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Stockdale Fellows grow as a group during Alternative Spring Break trip to D.C.

Barry McNamara
Aside from rewarding work with children in grades 1-12 in Washington, D.C., a spring break trip for 14 Monmouth College students was about bringing things into sharper focus.

That was the true for the group dynamic, as 13 of the students were Stockdale Fellows, the new campus leadership program started last fall.

“It was a great opportunity for them to see more about themselves as a group,” said Assistant Director of Leadership Development Jake McLean ’15, who oversees the Stockdale Fellows program and led the Washington trip. “You could really see them tightening as a unit. They’re ready to give back as a team, rather than being a ragtag group of bright kids that happen to be going to college together.”

McLean said the spring break trip also “sets the stage for some type of legacy project for the Stockdale Fellows to give back to campus.”

Stockdale Fellow Jack Ressler ’20 said it was evident that the trip helped the group come together as a unit.

“We met some awesome people and made some great memories while bonding as a group,” said Ressler, who is from Chillicothe, Ill. “I think because of this bonding, the program will take off and become what the school envisioned when they created it.”

Experiencing the nation’s capital was also an opportunity for individual images to come into focus.

“I am planning to go to law school once I graduate from Monmouth,” said Hadley Smithhisler, a history major from Valley City, N.D. “I am thinking about entering the political world, so visiting Washington, D.C., was a dream for me.”

Smithhisler said she also enjoyed the Stockdale Fellows’ volunteer work at the Boys and Girls Club.

“It was really great to explore the city and get to know a lot of the kids,” she said. “Some of them were really sad to see us go, which I know made us all feel like we had made some kind of impact on them.”

She added, “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the men and women that work at these Boys and Girls Clubs. They have incredible amounts of patience, and they go out of their way to help the students they work with.”

Added Ressler: “Working with kids that come from a completely different background was a new experience for most of us. It was a lot of fun to give back to others and have a little fun of our own while in our nation’s capital.”

McLean is a veteran of the College’s Alternative Spring Break trips, participating in two during his time as a student.

“You get a very tangible sense of personally making an impact,” said McLean of the service-based trips. “You might think to yourself what life might be like on a beach instead, but when you see the gratitude expressed for a project completed, and know that you made a difference, it’s life-changing.”

The latest Alternative Spring Break experience was organized by Break a Difference, which coordinates Alternative Break programs and immersive weeks of service for young adults and students to serve communities by volunteering during school breaks in U.S. cities.

“They organized everything,” he said. “In all, there were 53 participants there during our week, and we all stayed together in one of the Boys and Girls Club facilities. We helped the workers organize their space, including sorting through donated items they hadn’t had a chance to go through. We also did mentoring-type work with the kids, and we put on a college fair to help get them more excited about college, in general.”