As a high school student, Meera Dhodapkar ‘19 competed for Team USA in synchronized skating and taught skating to younger kids. When she arrived at UChicago and spotted the boards of the ice rink on the Midway Plaisance, she saw a way to connect with her new community.
“There are huge benefits in learning how to persevere through challenges. Every time you get on the ice, trip on your toe pick, and take a nosedive, that’s a learning experience. The ability to take a hit but also learn from it is one of the most important things I’ve learned from the sport — and it’s a skill I want to pass on to kids through ChicaGO!”
Dhodapkar came up with the idea for ChicaGO! — a program that introduces children to skating, promotes an active lifestyle, and cultivates good sportsmanship — during the UChicago Leads pre-orientation program that helps develop University students as leaders on campus and in the community. To make sure that ChicaGO! is accessible to everyone, she worked with the Office of Civic Engagement to write grant proposals and build partnerships with local organizations so that skate rental and rink admission are free for participating kids. That’s important because skating “can be very expensive,” she says; “even paying to rent skates once a week can be a financial burden.”
More than 120 kids from schools near the University now participate in ChicaGO! each winter, learning the basics of skating from Dhodapkar and other UChicago student volunteer instructors. And she’s looking to add more to the curriculum: A biology and public policy major with an interest in public health and urban health disparities, she’s pursuing grant funding to incorporate health and nutrition education into the program.