Week of service, advocacy in D.C. inspires student leader
“Sometimes you do things that make you step outside your comfort zone, and they can lead to great experiences.”
That’s one of Kristin Wyninegar’s takeaways when she reflects on her growth over the last few years – and on a recent all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C.
The University of Missouri–St. Louis junior was one of 25 U.S. college women selected to spend a week volunteering, advocating and learning in the nation’s capital over spring break. Marking her first excursion beyond Missouri and Illinois, Wyninegar felt a little nervous as an airport newbie.
“I just wanted to get on the plane and go,” she said.
And go she did, making the most of the United Way-sponsored effort, which focused on issues such as human trafficking, women’s leadership and public health. But three years ago, as a first-year student at UMSL, Wyninegar would not have envisioned it.
“During my freshman year, I didn’t do anything,” she said, describing a general lack of engagement at the time. “It’s kind of crazy to look back.”
Currently a mentor to her peers, student representative at UMSL and dedicated volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters, she credits a few mentors of her own for triggering the change in her perspective.
One of those people was an older student who pushed Wyninegar to get involved with UMSL Students of Service early on. The shy freshman who initially dragged her feet now heads up the community-service-driven student organization on campus.
“If you just make the time, it’s worth it,” she said of her service-oriented efforts, which were also central to the D.C. experience this spring.
United Way sent Wyninegar and the other students on the trip to various locations on Capitol Hill and throughout the surrounding region each day. She spent several afternoons with kids at a community resource center for women and young children.
“One day when we were there we got to help them make salsa,” Wyninegar said, adding that the experiences were fun but sobering at times. “We were in the heart of poverty.”
Two other service projects during the week involved organizing a food pantry’s stock room and a transitional housing center’s supplies of infant clothing.
“I was just so inspired the entire week,” Wyninegar said. “Being around people who want to make a difference inspires you to make a difference.”
The trip also provided opportunities for informal conversation with legislators and other movers and shakers on Capitol Hill. U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, who represents the 3rd Congressional District of Missouri, including Wyninegar’s hometown of St. Charles, discussed an issue that was dominating headlines during the students’ visit.
“We got to talk to him about the anti-trafficking legislation, which was still stuck in the House that week,” Wyninegar said. “It was really cool just to have that impact.”
She also met with people who work closely with U.S. Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill.
“Both of the staffers that I talked to were really interested to hear my opinion on things,” Wyninegar said. She came home eager to follow current events and also struck by “all the different areas that women are underrepresented in.”
Back at UMSL, Wyninegar has been busy campaigning for vice president of the Student Government Association and pursuing her degree in communication. She is also a 2015 Shear Fellow for the 21st Century Leadership Academy.
On May 1, UMSL will honor her with a Distinguished Service Award at the 39th Chancellor’s Report to the Community.
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