Jill Lassiter is one of our sensational board members, and she is also an associate professor in the Department of Health and Human Services at Bridgewater College. In the past, her health and exercise science students have come to do various games and activities with our folks. But sometimes it can be difficult to get individuals struggling with unimaginable life circumstances to want to get up and get active. This year, though, was a bit different. Jill said that, “this may have been one of our worst weather semesters ever, but one of our best in terms of activity and participation.”
At the end of the course, students write a reflection paper on what they’ve learned so far throughout the semester. They share the good, the bad, the ugly, the wonderful, and everything in between. I was going to post a series of comments from the feedback until I read the one full paper that Jill had attached, and it deeply touched me. I hope it touches you, too. I left the paper as is so that it could remain authentic, but I snipped it a bit to capture the particularly moving points. I am thankful for this student, and for all the students that gave and received at OCP; for their journies, their explorations, and their beautiful discoveries. Enjoy.
My experience at Our Community Place simply started out as the place where I was going to fulfill my “X” requirement in order to be eligible to graduate. However, it quickly became much more than that, it became a learning experience that I will never forget. Three days before my second trip to OCP my dad was laid off from his job. In those two days my mind was spinning, I was worried about my friends finding out, I was worried about my younger siblings and I was worried about being able to return to school next year. Being on a college campus, with a large majority of privileged peers I was hard pressed to find someone who could relate to my new financial problem. On Monday I went to lunch, as planned, this was my group’s first real experience since our first trip was for the “Night Out” fundraiser. When it came time to eat, my group members all looked around the room nervously knowing that we were not supposed to sit together. I walked to an empty chair away from the comfort and familiarity of my group members.
I choose a seat at the end near two older men. The one man was very quiet but Bob immediately introduced himself and started asking me about school. After he was done asking me questions he started telling me about himself. He said he graduated from college with a degree in business and soon after graduation he got married and eventually had two kids. His daughter had just had a baby, his first grandchild! The conversation seemed so normal. His life seemed so similar to my parents or my friend’s parents. He leaned back, sighed and chuckled a little, “But then life happened” he said. He explained, that his wife left him and broke his heart. He became very depressed and was unable to handle his money well. At age 65 he retired but now (two years later) he was unable to live off the money that he had saved. “I had always imagined that at age sixty-five I would be living in Florida golfing every day, but instead, I’m living in a homeless shelter sleeping in a small room every night with five other guys.” He continued to tell me about the troubles he had been having, especially with the extreme weather fluctuations.
Nonetheless, during this conversation, it struck me… having financial problems is truthfully not just because a person is uneducated, lazy, or disabled. Having financial problems is just a part of life. It is a part of life that some people will never have to experience and that some people will be much too familiar with. I realized that the people I interacted with during my time spent at OCP were not poor people who needed my charity, but just people, people who needed a little extra help and wanted someone to listen to them. By realizing this equality between us, I grasped the importance of equality of health care and health promotion education amongst all groups of people. By going to OCP every Thursday, my peers and I were not just going to play a game of volleyball, we were going to promote physical activity that would hopefully be associated with contentment and be repeated…
…I have learned that by valuing the differences among people and recognizing that these differences enrich our experience, perspectives, learning, and abilities the possibility of equal health care is in reach. From what we have been learning in class I know that the United States is far from universal health care but that does not mean people can work to help provide others with health opportunities. OCP has set a great example for how college students can make a huge difference. Both Bridgewater and JMU students were involved at OCP bringing their knowledge and youthful joy. I hope that we were able to make people active who otherwise wouldn’t have been active or at least made someone happy by listening to them. It was great seeing nursing students there, I know the people needed their services and I hoped that they learned something. In addition I have learned that by making preventative and basic care and available to everyone it will be cheaper for everyone- we won’t be paying for it through our tax money.
My experiences at OCP were very humbling, OCP quickly and surprisingly became a place of understanding, relaxation and comfort. I learned a lot about personal health and how the community can help to improve it among the less fortunate members. Ron, Rianna and the rest of the OCP team were amazing mentors and taught me a lot about modesty and patience. This was important because I know that when dealing with clients in a professional setting not everyone will be happy, polite or want my help. By having the skills that the OCP team displayed, the therapy that I hope to give will be much more successful. Overall, OCP was a great experience that provided many learning opportunities.