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Stephen O’Brien: Helping Others

March 15, 2010

When Stephen O’Brien found out he would have to do community service as a requirement for membership in his high school’s National Honor Society chapter, he was a little apprehensive.

“I was one of those people who dreaded the moment of getting into it,” he said. “We were required to get services hours and it was a miniscule amount, like 10 hours a semester.”

He went a little beyond that for an organization in his hometown of Olney, near Wichita Falls, called Helping Olney Possess Excellence (HOPE).

“My whole senior year in high school,” O’Brien said, “I volunteered for HOPE.  We helped poverty-stricken families, their children and children with academic disabilities. It was an after-school program to help parents who couldn’t afford daycare, and could drop their children off and pick them up after work.”

When he wasn’t working at a local grocery store in Olney, O’Brien could often be found at the HOPE facility.

“I did it just because I really liked what I was doing,” he said. “That’s what I got out of it, and they were thankful for it, too. It was a completely eye-opening experience.”

The integrated accounting student found himself drawn back into volunteerism at ASU when he began filling in with the Community Development Initiatives (CDI) after his roommate, Brian Zitrick, asked him if he would help from time to time.

“Brian was working with CDI on data analysis to create a baseline for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council for the Concho Valley Community Action and Resources for Empowerment and Success (CARES),” O’Brien said. “They needed someone to take up the slack, so I talked to Dr. (Ken) Stewart and really liked what he had to say about CDI and decided to take up where Brian left off.”

“I didn’t know Dr. Stewart, and I didn’t know any of the people in sociology or psychology, but when I heard what they were doing, I just had to be part of it,” he said. “During the summer of 2009, Dr. Stewart put me on a project to get the books of a church in order so they could develop a faith-based transitional program for prisoners coming out of prison to get them back on track.”

“They required funding for that,” O’Brien added, “so when I was brought in, they had no real track of numbers, where their expenses were going and how much money they were making. I went in and completely redid their books for six years. Now, they can go into the software program, develop budgets and project how much they will make in a certain time period.”

His volunteer work is temporarily being curtailed by studies and a student position with a San Angelo certified public accountants firm, a career path he is exploring along with the possibility of becoming a criminal investigative agent for the Internal Revenue Service.

“Basically, the IRS agents are accountants with guns,” O’Brien said. “Right now, I have an internship in town where you can see how the real world works. I think I might like the private sector of accounting, as well, dealing with corporate tax returns, personal estates and trusts. I’m kind of on the fence and I like the amount of options open to me.”

When he completes the integrated accounting program in 2011, O’Brien will have both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He said he would then likely continue helping others in his free time.

“Definitely, I’ll be going to soup kitchens during the Lent season,” O’Brien said. “Other than that, it just depends where I end up and what I am doing. I like giving back to the community, but it’s difficult sometimes.”

That won’t stop him from giving of himself, though.

“It’s hard to know how well you have it until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes,” he said. “Then you say, ‘well, I guess I can go spend a couple of hours in a soup kitchen.’”