University of Cincinnati senior David Watkins might best be known as the student who was forced to evacuate Egypt when his study-abroad plans dovetailed with the Arab Spring uprising. While barricaded in his apartment, he witnessed random acts of kindness by Arab men, strangers to him and his fellow foreign travelers, who promised to protect the students through the tumult.
But that transformative moment, one that led him to return to the Middle East to finish out his educational plans with a stint in Morocco and eventually led him to an internship at the State Department, isn’t the one that he cites when he talks about making an impact in the world.
Watkins, who studies political science and international affairs, now works directly with young people at Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses
, a Cincinnati nonprofit that provides, among many basic amenities to locals in need, after-school educational assistance to students.
With placements from UC’s work study program, students like Watkins work for organizations like Seven Hills. UC’s sponsorship helps augment Seven Hills’ workforce with enthusiastic students who earn while they learn.
“Where I am now, I have a passion for and feel strengthened by human rights,” Watkins says. His future may not be set in stone, but he has learned important lessons to apply as he makes his decisions. “I want to do something that impacts, in a meaningful way, some part of the world -- either on my own, for the government, or what have you.”
Working directly with children is a new experience for Watkins.
“Most of my previous volunteer work was impersonal, like a neighborhood cleanup, or volunteering for the park board,” he says. “When I started at Seven Hills, I thought, ‘Well, this is something I’ve never done before. I don’t have any experience. It’s going to be difficult, I’m going to put myself outside of my comfort zone. Whatever, I’m going to do it.’ ”
Part of each weekday afternoon, Watkins goes to Seven Hills’ main location in Cincinnati’s West End and helps kids as young as five with their homework assignments. In many cases, he is the only figure outside of the classroom who is paying any mind to the young students’ academic progress.
?"There are cases where kids get upset when you don't look over their papers,” Watkins says. “Our involvement encourages them to keep up."
• Answer the Wish List
. From books to clothes to boxing equipment, the Seven Hills wish list is long. Offer what you can to help.
• Check out the photo gallery
. See Seven Hills in action.
• Learn more about the history
. Seven Hills' work in Cincinnati dates back to 1961.
By Sean Peters