Spartan Spotlight: Don Phelps, Associate Professor of Social Work

Don Phelps working at Hesed House.

Phelps volunteering at Hesed House, an Aurora nonprofit organization that tackles the issues of homelessness.

A man of deep faith and conviction, Don Phelps, Associate Professor of Social Work, is inspiring AU students to take action by setting an example of service to the community.

“In the last few years I’ve changed my definition of success,” said Phelps. “What if we measured greatness by our ability to give and receive love? Or what if we measured success by our ability to serve and create joy for others?”

That’s the mindset that he’s instilling in his students, who are working alongside Phelps at a wide variety of Aurora organizations.

Ten years ago, Phelps became involved with Hesed House, an Aurora nonprofit organization that tackles the issues of homelessness. He began to volunteer at the shelter and was amazed at its size and the number of people living there. It’s been important to Phelps not just to care about the poor but to know the poor.

Since that time, Phelps has volunteered in many capacities at Hesed House and at Rebuilding Together Aurora, an agency that assists low-income seniors, families and veterans with home repairs. From preparing and serving meals to helping with the organization’s mission and board operations, Phelps and his students have become vital resources to the community.

Involving AU students has gone hand in hand with his dedication to others. He and several graduate students have created Harvesting Hope, a therapeutic play program for children. He has worked with undergraduate students sorting clothes, collecting donated supplies and coordinating special events. And he regularly helps students who are interested in volunteering or conducting an internship with Hesed House.

Phelps believes in engaging students to nurture their own talents while working with those in need. “I want to help students figure out how to use their skills in a meaningful way and to connect to their core values so that they gain a sense of purpose that fuels their passion,” he said.

His commitment to serving others expands beyond Aurora, too. Last spring, he spent his sabbatical volunteering and studying at the Casa Hogar Los Angelitos orphanage in Manzanillo, Mexico, where he provided administrative training for the program managers, clinical training on child trauma, behavioral management training for staff and clinical consultation on some difficult cases.

In living out his deepest values, Phelps offers AU students ways to find meaning in their own lives. His mission is grounded in his faith and his belief in the importance of helping students to discover firsthand what matters most.