'A bright spark of joy and kindness'
CHAMPAIGN — Rachel Storm has been in social work long enough to know that sometimes the serious, emotional issues can bog you down.
But she can always count on her friend and colleague, DoMonique Arnold, to rescue her from a rut.
"She keeps us up and positive," said Storm, who works at the Women's Resources Center and nominated Arnold for one of this year's Champaign-Urbana International Humanitarian Awards.
Irenka Carney, who volunteered on a project with Arnold, said Arnold has been tirelessly involved in a wide range of groups, initiatives and programs focused on enriching C-U through education and the empowerment of vulnerable and underserved populations.
"And even on the most exhausting, difficult and demoralizing days, she still has a bright spark of joy and kindness. You can tell down to the deepest fiber of her being, she is devoted to this difficult and often thankless work because bettering and helping her community is her happiness," Carney said.
At just 29 years old, Arnold has amassed a long list of social initiatives she's been involved in, stretching from Champaign-Urbana to East St. Louis to Ecuador, where she helped raise funds for and coordinate a women's shelter, called Four Walls and a Roof Project.
Storm has known Arnold for eight years as a friend and "co-conspirator" on a wide variety of social projects, including the women's shelter, which opened in 2012 to women and children escaping violence.
Storm said Arnold traveled to Ecuador prior to it opening and met with local women and held workshops on domestic violence, computer training, youth engagement and using the arts for anti-violence education. She maintains contact with them today, Storm said, and just last year helped students here coordinate a local clothing and toiletry drive to benefit women and children at the shelter after her contacts in Ecuador expressed a need for those items.
"I'm a big fan of hers," Storm said. "She's not somebody who gets recognized frequently for the tremendous work she does. ... She is someone who is doing really critical work but not always getting that recognition. Often, it's the organization that gets the credit.
"I think DoMonique is someone who is incredibly compassionate and really willing to take on a lot of the behind the scenes work that often goes unnoticed."
A 2009 UI graduate who majored in Latin, Arnold said she was awakened to social justice issues, particularly those affecting women, between undergraduate studies and grad school.
Ever since, she hasn't stopped focusing on ways to better the lives of others and society:
— Arnold helped the East St. Louis domestic violence shelter revitalize its website.
— She has provided workshops, classes and guest presentations on gender-based issues for the local Women's Resources Center.
— In her previous job as program coordinator at the YWCA on the UI campus, she promoted cross-cultural learning on identifying and resisting xenophobia and racism. She also organized the Hot Topics Dialogue Series, a bimonthly program that brings people together to discuss social identity and social justice issues, including homelessness, LGBTQ and reproductive justice.
— Arnold serves on various campus and community committees and organizations, including CU Birth, a local network of birth justice professionals; the Channing Murray Foundation, where she's a board member forging new food justice programming in the Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant; and Black Lives Matter, where she is involved in housing rights issues for minorities.
— She also leads Women in Leadership, an educational internship program for UI students.
"One thing that is always a recurring theme in my life is working on projects that affect women," said Arnold, who grew up in the Chicago area in a home that included her mom, grandmother and great-grandmother. "I grew up in a really women-centered household."
Arnold often wonders what her great-grandmother, who's gone now, would think of her accomplishments and work.
"I particularly want to honor her, because she had such great strength," she said. "... She was just a really strong figure in keeping the family together ... that glue for familial relationships, and she always kept a cool head, was strong and had convictions."
Arnold, who lives in Urbana with her husband, Jason Ewing, and their 2-year-old daughter, Ivy, just started a new job as the librarian at University Laboratory High. In addition to everything else, she teaches a Race, Ethnicity and Power course in the UI's Department of Educational Psychology.
And in the few moments she has time to focus on herself, Arnold said she loves to dance.
"I've been really, really into dance for a very long time. It's something I've loved since high school. I started doing belly dancing in high school," Arnold said. "I just like it, because you can really express yourself."
Leading up to Thursday night's gala, we'll introduce you to some of this year's Champaign-Urbana International Humanitarian Awards winners. The three individuals and two organizations set to be honored at the Hilton Garden Inn:
Humanitarian Relief Award: Dr. Omar Al-Heeti and Leanna Cossman
Human Rights Award: DoMonique Arnold
Hospitality Award: Mi Raza Community Center
Research and Education Award: Walking With Angels