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We Are Phamily

January 24, 2020

The #MyWheaton blog shares first-person stories from Wheaton students and alumni.

We Are Phamily

Maddy Erhard '20 is an English literature major from Frisco, Texas. In this MyWheaton blog post, Maddy describes the surprises and blessings of joining Phonathon on campus.

I attended the job fair during my sophomore year with the sole purpose of finding a well-paying job. Due to the fact that I had both an intense love for caffeine and a car on campus, a steady income was necessary. My goal was nannying. As a college student who was CPR/FirstAid certified and had a car, I knew I was guaranteed a job. My plans were thwarted when I walked into Coray Gymnasium and noticed a group of rowdy students shouting and aggressively ringing bells. My intent was to walk past and ignore them. However, some of them recognized me and immediately ushered me to a rickety bike wrapped in golden ribbons. “SPIN! SPIN! SPIN!” they chanted, urging me to spin the wheel of a bike resembling the Wheel of Fortune. I did and somehow left Coray with a free shirt and Phonathon application.

I was desperate for any job, so I decided to apply to Phonathon as a failsafe if nannying did not work. To my surprise, the first interview led to a second. I nervously walked to the BGC dressed in my best business attire, and the entire walk there, I was certain I would never be hired. An hour later, I received an email congratulating me on my new position at Phonathon.

I distinctly remember being overwhelmed during the first weeks at Phonathon. My co-workers were not calm and composed. Rather, they greeted us by running out of the Phone Room, screaming and vigorously ringing bells. Our Supervisors loudly encouraged us to celebrate one another and used the bike to delegate prizes to different callers. They affectionately referred to one another as the Phona Pham. I was so shocked by the happiness and energy I felt. My past jobs lacked energy and love between co-workers, but these people loved each other and encouraged vulnerability with one another. They even incorporated a devotional time to create a space where students could transparently share their struggles and how the Lord is moving in their lives. This level of care shocked me. Even when I got my first donation, the entire Phone Room erupted in shouts of joy, and before I knew it, the supervisors poured a bowl full of candy over my head. Once the initial shock surpassed, I slowly eased into the Pham.

My transition to Phonathon was aided by my wonderful captain, Gillian Rhea. One night, she turned to me and asked me how I was. I told her the truth; some developments had occurred, making my week extremely difficult. About three days later, I noticed a letter in CPO. Gillian actually took the time to write me prayers and encouragements, which blessed me more than she probably knows. Due to her compassion and love, I was able to see the family I had gained by joining Phonathon, and I began engaging more deeply with my co-workers than before.

Students in calling work room

I could tell story after story of the kindness the Phona Pham has extended to me. Sophie Clarke, a recent alumna, invited me into her home to offer me advice for my future. Christy Kim and Kara Chen embraced me during one of the lowest points of the semester. Benjamin Jani always got me to laugh, even when I was feeling anxious. Our wonderful manager Emma Camillone was and continues to be a constant source of compassion and encouragement.

To some, Phonathon is just a fundraising job that meets inconveniently five days a week, but Phonathon is so much more than that. Phonathon is a family coming alongside one another to live life through the good and the bad, bearing with one another and showing the love of Christ in everything we do.  

Learn more about Phonathon's work for the College here.