Profiles in Radical Hospitality

This week's post is by Michael Lupsa, one of our free meals interns and a member of OU's Better Together Steering Committee.  

I could not have even imagined the magnitude of change and growth that I would encounter whence I embarked on the wonderful journey that is my college career. I was nothing more than a lost child. In that mindset, where I lacked vast amounts of self-worth and was experiencing serious ugly-duckling syndrome, I could not help but feel that I was solely going to college just so I could survive it. I could never have anticipated that I would one day take my college experience and use it to make a serious difference.

It began with people believing in me. Once upon a time I was a freshman, cruising through my first year of college on auto-pilot and completing only the bare minimum of what was expected of me. Then, one day somebody said, “Hey, you should apply to the Global Leadership Center…you would be perfect for it.” A rather prestigious program, I was humbled by that person’s observation and desire to support me. The next thing I knew, I was accepted. Then, spring quarter rolled around, and somebody else said, “Hey, you should be president of CIAO!” A group vote later and I was suddenly president of the student organization. It wasn’t long until my sophomore year rolled along, and the expectations came along with it. I was suddenly entrusted with making sure that a student organization runs smoothly and grows, and such intensive academic work that even graduate students were surprised at the projects I was working on. Pursuing my passion for languages, I was also simultaneously taking Arabic and Italian, both subjects in which the instructors gave me countless accolades and support. The academic and developmental explosion that was my sophomore year landed me in Vietnam that winter break for the GLC’s International Collaborative Consulting Project and in Jordan the following summer on a Critical Language Scholarship. Suddenly, I returned to Ohio University my junior year, high expectations from everybody around me and having the power to actually make a difference. I used my previous experiences to be a more effective leader as the second-year president of CIAO, and grow the organization. I became an RA, where I got to apply much of my communications experience and make a difference in my residents’ lives. I sought out a leadership role in the Arabic department, now exemplified by my presidency of ALSA (the Arabic Student Language Association). What I initially did not seek out though, was my involvement with Better Together and UCM. However, it just so turns out that it might be one of the best decisions I have made in my life.

It began with my friend Rue, the Better Together campus organizer from last year, who would invite me to her events and try to prompt my involvement with the organization. Ice Cream for Life was entertaining, but the real catch was a spring awareness event about water insecurity; a prelude to the first Monday Creek Stream Cleanup. I was very moved by their presentation, and desired to get more involved with the organization. The stream cleanup itself sealed the deal, as I had so much fun, and did so by also doing something positive for the environment. The months following would seal the deal regarding my involvement with Better Together, and its accommodating organization, UCM.
I can almost remember the day in GLC class when Rue and Melissa, another member of the Better Together campaign, were attempting to talk me into joining the campaign. We were discussing how much I enjoyed working at the stream clean-up, and I was even considering volunteering at the Thursday Suppers and Saturday Lunches. I however considered myself to be too busy at the time, and as much as I liked it, I kept convincing myself that I just simply did not have the time. As the summer drew nearer, however, it became apparent that I would spend the season in Athens, and thus I was granted more time to get involved.

Laziness set in as summer classes and living a healthy lifestyle were some of my only priorities this summer, but with the added incentive of gaining some community service hours, I attended my first Thursday Supper. I can even remember my first time awkwardly entering the basement, wondering what I needed to do, and meeting the wonderful Shea Daniels for the first time. Shannon Stewart, on the other hand, I have known for quite a while. Working alongside these ladies had become one of the most pleasurable experiences imaginable, and the fact that I love cooking did not help the situation when I no longer had the need for community service hours. Before I knew it, I began treating UCM meals as if they were a necessary part of my life, even though I had no requirement to participate in them. They gave me such purpose, and the relationships that I established were so positive. Ultimately, I went from being a volunteer to feeling like I was an integral part of the UCM community. Then, one day as we were being introduced to a new intern I was tempted to ask, “What do you have to do to be an intern?” At which I received the response, “Well…exactly what you’re doing.” This was the moment! “Then I can be an intern?!” I exclaimed. “Sure!” I can somewhat almost picture Melissa’s, the executive director of UCM, response, and in a somewhat jokingly manner she did the hand-motions as if she was swearing me into the organization with a magic wand. Let me tell you…..this memory will stay burned into my mind for a long time! I was very happy.

Living My Beliefs

This week's post is from Rachel Hyden, OU's Better Together campus organizer.
There is not a single thing in my life that is not affected by my core set of beliefs. Every action, every thought, every word I speak is connected to my morals and my ethics, which I define as my religion. For some, religion is considered just one aspect of who they are, as if it were simply a title like “student” or “activist”. But for me, my beliefs define the person I am, because I live what I believe.

So what are these beliefs that so fiercely drive my every move? As cliché as this sounds, I believe in the power of co-existence, or inter-being. Not only co-existence between humans, but of all things, sentient or not. I believe in the value of non-harming, and that we should make it our utmost priority to ensure no being suffers. I believe in truth, love, and above all, equality.

As an environmental activist, these beliefs fuel my fire in protecting this planet. To exist we depend on all things for life. The water we drink, the air we breathe, the soil to plant our crops. If we continue to exploit the earth as we have for so long, we will lose our access to these vital components that make our existence possible. Therefore, we must exist in harmony with all things, because our survival depends on the survival of everything else.

My belief in non-harming goes beyond the harming of just “beings”. We should protect all things from harm; trees, water, animals, and of course humans.  When we harm our planet and all things on it, we harm ourselves. We degrade our waterways, our air, our soil, and our quality of life, and in turn, we suffer. We must protect our planet if we want to protect ourselves.
The value of truth plays a major role in my activism. I work tirelessly on environmental issues to unveil the truth to the public. If major corporations are going to devastate the earth for financial gain, the public deserves to know. My love for this earth and all things is what keeps my chin up when the going gets tough. There are times when I want to give up, when I truly believe the battle is lost. But it is always the love for the beautiful things this world has to offer that mends my many wounds.

But despite the mending, I am still scarred from the injustices I see in my work—the deliberate taking of private land for oil and gas extraction; the stealing of public waters to taint with chemicals to fracture shale; the poisoning of our drinking water; the deforestation and destruction of ecosystems; the greed of those at the top, and the exploitation of those at the bottom. These injustices must be stopped.

We are all equal. Without one, the other can’t exist.

Welcome to Winter Quarter at Ohio University!

Hi again!  *Waving.*  Shea here.  

This quarter our Better Together blog is going to feature profiles of volunteers, as well as continued blog posts by myself and other White House Challenge organizer Rachel Hyden.  Other folks, such as Michael Lupsa, a member of OU’s Better Together Steering Committee and one of our free meals program coordinators, will be writing about their experiences with interfaith work. 

From workshops and raising enough money to build a well in Africa to an interfaith valentine’s dance, from a day of poverty awareness to our free meals continuing to feed 100ish people a week, we’re busy here in Athens Ohio promoting interfaith cooperation.  But to mark the start of OU’s Winter Quarter and the flurry of Better Together activity, I thought a prayer might be appropriate.  So I’ll leave you with this indigenous prayer for interfaith harmony

See you next week!



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True Path Walkers

To bring back the natural harmony that humans once enjoyed.
To save the planet from present practices of destruction.
To find and re-employ real truth.
To promote true balance between both genders.
To share and be less materialistic.
To become rid of prejudice.
To learn to be related.

To be kind to animals and take no more than we need.
To play with one's children and love each equally and fairly.
To be brave and courageous, enough so,
to take a stand and make a commitment.
To understand what Generations Unborn really means.
To accept the Great Mystery
in order to end foolish argument over religion.