Community//

Cassie Laibly: “Being vulnerable and open to learning is essential”

I am one of the campus leaders for the Marquette University chapters of Global Brigades, which is the largest student-led social responsibility movement on the planet. The statistics are a little mind boggling to me. I am one of 83,000-plus students who’ve participated in Global Brigades over the organization’s 15-year history. Collectively, we’ve fundraised more […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

I am one of the campus leaders for the Marquette University chapters of Global Brigades, which is the largest student-led social responsibility movement on the planet. The statistics are a little mind boggling to me. I am one of 83,000-plus students who’ve participated in Global Brigades over the organization’s 15-year history. Collectively, we’ve fundraised more than 100 million dollars in aid while participating in brigades in our area of study, such as Medical Brigades, Water Brigades and Business Brigades, which support community-owned banks and provide business consulting and investment capital to microenterprises.


As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cassie Laibly

Cassie Laibly, a junior at Marquette University, is on a mission to make a difference in our world through connection, sustainability and empowerment. A leader with Global Brigades, the largest student-funded humanitarian organization in the world, Cassie has been one of the leaders for Marquette’s Medical Brigade chapter and was recently among the first students to participate in TeleBrigades, the nonprofit’s all-new, virtual-experiential-learning program.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I grew up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. My childhood was filled with outdoor activities like water skiing in the summer and snow skiing in the winter. I also swam year-round and developed a love for baking. From a young age, my parents instilled in me the importance of service, leadership and gratitude. They encouraged me to get involved in my community through school and extracurricular activities. During high school, I was a part of my school’s Academy for Global Studies. The Academy introduced me to the concept of being a Global Citizen and what it means to own a global mindset.

Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Many of my childhood memories were made at my hometown YMCA. The YMCA is a non-profit organization that stands for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. I swam on the Oshkosh YMCA swim team for 12 years and got my first job as a lifeguard there. The YMCA is rooted in the core principle of community, with its mission being to better Oshkosh through sustainable change. My time at the YMCA taught me what a community truly is. It’s like being part of a family and no matter your story, your background or your identity, the Oshkosh YMCA welcomes you with open arms. Through good times, as well as hardships and adversity, the YMCA will stand beside you. I experienced this sense of community through my swimming teammates, through my co-workers in the Aquatics department and through the countless people I met there. The YMCA taught me that community support is vital to making changes in your life and the lives of others. Yes, you can make an impact as an individual, but you can multiply that impact if you have the buy in, backing and support of a community.

How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Three words come to mind: connection, sustainability and empowerment. These are all essential to making a difference in someone’s life. Connection allows you to not only align with others in the field you are aiming to make a difference in, but also unites you with a community that strives to make those same differences. Sustainability is all about making change over time. Actions and solutions must be sustainable in order to make a true difference generation to generation. Lastly, empowerment. To help others is different than empowering them. Empowering others addresses all aspects of their lives and takes into account their stories and struggles. Empowering individuals is rooted in bettering their lives for the long-term, rather than just the present. And, that is why I love Global Brigades. It isn’t your typical humanitarian organization. It has a totally different model. We don’t simply go into a community and provide a week of free doctor’s visits or building schools. Global Brigades makes long-term commitments to resource-limited communities around the world in order to empower them to become self-sufficient and sustainable for generations to come.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

I am one of the campus leaders for the Marquette University chapters of Global Brigades, which is the largest student-led social responsibility movement on the planet. The statistics are a little mind boggling to me. I am one of 83,000-plus students who’ve participated in Global Brigades over the organization’s 15-year history. Collectively, we’ve fundraised more than 100 million dollars in aid while participating in brigades in our area of study, such as Medical Brigades, Water Brigades and Business Brigades, which support community-owned banks and provide business consulting and investment capital to microenterprises.

Global Brigades implements a Holistic Model in rural communities in Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua, Greece, Ghana, and Guatemala, to help local residents there rise out of poverty. Global Brigades works with and alongside community members to empower them to reach their health and economic goals. And, that’s why I got involved and remain involved with Global Brigades to this day. We don’t just give people the proverbial fish or teach them how to catch it. Global Brigades empowers communities by showing them how to make rods and build boats so they can fish long after we’ve left.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I learned about Global Brigades in 10th grade, when a Medical Brigade leader from Marquette came and spoke at my high school. She shared Global Brigades’ mission, outlined their Holistic Model and detailed what their on-campus chapter was doing. I remember getting goosebumps and immediately feeling a call to serve in this organization. I went home after school and told my mom that we needed to tour Marquette.

