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Four Years at the Mount

I'm thankful for ...
(November, 2012)

Freshman Year:  The CORE of My Thankfulness

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2015

I first heard about Mountward Bound at freshman orientation this past summer. Mountward Bound is a program where freshman at Mount St. Mary's University arrive a week early to go on a trip to make new friends and have a memorable experience. I was eager to sign up because I knew it would be a great way to interact with some of my future classmates. I was most interested in the Outdoor Adventure trip but, to my dismay, when I went to sign up all the spots were already full. Looking back, I couldn’t be more thankful that all the spots were taken.

I still wanted to go on a trip so I signed up for one through the Office of Social Justice. I was excited but nervous because I did not know what to expect. After arriving at the Mount and I moved into my dorm for the first time; I was overwhelmed. I wondered what I had gotten myself into. When I met up with the CORE leaders who would be leading the trip and the other students who would be going with me, I could not straighten my thoughts. I was about to get into a van with a bunch of strangers, travel to a an unknown place, leave my mom and at the end of it all not even get to go home but have to go back to a cramped dorm room that was a mess. Why did I think that this was going to be a good idea?

Throughout the week the group traveled to different service sites. We went to the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, the Beacon House, Montevue Nursing Home, and the SERRV market. After each day we all would gather as a group, discuss what we did during the day and reflect on the importance of our actions. I ended up loving every minute of the trip. I was learning new things and making new friends. Though I was skeptical at first, going on Mountward Bound became one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am extremely thankful that it opened my eyes and my heart to my passion for social justice.

Toward the end of the trip I started to learn more about what it meant to be a CORE leader. CORE leaders are dedicated Mount students who work through the office of social justice on campus. They facilitate service trips to help others understand the importance of social justice and equality. When Mountward Bound ended, each participant was encouraged to apply to become a CORE leader. I knew without any hesitation that I wanted to be part of CORE and I was thankful when I was handed an application.

After completing the application and going through an interview, I am thrilled and thankful to say that I have been accepted to become part of the CORE family!

My first week of CORE training happened over Fall Break. The six new CORE members, including myself, spent our week in Baltimore and DC while the rest of the Mount community went home. We served with People’s Homesteading Group in Baltimore where we cleaned an apartment from top to bottom, in preparation to house families of low to moderate income. During this week, we discussed what we are often blind to in terms of social justice issues. We learned about social systems, systemic injustices and reflected on the importance of awareness. In DC, we visited the Holocaust museum where we observed with a social justice lens and our new-formed knowledge. We had dinner with Ms. T, an inspirational woman who has gone in and out of homelessness, who encouraged us all to "find our lane and own it." We spent time listening to one another’s personal stories and grew closer as a group each day. By the end of the week we had been challenged and tested multiple times and our outcomes were not always successful. The important part is that we learn from our mistakes and work to communicate positively together. I am thankful that we can all only get better as a team and as individuals.

My involvement with CORE has only just begun and it has already started to change my life. I am so thankful for the opportunities and knowledge I will be able to gain through CORE. I cannot wait to continue to spend time with my CORE group and I am thankful to be surrounded with such amazing people whom I can now call family. I am thankful for Jeff Abel, the Director of the Office of Social Justice, for his positive influence, sense of humor, and standards that make me work to be a better person in my thoughts and actions. Being a member of CORE is exactly where I am suppose to be. I am thankful that I have learned to see injustice with my heart. I am thankful to be part of such an incredible group that changes lives.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen

Sophomore Year: Family Pilgrimage

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

As time wears on, it has become harder and harder for people to appreciate (and in many cases remember) the true meaning of Thanksgiving. It’s easy to lose track of what is an ancient tradition for a country that is considered relatively young by the standards of the world. Yes, the autumn season is a time filled with college football games, roasting turkeys, steaming mashed potatoes and confetti-filled parades, but in many ways the true, miraculous nature of the holiday has been somewhat buried in all the pomp and circumstance.

It’s almost impossible to imagine the kinds of challenges those first pilgrims faced. According to first-hand accounts, the Mayflower was ridiculously overcrowded, with disease and filth running rampant through the cramped halls of the vessel. The New England coast proved to be a treacherous and in many cases inscrutable enemy as changing patterns of ice flows and stony bluffs created a deadly latticework surrounding the new land. Add to that the fact that the pilgrims were townsfolk unaccustomed to life in the wilderness and possessed little knowledge of how to hunt or forage, let alone build a town. It is nothing short of an outright act of God that these early settlers lived to make that first meal an American tradition. All these facts make the true meaning of the holiday more powerful. These were people who had defied the odds and the expectations of naysayers and continued to survive in a new and rugged world. It was a poignant moment where people, who had little in common but their struggles gathered to celebrate their friends, family, loved ones, and the cherished gift of life.

