By Ryan Wall
Cross the bridge over Wister Street and most students will find themselves lost in the seemingly endless labyrinth of hallways that is St. Benilde Tower. Hidden up on the fifth floor, a phone rings as Helene Baczkowski, director of the La Salle Fund, begins another day of work. Her job: securing unrestricted funds, which help provide scholarship and financial aid to the vast majority of undergraduate students.
“Every day, Helene raises money for scholarships and financial aid. It is with her help that 97 percent of La Salle students can receive some sort of institutionally sponsored aid,” Jim Breslin, assistant director of the La Salle Fund, said.
“It is because of her that alumni trust that their investment in this school will help students attend this amazing University and go on to do great things. While she is just one person in an interwoven network of behind-the-scenes action, she makes a huge impact on the Lasallian community,” he continued.
Despite her huge impact on students, Baczkowski believes that her daily life is far more mundane than others make it out to be.
“Is there such thing as a normal day for me?” she laughs. “A large part of my day is spent responding to donors: sending emails, making phone calls and sending out info about how and why to give. Every day I talk to our alumni, and I spend a lot of time just answering their questions.”
The office Baczkowski sits in is controlled chaos— stacks of notebooks line her desk and awards clutter her windowsill. The corkboard behind her reflects her strong Philadelphia heritage: pictures of local landmarks and past La Salle events are broken up by pictures of her 1-year-old daughter Alice and her husband Matt, also a La Salle graduate.
Growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, Baczkowski graduated from Villa Joseph Marie High School and first visited La Salle on a trip supporting friends at a soccer tournament. She returned a few weeks later to attend a Communication Department workshop, playing the host of a talk show in a group activity.
“I got to be the ‘Oprah’ if you will, and some of the other participants were pretending to be my guests. It was a very interesting interactive experience for prospective students led by Sid McLeod,” she said.
Like Oprah, Baczkowski is known to her colleagues as a hard worker whose determination is unparalleled. After graduating from La Salle in 2001 with a B.A. in Communication and a minor in Social Work, she took up a sales position but remained in contact with her La Salle connections.
“I kept in touch with two of the social work professors who I got to know very well: Janine Mariscotti and Rosemary Barbera. In the communication department, I stayed in touch with Marianne Dainton and Elaine Zelley,” she said. “When I came back it was surreal; I was like, ‘Wow! I work with these awesome people!’”
Baczkowski also kept in touch with Trey Ulrich ’99, currently the assistant vice president for Alumni Relations. Trey previously worked as the director of the La Salle Fund, and has known Baczkowski since 1997, when he gave her and her family a campus tour.
“Helene’s enthusiasm, passion and high- energy personality have inspired students and alumni to give back to the University,” Ulrich said. “She moved up the ranks due to her persistence and willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
After returning to La Salle, Baczkowski got her MBA in Management while working as the associate director of the La Salle Fund and a traveling development officer.
“I’ve always liked La Salle, but I have a lot more appreciation for La Salle having been a student, an alumna, a Master’s student and a staff member. I now realize everything it’s done for my life and others’ lives. Even as an employee, I’ve had a diverse experience because I’ve been in the same office, but I’ve had different responsibilities. I’ve been here a long time because I love it here,” Baczkowski said.
One of Baczkowski’s most notable accomplishments was organizing the Annual Day of Giving, which this year raised more than $228,000 and brought in over 2,016 donors. Now in its third year, the fundraising drive saw increased involvement and donations.
“As much as we try to plan it in advance, it is still a challenge to get all the moving parts we want accomplished done. This year we came back from break and were like, ‘How are we going to pull this off — bigger and better — again?’ That’s why we involved students to get the word out to their friends to help increase on campus participation,” she said.
“That day, towards the end, we got to a point where we realized we did everything that we could. Once we realized we reached our goal internally, everyone was a lot more relaxed. But we were still on the phones all night long chatting with alums, ordering pizza and monitoring the site activity. There was a campaign atmosphere, which was fitting because that was our theme.”
Despite the many roles that she has played on campus, Baczkowski will be the first to admit that her favorite is adviser to both the Ambassadors and Alpha Theta Alpha. Last year she was recognized by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) for her excellence in advising the Ambassadors, a group of roughly 35 students who work with University Advancement to represent the current student body at various alumni events.
Rachel Christie, then-president of the Ambassadors, wrote in her nomination letter that, “Helene wants students to learn how to be successful without having an authority figure guiding them every step of the way. She wants our members to grow and learn, and she will do anything to help make that happen.”
Baczkowski views herself as a mentor in many ways, but her outlook on the two organizations she works with differs.
“I was a senior when Trey [Ulrich] founded Ambassadors, so I was never a student member, but I was in ATA as a student. In fact, a lot of my current friends now I met from my sorority. So when I advise them, it’s a fun reminder of when I was here,” she said. “My goal with Ambassadors is to professionally prep them for the real world so my expectations are different from those for ATA. I just have to guide them through their college experience.”
Ulrich notes his close friendship with Baczkowski made it easier for him to relinquish leadership of the club he created in 2000.
“Although it was hard to do, I was proud to turn over the La Salle Ambassador Program to Helene. She has taken the group to a whole new level having been recognized nationally by CASE and her students,” he said.
Students — both current and graduated —have a deep appreciation for Baczkowski.
“Helene is one of the best people I have met here at La Salle. She is always a role model, as an adviser for ATA, Student Ambassadors or as a friend,” Brianna Gayfer, senior public health major, said. “She will go above and beyond for anyone, regardless of how long you’ve known her. My Lasallian experience would be nothing without her, and I owe her the world with what she has done for me. ” Gayfer has worked with Baczkowski as the former president of ATA and as outgoing Service Chair of Ambassadors.
When asked to describe her favorite aspect of La Salle, Baczkowski paused.
“Honestly, I love the people at La Salle. Personally and professionally, the first person to reach out to me — whether it’s over something good or bad — is someone from La Salle, whether it’s a student, an alum or a faculty member who still knows me. There are still lots of great people in my life who are not Lasallians, but the community is so strong here, and that’s really special.”
It’s clear to so many people that Helene Baczkowski is really special too.