When Jason Woody ’04, sociology, received his acceptance letter to be part of the first class of the Shriver Living Learning Center (SLLC) ten years ago, he wanted to be a film major. And though he was interested in the social justice focus of the new center, he was also enticed by Erickson Hall, the sleek new dorm on campus that SLLC students would call home.
Woody found the SLLC’s service mentality contagious and it quickly came to define his worldview. In his sophomore year, he came across a poster asking students to dedicate service hours to honor those killed in the 9/11 attacks and took that call to heart. Back in his dorm room, he paged through biographies of the victims.
The story of Deora Bodley – a college student who died aboard United Flight 93, which crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania – gripped him most personally. Friends remembered Bodley for her own dedication to serving others. In her name, Woody launched a mentorship program for elementary-aged Baltimore youth to learn team-building skills: Project Team. The Shriver Center offered a van, help recruiting volunteers and credibility with partner organizations.
Shriver Center Director Michele Wolff remembers designing the SLLC to reflect “the true essence of service-learning.” Community members are required to complete both regular service throughout their residency and coursework that provides context and promotes reflection. As an affinity program, the SLLC also offers students a purposeful living experience with a built-in peer support network to help them confront the demands of service commitments.
Woody credits the support of fellow SLLC residents for his growth as a service leader. Kelly Subramanian ’08, biology and psychology, a former SLLC resident assistant, understands his perspective. “Personal relationships develop where you’re not only living together, you’re also serving together,” she says.
By the time Subramanian arrived a few years after Woody, the SLLC had already developed a reputation for its unique way of fostering students’ intellectual and personal growth. The program itself – more than the sleek new dorm – had become the attraction. “You’re helping other people and learning about what’s out there, but you’re also learning about yourself, what you value and what you want to do with your life,” Subramanian reflects.
Senior Benjamin Davis ’12, who hopes to teach in Baltimore City after graduation, calls the SLLC “a home for people just like me who expressed passion or interest in volunteering.” Davis tackled personal hardships and shyness, he says, by “working with other civically engaged individuals.”
Jason Woody never did take a single film class at UMBC. Instead, he pursued a career serving adults with mental illness. His organization, B’more Clubhouse, offers transitional employment and social and educational programs to help adults with mental illness develop confidence, skills and meaningful relationships, and reduce stigma against mental illness in the broader community. “I’ve seen people achieve milestones, big and small, that are life-changing,” he says.
Woody adds that he is still learning from others through service. His work has helped him develop patience and understanding. In this way, he says, the members of B’more Clubhouse are now his teachers.
— Dinah Winnick