OPINION: How I found the love of my life at UP

Don’t roll your eyes — it’s about a club, not a boy

By Maria Smith | April 19, 2023 12:30pm

Photo courtesy of Maria Smith.

It started at the activities fair freshman year. I walked table after table, averting eye contact and picking at my cuticles until they were red. This was my opportunity to find where I belonged at this University, and that pressure was suffocating.

‘I need to find a club. I need to make friends,’ chanted in my head as I snaked the aisles. ‘I have to try everything.’ By the time I made it back to the entrance of Beauchamp, I had signed up for over 20 clubs — half of them I couldn't even say what they did. But hey, at least I tried and got free candy in the process.

As I was heading toward the exit, I noticed a group of students crowding around a table. I inched my way through the crowd to see what the commotion was about, and to my disbelief, I saw Cinderella, live and in person.

She was standing in front of a booth with a cloud of joyous students around her. Her sparkly blue dress, slick glass slippers, and the radiant smile aimed at me, reminding myself of when I was five years old, begging my mom to buy me a Cinderella costume for Halloween.

I was entranced, I wanted to get to know her, I wanted to ask why she was at the UP gymnasium, but atlas my shock kept my feet firmly in place. As my inner child basked in Cinderella's radiance, a superhero approached my left side. Not even a foot away from me stood Captain America, who told me that this was a UP club called A Moment of Magic — a fitting name for how I felt in this instance.

I suddenly realized this was the spark I had been looking for among the sea of potential matches. As I approached the table to learn more about this club, I felt like a kid in line about to meet my heroes. But upon arrival, I soon realized this organization is a million times better than any trip to Disney World could ever be.

Often abbreviated to AMoM, A Moment of Magic is a national, nonprofit foundation, and to be a part of the club means you get to go on visits with children in need. Pediatric cancer is where the club started, but now AMoM serves children facing poverty, neglect, displacement, and many more situations that threaten the child’s well being. To fulfill the AMoM mission of allowing a kid to be a kid again during a time of great hardship, many club members decide to dress up as Disney characters when they go on visits, accompanied by several other volunteers called Magic Makers who are not in costume.

Whether it is at Shriner’s Children Hospital, the Portland Pediatric Congenital Heart Walk, or a Make-A-Wish visit at a child’s home, AMoM is there so that the child can forget about their treatment. Instead of feeling like a patient, they can finally be kids again, and in the process meet their real-life superheroes — and princesses, jedis, villains, sidekicks and about a couple hundred more characters AMoM has to offer.

Now, four years later, I am currently the president of the University of Portland A Moment of Magic Foundation, and I am in charge of all foundation programming for the state of Oregon. This means that from situations as small as Han Solo’s boots arriving in a size too small to a six year-old receiving chemotherapy in Medford that needs Captain Marvel to sit with him so he isn’t afraid, my work helps create a moment of magic for a child in need.

What I get to do with AMoM has changed my life, and I don't mean that in a coming-of-age way, or well, maybe I do. Despite the corniness tied with that phrase, I have left this club a different person than I was coming in.

I didn't know where I belonged in the world as a 19-year-old, but AMoM has taught me that nonprofit work will be in my life forever and it has equipped me with practical skills for my future.​​ ​​There is truly nothing better than putting a smile on the faces of families going through unimaginable pain and uncertainty, and doing it with like-minded volunteer college students is incredibly special.

The community has been one of the best parts of being in AMoM. My best friend works with me on the executive board, and every day we walk home from school together and discuss ways to improve the organization. There is indeed a place for everyone in AMoM, and I am very grateful I was able to find mine.

As a graduating senior reflecting on my time at UP, I know my college experience could not be described without mentioning the moments of magic I have been able to create, specifically the ones on campus. 

Running my first activities fair was an experience like none other. As a freshman, I never would have thought I’d be the one convincing students to join my club, but there I found myself, out on the grassy quad surrounded by a sea of new students.

I wasn’t sure what to do; I remember being stuck trying to figure out what would make my table look the best or what would make people want to join my club over others. In a fit of nerves, I went on a walk to see what the other clubs were doing, and on that walk, I remembered what the activities fair is all about. 

This time, as I snaked up and down the aisles, I only saw students sharing with each other what they love most about UP. The passion, creativity and unwavering dedication to creating a club that others would want to join was inspiring.

I made my way back to my table, looked left and right to my classmates that were running tables of their own, and as the first bright-eyed freshman approached me, I said, ‘I love AMoM and I love this campus for loving AMoM too. Maybe if you give it a try, you’ll find a lot more than just a great club to join, maybe you too could find something to love.’

Maria Smith is a senior at the University of Portland. She can be reached at smithm23@up.edu.

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