It is this kind of history that has sparked my own imagination and brought me on an interesting intellectual journey. Those early pilgrims were incredibly appreciative of the simple gifts that they recognized every single day, and it got me thinking: what am I truly thankful for in my life? I did quite a bit of pondering and as cliché as it sounds, I am truly thankful for my family. As the old adage goes, "we stand on the shoulders of giants," and I’ve been blessed with some particularly tall giants on which to perch. If there is one thing that I am truly appreciative of, it’s the Thanksgiving tradition my family started many years ago.

Every year on Thanksgiving morning, my family rolls out of bed, bundles up in our warmest clothing and drives fifteen minutes away to New Oxford Pennsylvania for the annual Turkey Trot 5k race. When the tradition began, my brother and I were adamantly opposed to going to the race. We resented having to wake up early on a day when we were supposed to be sleeping in. We despised the early morning chill, and most of all, we hated taking a family picture in our matching Turkey Trot t-shirts. I can still vividly remember the first time we ran the Turkey Trot, freezing and miserable. Our mom was desperately trying to drag us to the finish line while simultaneously trying not to kill us. As years progressed, my parents gave up on making two stubborn young boys run the race and simply left us to our own devices, leaving us to slowly walk the distance to finish line.

As the years passed, we actually began to enjoy the annual run. We began going to a nearby Rutter’s gas station (one of the only places open on Thanksgiving) for breakfast after the race. We would sit in the tiny eating area in the gas station and savor the taste of warm breakfast sandwiches and hash browns after the chilly morning of running. Kollin (my brother) and I would joke about how we, as two fit athletes, were the honorary rear guard of the race. We would make a game out of being dead last every single year. We would count the number of old ladies and mothers running with strollers who passed us. As we neared the finish line, we would sprint the last 15 yards of the race pumping our arms and singing the theme song from Rocky like we were champions. Our family began to appreciate the magnitude of the joke and as the officials were packing up the equipment at the finish line (yeah we’re that slow), our parents would be yelling at us to keep moving otherwise we would lose our substantial lead over the other competitors.

Now, when I think about Thanksgiving, it wouldn’t be complete without running that simple 5k race, laughing with my family and eating breakfast food in a gas station. While I know it’s not as amazing as a journey across the ocean in a crowded ship looking for freedom, that simple little journey over the road is in many ways a constant reminder of the love my family shares and a reminder of why Thanksgiving is truly meaningful. I’m Kyle Ott, won’t you sit and read for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott

Junior Year: Raised in a Barn

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

I watched the 12-year-old girl enter the barn with her white cane, tapping side-to-side. She navigated a little shakily, clinging to her mother’s arm for guidance. A volunteer helped the girl up a short flight of stairs to a platform where she could mount her lesson horse. Handing over her cane, she adjusted her glasses and reached out in front her towards the small, fat gray pony. Gathering the reins in one hand and placing her other at the back of the saddle, she swung her legs over and onto the horse. A large grin broke across her stoic face.

The barn where I volunteered my time helping handicapped individuals take horseback riding lessons has left a strong impression on me for many reasons. I was amazed by the power of horses, yet their kindness and ability to lend strength to those who need it. I was struck by the volunteers who dedicated so much of their time to make sure these lessons could happen for those who needed them. Perhaps most of all, I was inspired by the students themselves.

Each student had his or her own story and disability, but their troubles never dissuaded them. They found a new freedom in horseback riding lessons. Liberty, the blind girl from the story above, was a charming young lady. Despite becoming blind at such a young age, Liberty was very positive about life and adjusted well with the help of her riding lessons. That fat gray pony, Smokey, became her eyes during lessons and gave her the sureness of foot that she didn’t have when walking herself.

Working with this therapeutic riding program made me appreciate my own abilities so much more. The day to day routine that is so simple for me is a monumental task for someone else. It also made me realize how grateful I am to have become involved in horseback riding in the first place and recognize how much horses have helped me grow as a person.

When I had first asked my parents for riding lessons, I changed my mind three times before my mom finally said, "You know what? You’re going." I was so nervous yet excited. I had always been an animal lover, but I also had an extreme fear of failure. I wanted to be perfect and to do things correct the first time, so sometimes learning or experiencing new things gave me quite the emotional roller coaster ride.

Before my first lesson, my mom took me to meet my riding instructor, Ginger. A family friend was keeping a horse at Ginger’s stables at the time, so we met her there to be introduced. I remember pulling into the driveway and seeing all the farm equipment scattered across the lawn. Getting out of the car, I saw two large Doberman barking at me from behind a fence. Not a very soothing sight for a nervous 11-year-old. My mom and I walked past the house to an arena where our family friend had her horse. A weathered woman in her thirties was there. She was dressed very casually in jeans and a well-worn t-shirt, with muddy boots protecting her feet. Her voice naturally resonated when she gave instructions, as if she had a built in microphone. Despite her rough exterior, she made me feel very comfortable. Her witty humor kept us in stitches, and her relaxed, confident manner made me confident that I was in good hands. This was Ginger.

During that visit, Ginger’s daughter brought out a red, sway back pony with a white blaze and kind brown eyes. I watched as she brushed the horse, put a saddle on him and entered the arena. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just seen the first horse I would ever own.

