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.