From there it just felt like fate. I wrote about Global Brigades in my college application, had a Medical Brigader as my tour guide for my campus visit, and, come freshman orientation, my small group leader was involved in starting the Global Brigades Business Chapter on campus. It was so clear to me what the on-campus Global Brigades community was. Each individual had such a strong passion not only for the organization, but for its mission. It’s the holistic mindset of Global Brigades that still resonates with me today. The organization does not strive for short term results, but rather unites with community members to address their needs and empower them toward long-term sustainable change.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I’ve had multiple “Aha Moments’’ throughout my time with Global Brigades. This one came to my mind first. I went on my first brigade as a freshman and on the last day of that trip, we all began talking about what we could do as a brigade when we returned to Milwaukee. After a week of clinic days and community health presentations, I was on an all-time brigade buzz. A brigader at the time spoke about how the challenges individuals faced in Panama mirror the one’s faced by the communities that border our campus in Milwaukee. This idea that what happens globally happens locally, ignited a fire within me to drive scalable impact globally, as well as locally here in Milwaukee. Immediately after returning from my first brigade, I got involved with local organizations. That was definitely a light-bulb moment for me: Global health is local health and I’ve pushed that mindset further into other areas of my life.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

While I am not the founder of Global Brigades, I am inspired by how the organization started. While she was a sophomore here at Marquette, Dr. Shital Vora was lamenting with a fellow student that the schedule in her Biomedical Sciences major didn’t allow time to study abroad, which was a dream of hers. Her friend told her about a neighbor back home who was a physician and led mission trips to Honduras. During spring break that year, Dr. Vora and a dozen or so students tagged along on the doctor’s next trip in-country and they were blown away with the impact that they, as “only” college students, could make. Fast-forward 18-years to today and Dr. Vora is the CEO of Global Brigades, and the organization is the largest student-funded humanitarian nonprofit in the world with more than 500 university and high school chapters.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

COVID-19 grounded all student brigades from traveling in-country. Like many, we were disappointed, but we did not allow that to stop us from making an impact. As a chapter, we had the unique opportunity to be among the first students to take part in Global Brigades’ new virtual learning program called TeleBrigades. While we weren’t able to go in-country physically, we were still able to work with Global Brigades’ in-country staff and learn more about all that the organization does on the ground to make a difference in people’s lives. At the same time, we also did service work right here in Milwaukee. Participating in the TeleBrigade, while also carrying out Global Brigades’ mission on a local level in partnership with Milwaukee-area organizations, was a powerful moment for me. One of my favorite parts about being a leader is seeing the passion in others develop. They just radiate with such confidence and joy. Watching brigaders grow and learn in their chosen field of global health, while simultaneously learning with them is something I will always cherish. I will forever be grateful for these experiences and opportunities.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

While I am minoring in Spanish for Health Care, my language skills aren’t always perfect. On my third in-country brigade in Panama, I was speaking with a group of locals in Charla, the education component station on Medical Brigade. I thought I was encouraging the community members to balance their intake of sugary drinks with water, but I later found out from one of the translators, who is now one of my best friends, that I was saying “salt drinks” not “sugar drinks”. That explained the confused looks I received from the crowd. I was quite embarrassed, but also proud that I found the courage to get up there and try. Though this mistake may seem small, it reminds me that mistakes happen. The key is to recognize your error and allow it to propel you forward, that is what growth is. I am still not perfect in my Spanish, but I have continued to work at improving my communications and connections with Spanish speakers both in-country and here in Milwaukee.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

Some of my biggest mentors and cheerleaders are both former and current brigaders and brigade leaders. These individuals have been some of my biggest inspirations. Each individual I have met has a unique experience, story and passion. When we have come together through the community of Global Brigades, these experiences, stories and passions are shared, and allow not just me, but everyone to grow. This community of growth inspires me to continue to connect with others and learn, while maintaining a growth mindset. For starters, Elizabeth Edsell will always be a special someone to me, as she was the former leader that came to my high school class to present back in my sophomore year. Without her, it is hard to say that I would have been led to the same path that took me to where I am today. A core mentor for me has also been our Global Brigades advisor, Barb Burja. She has pushed me to be a better person and is constantly supportive of my goals. Barb never fails to remind me that no goal is too high to achieve and encourages me to use my passion and ambition to reach my goals. Brian Conway, a former brigader, is someone who opened my eyes to a “global health is local health” mindset. Without him, I would not have been challenged to look at the world through a whole news lens. I also want to highlight Natalie Roh, my former co-leader, and Skyler Demis, Marquette’s campus chairperson, as they both have been such amazing individuals to work and learn with. Together, all of these mentors and cheerleaders have shaped me into the person I am today. They pushed me to be the best version of myself. I am grateful to call the Marquette Medical Brigade my family.

Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Honestly, a single individual does not come to mind, but rather an entire community. My freshman year, in January of 2019, I went on a Global Medical Brigade to Panama. We worked in a Western Panamanian community named La Mata. We hosted a clinic in La Mata that allowed us to work with the community members to achieve their health goals. In Charla, the education component station of the Medical Brigade, we taught children and adults in the community about health initiatives through interactive activities like the “Tooth Brushing Song”. This song was sung throughout the entirety of the day, as children were singing joyfully in the soccer field. There was one girl that spent a large amount of time with our brigaders and had a difficult time when we left after our final clinic day. I was fortunate enough to return to La Mata in May of 2019. Upon arrival, I was excited to see the community members that I had connected with earlier that year. As we opened up the Charla station, I was greeted immediately by the young girl I had met earlier that year. She smiled, grabbed the dental stuffed animal demonstrator and began singing the tooth brushing song. Throughout the remainder of the week, other children took turns demonstrating brushing teeth on the stuffed dental monkey that we had named Rafa. The story of this young girl stood as a reminder to me of the power of connection and education. Being intentional with one individual, connecting with them, learning from each other and sharing our knowledge creates impact not just on one life, but both lives. The young girl taught me more Spanish and how to connect through a language barrier, and she learned healthy initiatives from our brigade, like brushing your teeth.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

The first step is educating oneself on the problem. Being vulnerable and open to learning is essential.

Build your community. You can’t go about this alone. Unite with an organization and or peers to ignite change in your community. Share your stories, backgrounds, and ideas in order to make sustainable change.

Promoting systemic change must not be done at the top and simply trickle down. Solutions must be owned by communities. In order to empower the lives of individuals and help them reach their health and economic goals, service must not be done for others, but rather with others.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).

Please watch my video for more details on the five things I think every student should know about getting involved.

  1. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I have learned through my experiences that any and all situations allow you to grow as an individual. They allow you to discover yourself, your values, and your traits. Being uncomfortable can also lead you to unimaginable places that you would have never experienced if you stayed in your comfort zone.
  2. You don’t have to go far to make an impact. What happens globally, also happens locally. As a Medical Brigade chapter this year, COVID-19 grounded us here in Milwaukee. So, we embraced a “think globally, act locally” mindset and helped people here in Milwaukee.
  3. Build your community. You don’t have to be an expert in every field to make a difference in the world. When you unite with others with similar passions, you are able to make an impact regardless of your expertise or differences.
  4. You can be an agent for change with or without a leadership title. I have seen firsthand the way individuals without the title of a healthcare professional continue to empower the lives of fellow community members through sustainable and life changing health initiatives.
  5. Remember your why. Why did you want to get involved, what keeps you moving forward? Your passions should be the core root of becoming involved. Your passion will allow you to push through adversity, and achieve your goals, no matter how ambitious they are.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

It can feel overwhelming to get involved and work towards making a positive impact in the world around you. We all have adversity that we personally go through, but the lives of the individuals you want to impact are also facing their own adversity. Individuals should get involved in making a positive impact because of the domino effect. If you can impact one life of an individual through your words and actions, that individual is able to go on and do the same to others. Imagine if in our world today, each person focused on bettering the lives of one neighbor, friend, peer, colleague, or stranger — the collective impact would be tremendous for future generations. Think about one person that has impacted your life and pay it forward to the next individual. Alone we do so little, while together we do so much.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

If I could have a private breakfast or lunch with someone, I would want to meet with Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. Dr. Burke Harris is the Surgeon General in California and focuses her work on early childhood, health equity, and adverse childhood experiences. Her work embodies a holistic mindset where she understands that early childhood experiences can impact you in multiple aspects of your life. She incorporates clinical care with research and systemic reform in order to empower the lives of children and their life-long health. If I could meet Dr. Burke Harris, I would love to hear more about her clinical work, research, and systemic reform. I am very passionate about health equity, adverse childhood experiences, and early childhood as well and hope to one day work in a clinical, research, and policy reform setting. Her multidisciplinary approach to health equity, through clinical practice, research, and policy inspires me to continue in this field. Twitter: @DrBurkeHarris IG: @nadineburkeharris or @ca_osg

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can follow me on Instagram at cassie_laibly!

For more information and to get involved with Global Brigades, visit thislink.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Boston Blanket Brigade Thrive Global Cindy Joyce Orfano
Community//

How to Support Restaurants as Temperatures Begin to Dip

by Cindy Joyce
Community//

“Why people relate to you through your weaknesses rather than through your strengths” With Penny Bauder & Dr. Michael R. Lovell

by Penny Bauder, Founder of Green Kid Crafts
Community//

Frank William DeMont: “Stay positive”

by Ben Ari

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.