Wanek Center, a responsibility she’s held since her sophomore year.
She is also the vice president for the HPU club, To Write Love On Her Arms, a responsibility she’d had since her sophomore year. The club raises awareness among students about the importance of positive mental health and how to take care of themselves.
Meanwhile, as a member of the sorority Alpha Chi Omega, she has participated in events that raise awareness about domestic violence.
As her May graduation inches closer, she sees how HPU has made her more resilient, more confident. So, she’s ready for her next step in life — going to grad school to become a physical therapist.
Last summer, Collier interned at a physical therapy clinic outside New York City as a physical therapist’s aide. But what really got her interested was, once again, her mom.
She saw how physical therapists made her mom more comfortable. She could see it in her mom’s face, the gratitude even for scratching an itch on her arm.
At some point, Collier knows she’ll go back to the bench 15 minutes from her home and tell her mom the news. When she does, she knows her mom will be right there beside her.
She always has been. Always will be.