By Craig Chval (special contributor to Notre Dame Sports Information)
It's taken Andrea Loman less than a decade to reduce her Notre Dame softball career to little more than a footnote in her life story.
A native of Riverside, Calif., Loman's name dominates the Notre Dame record book. Loman graduated in 2003 as Notre Dame's all-time leader in walks, stolen bases and runs, while ranking second in home runs, third in RBIs and fourth in batting average. She was a four-time all-BIG EAST first-team selection, twice the BIG EAST championship most outstanding player, the 2003 BIG EAST player of the year and a two-time All-American.
Notre Dame's team captain in 2003, Loman led the Irish to back-to-back BIG EAST regular-season championships and back-to-back BIG EAST tournament championships, while helping Notre Dame to four straight NCAA appearances.
To label Loman's Notre Dame softball career spectacular might run the risk of understatement. Nonetheless, what Loman has accomplished since graduating from Notre Dame dwarfs even that oversized resume.
These days, Loman isn't saving games or even seasons - she's saving lives. And she's doing it in some of the most challenging conditions imaginable.
Loman is the founder of Orphans Can Dream Too (OCDT), a non-profit organization devoted to helping orphans overcome suffering and poverty in the most destitute cities and slums around the globe. Awarded charitable organization status under IRS Code Section 501(c)(3), Orphans Can Dream Too has launched its world-wide efforts in the African nation of Kenya.
Orphans Can Dream Too operates four programs to aid the children in Kibera, the world's second-largest slum. Approximately the size of New York City's Central Park, Kibera is home to approximately 1 million people in its one-square mile slice of the Kenyan city of Nairobi.
The Survival Program distributes basic necessities, including food, water, shelter, medication and clothing. The Health Outreach Program provides medical care and basic health education. The Educational Sponsorship/Scholarship Program awards educational scholarships through sponsorships, enabling orphans to attend primary school, secondary school and college. The Personal Development Program offers guidance, support and encouragement, aiding in the development of self-esteem, confidence and essential life skills.
For Loman, the route to Kenya began in Riverside, where her parents, Bob and Debbie Loman, taught her the values that would provide the foundation of her life.
"They instilled in me from a young age that everything you get comes from hard work, determination, drive and passion," says Loman.
Her parents also gave her a sense that she had a responsibility to other people.
"My father would do work for people without being paid," Loman recalls. "He would give the shirt off his back for anybody.
"That made me realize that life is more than having a lot of money," she says. "It's more important to be helping people out and working together to make the world a better place."
Loman's parents also challenged her to consider broadening her horizons.
Her two older brothers, Tony and Robert, were primarily responsibility for introducing Loman to sports. She excelled in softball, basketball and track and field in high school. Softball, however, would be Loman's ticket to college, and she had plenty of choices.
"I was wanting to go to Stanford ever since I could spell Stanford," Loman says, adding that UCLA and the University of California-Berkeley were next on her list.
"My father was the one who had suggested that I look at schools outside of California," she says.
Loman had already been to the Stanford campus a number of times, and she was very impressed when she went to Cal on her first official recruiting visit. Then, it was Notre Dame's turn.
"Once I set foot on campus, I realized there was something special about Notre Dame," Loman relates. "There was an aura; everybody was so friendly. I knew definitely that this was a place that I needed to be and that I wanted to be."
Notwithstanding the distance from home, Loman readied herself to embark on her Notre Dame career without any sense of reservation.
"It was very far from California, but me being an independent person, I knew it would be a place where I could find myself and continue to grow and learn," she explains.
But in May of her senior year of high school, tragedy struck. Loman was involved in an auto accident that took the life of her best friend. Now, she wouldn't just be attending college 2,000 miles from home; she'd be grieving a terrible loss far from her family and friends.
Loman credits her faith in God and her new-found "family" at Notre Dame with getting her through the pain.
"I had a bunch of people at Notre Dame who really cared about me," she says. "The key was being around those people that were supportive of me and helping me get through that rough patch in my life."
The rough patch became a springboard.
"That was the turning point in my life," she says. "That was my first real loss, and it was at that point when I just realized how important life was and how you need to appreciate those people in your life because we're not promised anything.
"That's when I decided I would be dedicating myself to volunteer work and dedicating my time and energy to my career and trying my absolute best in everything I do."
While excelling on the softball diamond and in the classroom, where Loman obtained a degree in management information systems from Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, she also continued the commitment to volunteer service she began in high school.
Upon graduation, Loman put her degree to use while working for Whirlpool in Kalamazoo. Meanwhile, the passion to help others continued to burn brightly. Loman was involved in Big Brothers/Big Sisters and a number of other service activities. But she had a bigger vision.
Internet research led Loman to establish email communications with a former University of North Carolina field hockey player who had provided assistance to a children's orphanage in Kenya. Their conversations furthered Loman's interest, and she made her first trip to Kenya in December 2007.
"As soon as I got to Kenya and saw what I saw, I couldn't come back and not do anything," she says. "It was so ingrained in my mind - I knew I had to do something to help these kids out.
"As small as my help may seem, it's such a big deal for them," says Loman. "Just to be an educational sponsor and enable a child to go to school; it's something we take for granted here."
Loman personally sponsors children, as do a number of colleagues at her current employer, Perrigo, a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Allegan, Mich. Perrigo accommodates Loman's humanitarian trips to Kenya while also providing free medicine and financial support as well.
Much like she found when she arrived at Notre Dame, Loman has found at Perrigo a lot of people who truly care.
"The people there are aware of what's going on globally and they want to try to do something about it," she says. "It's kind of like a family atmosphere."
One hundred percent of funds contributed to Orphans Can Dream Too goes directly to orphans in Kenya - Loman and the entire staff are unpaid volunteers. Persons interested in supporting the work or learning more about Orphans Can Dream Too can visit the organization's web site at www.ocdt.org. There, visitors can learn more about OCDT's work, read Loman's blog detailing her trips to Kenya, and make tax-deductible contributions via Pay Pal.
"The best way to support the work is to go with me on a trip," she says. "You experience so much joy.
"I didn't realize that I would be changed moreso than I'm able to impact them. Just living there and going through what they go through every day - showering out of bucket, using an outhouse.
"You really find yourself being changed."