In late October, alumni, family members, and friends gathered on the Main Campus to honor three outstanding individuals at Marymount’s annual Alumni Awards Dinner. The evening included moving stories, heartfelt acceptance speeches, and the sharing of happy memories.
This year’s honorees were Danielle Jennings, Kellie Connors Ross ’93, and Debra Clise ’86, ’88.
Outstanding Recent Graduate Award
Danielle began her Politics and Pre-Law studies at Marymount in 2001 and ultimately completed her degree at the University of Maryland in 2006. Though circumstances dictated a change in educational institutions, Danielle says that Marymount was a formative influence in her life and will always be close to her heart.
Danielle was raised in a foster-family and aged out of the system in 2000. She observed the challenges that many young people encounter in transitioning from the foster system into independent adulthood. Recognizing that the lack of support for former foster children was a large-scale problem, Danielle founded Blessed Haven, Inc., in 2007.
Blessed Haven is a nonprofit organization based in Cheltenham, Maryland, that provides long-term support for young people transitioning from foster care into adulthood. As executive director, Danielle oversees the organization’s operations and the work of its five staff members.
She explains that Blessed Haven’s mission is “to have caring adults provide life-skills training, counseling, and resources that will assist youth in becoming successful adults.” She says, “We hope to expose them to a more stable, cultured, and progressive lifestyle, thus propelling them into a successful adulthood.”
Blessed Haven’s services include educational counseling and support; training in health, emotional, social, and cultural competence; and financial wellness preparation. The organization also provides a life coach and mentor for each program participant.
Alumni Achievement Award
Kellie Connors Ross ‘93
After earning her B.A. in International Studies from Cottey College in Washington in 1990, Kellie decided to change career directions. She enrolled at Marymount and received her associate degree in Nursing in 1993.
After graduation, Kellie spent five years working in hospital ICUs in northern Virginia. She then worked in other clinical settings until 2004. But gradually, she began to feel pulled in another direction, as she became increasingly aware of the needs of the poor in the local community. An active member of her parish, Kellie met the late Father Jack Fullen in 2005. Discussions about the pressing needs of the poor in a seemingly prosperous society led the two to form a new organization – the Missionaries of Our Lady of Divine Mercy.
Today, Kellie is the organization’s executive director. From its headquarters in Manassas, Virginia, she coordinates a number of programs, including Passport to Hope, which operates a thrift store to provide food, clothing, and household items for individuals and families in need. The organization also offers a variety of classes, a library of Catholic books and media, and a meal-packing service for individuals who are homebound. Its newest initiative is Stitches of Love, a group that creates hats, blankets, mittens, and rosaries to be given to those in need. Each year, the Missionaries of our Lady of Divine Mercy serves over 500 families. Recently, the organization provided new shoes and school supplies to more than 400 children.
The organization, which also aspires to serve the poor in other countries, has undertaken mission trips to Haiti and Cote D’Ivoire.
Alumni Lifetime Excellence Award
Lieutenant Colonel Debra Clise ’86, ’88 (U.S. Army-Ret.)
Debra earned two Nursing degrees at Marymount: an A.A.S. in 1986 and a B.S.N. in 1988. While completing her associate degree, she enrolled in the ROTC program, offered in cooperation with Georgetown University. Her performance at ROTC camp earned Debra a two-year scholarship, which she used to complete her bachelor’s degree.
After graduating, Debra began her military career as an Army nurse. Always placing a high value on education, she continued to study as she advanced in the military, ultimately earning master’s degrees in Healthcare Administration and Nursing Anesthesia, completing the Officers Advanced Course, and becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).
Debra served at U.S. Army medical centers across the country. At various times, she was stationed at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii; Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Fort Gordon, Georgia; and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.
At Fork Polk, Debra was the first nurse to be permanently assigned as an Officer Controller to the Joint Readiness Training Center. During her second assignment at Walter Reed, she was promoted to Assistant Chief CRNA. With the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom in February 2003, Debra was deployed to Iraq. Later, she was sent to Honduras and Columbia to provide medical support as part of a Joint Task Force – Bravo humanitarian mission.
In 2009, Debra Clise retired from the military with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Prior to her retirement, she had been appointed clinical program director for the Uniformed Services University Anesthesia Nursing Program at Walter Reed. She remains at Walter Reed today, serving as a staff CRNA, and is an assistant professor at the Uniformed Services University.
Debra’s passion for excellence, so clearly displayed in her military career, was also reflected in her endeavors as a Marymount student-athlete. In 2006, she was inducted into the University’s Athletics Hall of Fame in recognition of her standout career as a member of the Saints women’s basketball team.