Alumni Spotlight: Melissa Lothrop

Home Town: Lakeville, MA
Graduation Year: 2000
Degree: Recreation Management
Job Position: Program Coordinator, Town of Sharon, MA Council on Aging

Please tell us a little bit about what you are doing now.

I work for the Town of Sharon, which is about 22 miles southwest of Boston. I am the Program Coordinator for the Council on Aging. Our department is in a lovely community center which is situated on the shores of Lake Massapoag. I plan and organize activites for the senior population. We offer fitness classes, parties, special events, socials, lectures, bus trips, safety and informational presentations. We also have availability for cards and games, health clinics, SHINE appointments, elder legal clinics, a small library and more. Prior to taking on this role, I had mostly worked for Recreation Departments with the target population being children. I started with the Sharon COA while the COVID pandemic was in full swing. It has been so rewarding working for seniors! It wasn’t even something I saw myself doing until I had an aunt, whom I was very close with, in long term rehabs and assisted living where I saw first-hand how recreation offerings for elders made a different kind of impact on people’s lives. I often hear endearing things like how a program made someone laugh like they hadn’t since being a child or that they had been struggling with depression but an activity they did gave them a boost in happiness. I’ve seen seniors with dementia remember song lyrics and sing along at our Memory Cafe. I work with our senior volunteers that are well into their 80s and 90s and they tell me how the senior center is their second home. I have been inspired by my seniors and learn so much from them.

What is the most valuable thing you learned while at UMM?

The importance of community and that everyone brings something to the table. I think most students, like myself, who came from “away” to study up in Downeast Maine realized quickly that we were in a unique place for college. I learned to work with, study with and live with so many different types of people in such a small community that it gave me a chance to really grow and understand others. The international student program was also very valuable because with such a small campus, I got the chance to meet people from places all around the world like India, England, Ireland, Pakistan and Australia, to name a few. We had such a true camaraderie on our campus.

Do you have any advice for current students at UMaine Machias?

Get involved. No matter what your major is, get involved so you can reach your goals. Being a Rec. major I served in leadership roles for the Outing Club and MRPASS. I was also a member of other clubs and showed up to most campus activities. Utilize your summers to work in your field. Each summer I worked in rec.–as an archery instructor, YMCA camp specialist and at a resort as a rec. intern. Plus, take advantage of Downeast Maine! We were always going hiking on the Cutler Trail, taking canoes out of the sail loft, borrowing cross country skis or snowshoes, walking at Roque Bluffs and Jasper Beach or heading down to Acadia.

How did your time at UMaine Machias prepare you for what you are doing now?

I ended up in Recreation Management because I had always wanted to be a Park Ranger. But while at UMM I learned so much more about where this major could take me, including municipal recreation. Professors Bill Eckart and Rick Scribner always stressed diversity in what we were studying with a hands-on approach and encouraged us to think outside the box. The small class sizes coupled with lakes, rivers, trails and gymnasiums as our classrooms really allowed for authentic learning. We got a chance to DO things. In Scribby’s Outdoor Rec. classes we took turns backing up the trailer of canoes. If a canoe flipped in whitewater (like mine did!), we used the opportunity to practice a z-drag. In Bill’s Leisure Activities class he had us playing the group games and running our own campus-wide events. Haunted Forest, we ran it. State and National conferences, we attended them. I honestly can’t think of any class where we weren’t fully immersed in what we were doing. After graduation, I achieved my goal and I became a Park Ranger for the City of Boston. I moved onto municipal recreation and worked for several communities and I always felt prepared for the challenges of my career because of what I learned at UMM. Even little things, like just a couple weeks ago I played some “minute to win it” style games with my seniors and I smiled when we played “coaster flip” and told them how I learned this one in college and not because it was a drinking game, but in a rec. class! Or how I challenged my bocce guys to list the 4 names of the white ball. And I hope I make Bill Eckart proud by never taking the front parking spots at work.

How has UMM made a positive impact on your life?

I think of UMM often, my time there was special and unique. It helped me reach career goals. It prepared me for grad. school at Springfield College. It was the right school for me and it made me fall in love with Maine! I still head up to Maine every year, now with my family, and the weight of the world is lifted when I arrive.