His name was Bravo and about a year into taking lessons, my parents bought him for me. I adored that pony, and spent every waking moment at the barn, grooming and riding, cleaning his stall and feeding him peppermints. He was my life outside of school. I had innumerable adventures on him, sometimes doing things I probably shouldn’t have. We galloped through the pastures chasing geese from the stream. We rode along the side of the road and across the street through the neighbors’ corn fields. Bravo gave me the same freedom that Smokey gives Liberty—the freedom of not being afraid to fall.

Last August, the day I moved back to campus, we had to put Bravo down. He was an old man, around 30-years-old, completely blind and probably had cancer. That morning I went down to feed him before leaving for school, and he was lying down in his stall unable to stand up. I knew immediately it was time to let him go. I stayed with him the whole time, talking to him and smoothing his fur, his head in my lap. It was bittersweet letting him go and as I sat there I couldn’t help but remember all the adventures we had had together. He had taught me so much; he had given me the courage to try new things and conquer my fears. He lent me the strength I didn’t have on my own. But his job here was done. I had learned all I could from him, and now it was my turn to give him his own freedom. I sent him off with a whispered, "Thank you."

There is a belief in the horse world that riders have only one great horse in their career. I am grateful to have already had mine.

Read other articles by Nicole Jones

Senior Year: Life lessons

Samantha Strub
Class of 2013

A few times a week I drive my car towards Frederick in order to pick up my companion for the next couple of hours. In my car I blare the music in the attempt to forget about the stresses of classes and teaching and the challenges that come with college life. That is easier said than done, as the songs on the radio are not giving me the reassurance that I need. I pull up in front of the designated house and turn off my car, making sure to unlock my passage door. I get out of the car and I see her. She is walking towards me with a huge smile on her face and her hand in the air waving at me. As I step around my car, she stops waving and rushes towards me as fast as she can with her arms outstretched. When those arms are around me I feel loved, appreciated and comforted. I give her a hug back and I realize this is what is important in life: to love and care for others. When we pull apart from the embrace, we go inside and talk to her mom about our plans for the day.

Once we talk with her mom we head back out to my car on our way to the adventure for the day. As she steps up to my passenger door she tries to open it, discovering she can. She looks across the car at me with a huge grin on her face saying, "You remembered for once, Sam." I smile back at her and respond, "Of course I did, because if I do not remember to unlock my car you tease me for the rest of the day." She smiles and says, "Well, unlocking your car is not a difficult thing to remember to do." I respond, explaining that I always lock my car to make sure it is not broken into and I just forget sometimes. She again answers me with a simple smile and the remark, "Excuses, excuses."

As Emma (as I will call her) and I get into my car and drive away from her house, she is usually full of stories about her day or something that happened on a day when I did not see her. Emma always has something to tell me. It brings her such joy to share her excitements with me. As Emma tells me her exciting stories, I am shocked with the simplicity of it. She is so joyful about the simple pleasures of life that I continually take for granted. I am shocked that she never took anything for granted, especially her family and friends.

Emma is a treasured gift in my life. She is a twenty-six year old woman who has Down ’s syndrome. Down’s syndrome is a condition in which extra genetic material causes delays in the child developments, both physically and mentally. People with Down’s syndrome tend to share similar characteristics such as a flat facial profile, an upward slant to the eyes, small ears, and a protruding tongue; they typically remain smaller than their peers and have low muscle tone and speech impairments. People with Down’s syndrome can have mild to serve difficulties including a number of health problems. On a general basis, people with Down’s syndrome tend to learn at a much slower rate, but they are by no means incompetent.

I was able to meet Emma through the Arc of Frederick County, where I work as a skills educator and respite care provider. I assist people with disabilities by helping them learn important social skills when they come and I provide them with respite care. I help the parents by giving them a break and provide people like Emma a chance to get out of the house for a social outing. Emma and I have all kinds of adventures such as walks in the park, trips to the mall, lunch and dinner dates, baseball games, Special Olympics activities, fairs, festivals, meetings, etc. We have a lot of fun on our adventures. Every day we go on an adventure, I learn something from her.

Emma’s life is so simple, yet so incredibly joyful. She finds joy in everything that happens to her. She even finds joy in the negative things. She sees the good in everyone. No one can do anything wrong to each other in her world. It is a peaceful and enjoyable world in which she lives. I learn so much from the example that Emma gives me about living each day to the fullest.

Life is the greatest gift that we could have and in the craziness of each day, we tend to forget what is truly important in life. We need to enjoy the life we have been given and not constantly try to change it to something better. We need to enjoy the life that we have been given and embrace the simple pleasure of life such as family and friends.

In this month of November, while there is still quiet before the hustling and bustling of the Christmas season—think of the simple pleasures of Emma’s world. Reflect what you are living for. Discover what you really want to appreciate about your life and what you want to get out of your life.

Read other articles by Samantha Strub

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