Brook Dambacher skipped a spring break trip to Cancun, deciding instead to spend six days with a church group lending a hand in an impoverished rural area of Arkansas. She volunteered in a school and in a hospital and helped paint and repair residents' homes.
She also connected to some of the people in a way she didn't anticipate.
Her moving 1,400-word essay describing that spring break garnered top honors in the third annual essay contest on citizenship sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies. Dambacher, 21, a history and philosophy major at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., won $2,000.
Dambacher received a certificate and check during a presentation ceremony in San Diego, Calif., on Sunday, April 2, at the annual meeting of the American Society for Public Administration, a 10,000-member group of academics and practitioners of public policy. Second- and third-place prizes were also awarded.
A year ago, Dambacher had made plans to go to Cancun with her friend, Erin. But a campus ministries flier caught her attention. She opted for the service trip rather than the tan.
"Erin went to Cancun," Dambacher later wrote. "I went to McGehee, Ark. Erin got a tan. I got hope for the human race."
Dambacher, who is from Hampshire, Ill., will graduate next month and plans to use the $2,000 to help pay for law school in the fall.
Second place in the essay contest went to Aaron Lefkovitz, a student at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., who won $1,500. Third place went to Christie Shannon, a philosophy major at North Central College in Lisle, Ill., who won $1,000.