For Marge Lobeck '15, community engagement has led to a series of “aha moments.” The first came when she volunteered as a tutor in high school. The most recent happened at the camp she helped establish to support children of parents with cancer.
“A mom came up to me on the last day as all the campers were about to leave and said, ‘I haven’t seen my daughter this happy since her father passed away two years ago. Thank you.’ That was the moment I knew. I knew all the little details that I had stress dreams over and all the times I cried out of sheer exhaustion were worth it,” Lobeck wrote in an essay.
For all the service work that she has done with Camp Kesem and countless other organizations throughout the years, Lobeck will be awarded the 2015 James Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership at the William & Mary Charter Day ceremony Feb. 6. The prize is presented annually on Charter Day to a William & Mary student who “has demonstrated sustained leadership of an unusual quality, leadership combined with initiative, character and an unfailing commitment to leveraging the assets of the College community to address the needs of our society.”
A native of Minnesota, Lobeck began her service work at William & Mary in the Sharpe Community Scholars Program, which gives first-year students a chance to combine academics and community engagement. Since then, she has volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters and Dream Catchers Therapeutic Riding Center, interned with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, led the AIDS Tanzania alternative break trip, and worked in a Cape Town, South Africa school, revamping its art program and painting a mural meant to inspire students.
Lobeck, a literary and cultural studies major, is currently the student director for Branch Out International, where she oversees the trip leaders for all of William & Mary’s international alternative breaks. However, Lobeck’s main focus remains Camp Kesem.
Lobeck became interested in Camp Kesem through her brother, who had volunteered as a counselor with the national organization. Lobeck applied for a grant during her sophomore year to establish a chapter at William & Mary and worked throughout her junior year to prepare for the first camp, which took place last summer at Jamestown 4-H Educational Center. It was an experience that Lobeck will never forget.
“I was at camp, and I was watching our 9- to 12-year-olds playing, and they just looked so happy,” she said. “You could see it in their eyes. As much as camp is a place where you can grieve, that’s not the point. It is so they can be happy again and find that childhood that a lot of us take for granted.
“I was standing there and I was watching them, and I started crying. I literally cried every day at camp, but it wasn’t because I was sad for them or felt sorry for them or because their parents had cancer, but because they were so happy and they finally found that place where they fit in. That was something that was indescribable to me.”
Lobeck found herself again on the verge of tears when she found out that she would be receiving this year’s Monroe Prize, she said.
“I would honestly dedicate it to everyone who has ever helped me to do anything I’ve done,” Lobeck said. “It was a nice reminder that the work that I’m doing is useful and important.”
Lobeck said that William & Mary sets students up for success by providing them leadership opportunities as freshmen and sophomores.
“That’s very, very special that I have been able to foster these skills that most people don’t have by junior year at other colleges,” she said.
William & Mary’s community has also been key to her success, she noted.
“It’s because of the support of others that I’ve been successful, so having that community of people who will rally behind you is incredible.”
All of her experiences throughout the years have changed how Lobeck views service, she said.
“I see it as a mutually beneficial relationship,” Lobeck said. “I have gained so much more than I could have ever asked for from everything I’ve been involved in.”
Lobeck hopes to use that experience to pursue a career in service where she can help people find the empowerment that she’s found.
“After years of getting involved in differing ways, what I really want is to provide people with the tools and resources to feel empowered,” she wrote in her essay.
“I work day and night with the hope that my peers and others will have that ‘aha’ moment to become part of something far greater than themselves – the chance to see that community engagement isn’t something that has to be boisterous or even time-consuming, but rather that everyone has been given strengths to improve the community around them.”