With Love, Athens Alumni

Photo provided by Mikayla Zernic

Photo provided by Mikayla Zernic

Grace Dearing

When the Ohio University alumni chapter in Denver found themselves without a president between 2015 to 2017, Mikayla Zernic was eager to take over and rebuild the chapter. Zernic has spent her first year as president planning events for alumni in Denver with a goal to create a space in Colorado that shares the same sense of community she felt during her time in Athens. Camisha Lashbrook, volunteer chair, says volunteering was first on the chapter’s agenda. Most recently, the chapter volunteered to support The World Needs More Love Letters, an international organization founded by Hannah Brencher that is dedicated to delivering handwritten letters to people who need to be reminded that they matter. On Aug. 1, about 15 OU alumni wrote nearly 100 letters to strangers.

How did you first hear of More Love Letters?

Zernic: My friend who actually went to Gilmore up in Cleveland–I’m from Cleveland and we met out here just being from Cleveland–she does all of their social media as a volunteer position… I knew about it through that and it was easy to set up. It’s really awesome what they stand for and what they do to help others.

What made you decide to get the alumni chapter involved?

Zernic: We try to do different types of events. We do have a lot of Scripps folks out here, including myself, so [we do like] writing and being creative, but also giving back to the community was really neat to see.

What was the process of organizing the More Love Letters event?

Lashbrook: Each month, More Love Letters selects five or six people whose stories have been submitted by friends or family members to receive their love letters. All you have to do is get people together, bring paper and decorating supplies, read their stories and then write letters to them. We had about 15 people come, quite a few people who were new to the group, a few who come to every event and then most of the board, and we actually got rained out of the park where we were supposed to be having it. A ton of people showed up and it just started pouring raining so we ran to one of our board member’s houses and people still showed up. People still kept coming even though there were downed trees in the neighborhood. [Zernic] bought a bunch of decorating supplies and everyone just kind of read the stories and shared their own stories and their own perspective of what that person was going through, and then we wrote a bunch of notes to leave around Denver for people to find with encouraging phrases.

What impact were you hoping to make by getting the OU alumni involved?

Zernic: The Bobcat community is huge. You feel it when you step on those bricks the first time you visit, and that was something I didn’t really have my freshman year. So it’s always been at the back of my mind, being a community and giving back. It’s not always about just focusing on yourself and getting your grades and getting your degree, you have to make your impact while you’re there… Bringing that kind of ‘bricks’ feel to Denver is really where the board and I wanted to take some of these events. We didn’t just want it to be ‘yeah, let’s get beers at a bar and watch a football game.’ Don’t get me wrong, we like that too, but I think being able to come full circle and make an impact so far away from our home on the bricks was really our goal with these volunteer events, by being able to give back to the community here.

Lashbrook: I think that being an alumni chapter, giving back to your community is interesting because you’re giving back to your Denver community. You’re giving back to people who aren’t Bobcats, who aren’t from Ohio, who don’t have any relation to the university, so I think it’s really cool that the university wants to promote volunteering that affects everyone, not just OU… We sent letters as far as Spain, so having that impact not just in the Denver community, which feels really powerful coming from Athens, but having that impact across the world was really fantastic, that felt really good. It was such a simple thing to do and to know that it would be so meaningful for these individuals really felt like it made a perfect fit.

In your opinion, why do you think More Love Letters has had such a profound impact nationally?

Zernic: I think overall just [Brencher’s] positive impact and helping others be uplifted and showing how many people care about them, whether they know them or not, that they matter and it’s going to get better… Mental health is a real thing so I think spreading that message, she’s been very effective with that by being able to reach several different audiences and being able to help people with that by doing this kind of letter activity.