By Jackie Moynihan and Lisa Whittaker
Each May, Youthlinc honors outstanding, service-driven high school and college students with the Utah Young Humanitarian Award (YHA) scholarship. With the awarding of our 2020 scholarship winners right around the corner, we decided to check in with our 2012 YHA winner, Lisa Whittaker to see where she is now and how service has made a difference in her life.
Where are you now? What do you do now?
My husband and I just moved back from the D.C. Metro area to Salt Lake City, and we are ecstatic to be back near family and the beautiful mountains! I have been teaching 8th grade English Language Arts and Social Studies at the Madeleine Choir School this year, and it has been an incredible community of which to be a part. Transitioning to online teaching has been difficult – I miss my students and colleagues immensely – but I am thankful we all have the opportunity to be home and safe. Perhaps the most exciting bit of news is that we are expecting our first baby in June!
How has service continued to impact your life and your career choices?
Service will always be an integral part of my life because I truly believe it is the most beautiful way to live a life. For me, teaching is a career that involves service each and every day. Just like service, teaching is rewarding in ways that are not always visible at a cursory glance. For example, while distributing food at a shelter may not seem deeply meaningful, it might just change a life. The receiver might eat the only meal he or she gets that day, physically nourishing his or her body. Conversely, the giver might realize the gift of three meals a day, or have his or her eyes opened to the amount of food waste that exists in our country. While the action of offering a sandwich is not in and of itself profound, the impact has infinite potential to be just that. Teaching is the same way. The mundane repetition of lesson planning, teaching, and assessing is always peppered with moments of beauty and growth. I never know as a teacher when a student is going to come looking for comfort, counsel, or support. Likewise, I never know when a student may say or do something that changes my life. This is, for me, what a life lived in service provides an individual; a life that is lived in a mutually beneficial cycle of selflessness, beauty, and support. This is why I will always keep service at the center of my life.
How has service continued to play a role in your life? Are you still actively participating in community service?
As aforementioned, I believe service is a daily part of teaching. In addition to that, though, while teaching in DC during the past four years, I participated in a number of service opportunities through the school. I served dinner regularly at Christ House Soup Kitchen in Alexandria, VA and chaperoned an annual trip to Camden, New Jersey where the students and I ministered to at-risk youth populations and helped clean and serve dinner at a night shelter for the homeless of the city. Now that we are back in Utah, I am excited to continue to serve here.
Why would you encourage young people to serve?
Service is without a doubt the best way to get out of your comfort zone and see your community and the world for the diverse and wonderful places that they are. We live in a society that often encourages (dare I say it) narcissism and cynicism over selflessness and hope. Service works directly against those trends. Serving our communities helps us to be selfless instead of selfish, and to see hope where others see despair. It helps us see the similarities we all share rather than the differences. When we recognize that we have things in common with the marginalized, it is harder to hate, fear, or stereotype (or to allow those things to happen, for that matter.) Service, then, is a self-perpetuating circle of goodness. It immensely benefits not just those who are served, but also those who do the serving. Who wouldn’t want that to be a part of their lives?!