Being in college is a time-consuming affair. With classes, homework, extra-curricular and social activities to balance, the hours in the day go by fast! But Samantha Marks (she goes by “Sammie”), a junior and Hillel co-president at University of Iowa, also makes plenty of time for service and volunteering.
Sammie spoke with Repair the World about moving from Los Angeles to Iowa in high school – and how service helped her connect and build community in her new home – bringing a fund-raising dance marathon to campus, and how her parents and grandparents served as her service role models.
Tell me about your background with service?
My love for volunteering started very young. It was something built into my life by my parents and grandparents. My mom’s parents spent the later part of their lives helping develop Chabads in the San Fernando Valley, and my dad’s parents were active in the Civil Rights movement. My mom was also a believer in the idea that even if you couldn’t donate money, you could and should always donate your time. That idea really stuck with me. Learning those things about my family helped me root my own love of volunteering.
What types of volunteering did you do growing up?
I went to a Jewish day school from nursery school through 8th grade, and every Hanukkah we would raise money for Chai Lifeline, which supports children with life-threatening illnesses. In high school my family moved to Iowa City. At first I was unused to being in such a small Jewish community and unsure how to get involved. But luckily, my high school is the kind of place where everyone is involved in something. I was on the student senate, and got involved with our school’s volunteer club. I also initiated my high school’s involvement with the University of Iowa’s dance marathon. Now that I’m in college, I’ve continued being involved with the marathon every year.
What is a dance marathon?
It’s a day-long event meant to show support and raise awareness for kids with cancer. People sign up to raise money and dance for 24 hours straight. That means 24-hours on your feet with no sleep and no caffeine. The University of Iowa’s marathon is the only one in the nation that makes a direct connection with specific families. We represent 700 families in the area that have lost children and want to celebrate the life of their kids, or have sick children in the hospital. I get involved every year and have taken on leadership positions as a morale captain. Now I’m on the development committee, and I help plan shorter, mini-marathons in preschools, middle schools and high schools.
Why did you feel compelled to get involved with the dance marathon?
For me it was a no-brainer. My dad has pulmonary fibrosis and I wanted to be a doctor growing up. My respect for medicine and doctors is huge. And because of my Jewish background, the idea of giving back and helping change people’s days for the better is a given. As a college student, it’s incredibly humbling to be involved in something like this.
You are also involved on campus with Hillel, right?
Yes, I’m one of the co-presidents. We are in a rebuilding year, but we do have a tikkun olam committee. At the beginning of the year for welcome week, Hillel had an event where participants baked cookies for the Ronald McDonald House. There were about 15 participants and they made 150 cookies. That was great, but I’m one of those people who likes to reach for the stars. We have 800 Jewish students on campus, and my goal is to get many more people involved.