The University of Florida's 2004 homecoming queen, Megan Hoot, is no ordinary beauty icon. The pageant, she says, reflects involvement in the community rather than personal attractiveness—something her own accomplishments attest to. "Being an active citizen is what makes a good community function," she says. At 21, this family, youth, and community sciences major is exactly that—an active citizen and a true leader. As president of the Gator Humanics Student Association and the Family, Youth, and Community Sciences club, Hoot also serves as the associate coordinator for Florida Blue Key and is vice president of her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.
Why all the involvement? "Living a life to just benefit yourself doesn't even make sense to me," Hoot says. She cites her upbringing as one of the most influential factors in her career choice to work in the non-profit sector. “Helping a broader range of people is just something I've grown up with,” she says, noting her parents' careers. Her mother directly helps children as a special-education teacher while her father affects many peoples’ lives as an environmental engineer.
During her freshman year in summer 2002, Hoot began to hone her own career interests and skills. She attended the Institute of Philanthropy and Voluntary Service at Indiana University and Purdue University. The six-week residential program for which she was selected based on academic success, involvement in the community, and leadership potential, opened her eyes to how important the non-profit sector is in America. Upon completion of the program, Hoot was then selected as one of 12 students out of 500 to attend the institute's annual conference. "As one of the youngest participants in the program, Megan showed maturity beyond her years," says Shane Goldsmith, director of IPVS. Hoot also later came back to the institute to work as a program assistant. With her amazing people skills, she organized events and took a lead role in advising the IPVS service committee, planning the all-institute service and career day.
After coming back to campus, Hoot realized there wasn't anything at UF that focused on a non-profit career. She then helped found the Gator Humanics chapter and became its first president. The program is an affiliate of American Humanics, a national organization that certifies undergraduates in non-profit management. Under her leadership, Gator Humanics has grown from two members to 165.
In fall 2002, she again put her organizational skills to work. The Kennedy Homes housing project in east Gainesville was in dire need of park restoration. On Make a Difference Day, a national community service observance of local areas that need improvement, more than 600 volunteers renovated the playground, which will benefit more than 400 children who live in the area. Hoot directed the event, organizing volunteer recruitment, food donations, and fund raising. With her guidance, $13,000 was raised for new playground equipment and supplies. "That project was the most defining and rewarding experience of my life," Hoot says. "That change will have long-lasting effects on the lives of those residents."
That fall, she also helped bring the first non-profit minor to UF, which helps students interested in non-profit careers acquire skills in marketing, fund raising, and public relations. She also set guidelines for the FYCS club, requiring that students complete coursework for the minor, attend a national conference, perform at least 300 hours of internship at a pre-approved non-profit organization, and participate in club committees. Since it began three years ago, the club has grown to 355 members. Moreover, students can’t join Gator Humanics without the minor. Hoot truly leaves behind a legacy, as two more minors, called Leadership and National Assistance, will soon become part of Gator Humanics. The minors will further the education of public service students beginning this summer.
Since the non-profit sector is the fastest growing sector in the country, Hoot believes that volunteers are becoming very important. She says that if volunteers could band together with the right resources and training, they could be an empowered force of people. "That's part of my mission in life," she says. "To continue to further that."
Besides volunteering, founding clubs, and directing more than 10 campus organizations, Hoot has been working since fall 2002 as the office manager for the Office of Community Service, where she supervises a staff of 40 students and plans UF events. The office functions as a large volunteer center for Gainesville, coordinating thousands of volunteers and working with 200 agencies. Normally, the office has no permanent support staff. Yet, as Associate Director of Student Activities/Director of Community Service Colette Taylor put it, "there was only one student who could be entrusted with the growth and development of the office." Hoot personally organized the physical space of the office and created operating procedures while she oversaw daily activities. Taylor, who also worked with Hoot to create the interdisciplinary minor, acknowledges Hoot's ability to improve her surroundings. "Megan will leave the University of Florida a little better than she found it," she says. Finally getting more support from the university, the organization will speak at the Center for Leadership and Service, beginning this year.
Even with her busy schedule, Hoot never forgets about the larger community around her. Since fall 2002, she's worked for The Children's Table, a non-profit organization that distributes food to hungry families in Alachua and surrounding Florida counties. Joining three years ago, she helped distribute food to needy families, made Easter eggs for children's organizations, organized bowling tournaments, raised funds for events, and served as a member of the board of directors. She was finally rewarded for her efforts with the Outstanding Volunteer Award by the City of Gainesville for the 2003-2004 school year.
To help facilitate communication between current service leaders, Hoot organized the Florida Civic Engagement Conference. For three days this past March, representatives from different colleges all over the state discussed issues concerning Florida. Hoot was very excited about the event because it was the first of its kind in the state.
All these strides forward have Hoot excited. "Everything I enjoy is about making a real change that leaves something behind for the people who are to come."
Associate Professor and Advisor Dr. Suzanna Smith echoes what Hoot's awards reflect about the student leader. "Megan bridges the divide between community and university students by promoting volunteerism and service learning,” she says. “Students are able to get out there and make a difference for people, develop their practical skills, and increase their awareness of life outside their campus and family home."
Hoot supports herself through scholarships and jobs. Her parents cover any additional expenses.—LH
Contact Hoot at email@example.com.
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