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York College student dives into major that makes helping people fun

Jacob with ball on basketball court

Jacob Carlson ’22 came to York College of Pennsylvania where the small classes and tightknit community reminded him of his hometown of Downingtown, Pennsylvania. While he knew this was the right place for him, he was still unsure of what he wanted to study. He leaned between Sport Management and Economics, two things he enjoyed in high school, but he realized they weren’t for him.

When he took the Intro to Recreation class and learned about recreational therapy, it was like a light bulb went off. Suddenly, Carlson says, he realized he could take his passion for helping people in fun and engaging ways and turn it into a career.

A heart for helping

Carlson remembers a boy named John from his elementary school years. He didn’t consider it a big deal at the time, but John was in special education classes. Carlson liked to spend extra time with John, and the two became friends.

In high school, Carlson volunteered with HIGH 5 Soccer, where each week he was matched with a special needs partner and helped them through soccer practices. “I never looked at these things in my life and thought it could be my career,” he says. “It was just something I enjoyed doing. I saw how fun and engagement could change someone’s life and make it better.”

In the Recreation and Leisure Administration program at York College, Carlson saw that those volunteer opportunities were more than a chance to have fun. The programs followed specific curriculums and the coordinators had to measure outcomes. There was a lot that went on behind the scenes to plan, implement, and evaluate.

“As I started taking deeper level courses, I realized how much goes into it,” he says. “It’s easy for people to look at it and say, ‘That’s not a very hard job.’ But there’s a lot that goes into it.”

Continuing to serve

Through his course requirements, Carlson still gets to do a lot of volunteer work. He’s spent time with Easterseals, at the Margaret E. Moul Home, and at the nearby Rest Haven Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. While he assists the recreation staff at those facilities, he also must present or write about the experiences. Those reflections give him a deeper understanding of the programs and the outcomes he hopes to achieve.

Carlson also volunteers with Best Buddies, a program that matches people with special needs to a volunteer “buddy.” In addition, Carlson is a peer mentor to a York College student on the autism spectrum. The two frequently eat together in the dining hall, and Carlson looks for opportunities to help him with his studies or in reaching goals.

“It’s easy to go to a lecture, jot down notes, and learn about symptoms of a disability,” Carlson says. “But actually going and putting things into practice or meeting someone with disabilities, you can apply what you learn. York College has given me a lot of opportunities to apply what I’m learning.”

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