Betty McDonald Pre-Med Institute

Giving Back is all in the Journey

Dec 31, 2013

When you go out to try something new, you can never be sure where it will lead you. That’s the message that Johnny Oh, director of the Betty McDonald Pre-Med Institute at SUU has discovered through teaching his weekly Taekwondo class. “I started the class with the idea of giving back to the community,” says Oh. “I had no idea what would come from it or if it would catch on.”

The basic premise of the class was simple; use a skill you already possess to give back to the community in a new and creative way. In this case, the skill was Johnny’s forth level black belt in taekwondo, and the recipient of the “giving back” was Cedar City’s Canyon Creek Women’s Crisis Center. “The center helped a friend of mine when she was going through a very difficult time,” says Oh. “I was so grateful for the support they gave her. I wanted to find a way to say thanks.”

So far, Oh’s thanks has added up to $10,000 donated to the crisis center. This donation is the accumulation of almost 2 years of taekwondo student class fees, 100% percent of which go to the center. “It’s something anyone can do,” Oh advises. “If you have an idea that can help your community, just do it. Don’t worry about knowing exactly where your ideas will lead. You’ll figure that out as you go along.”

It does all seem to be a process of discovery and growth. The class that started small has expanded to 25 regular students that actively participate in local demonstrations and events. Many of the student’s parents are active participants as well, some of them as members of the taekwondo committee Oh formed to help extend awareness of the class to the general public. “You start with an idea and figure out how to make it work. If you’re passionate about it, you will gather the help of others with the same vision. It becomes larger than you ever would have guessed,” he says.

This month, Cedar City got a chance to see just how big things had become. The taekwondo class's $10,000 donation celebration happened on December 18 at the Community Center. In attendance were officials from the Canyon Creek Women's Crisis Center, mayor elect Maile Wilson, and dozens of exuberant supporters. A table of donated Christmas gifts stood by, ready to be wrapped and donated to the children at the center. A story on the event was even broadcast over the KSL news channel.

And if you’re a student aiming to get into a medical or health school, like the students Oh mentors through his position in the Pre-Med Institute, there is an addition benefit. “This is what medical schools look for,” He says. “The students who get accepted are those that stand out because of their interest in the well-being of others. They are those interested in leaving a legacy. "While it's easy to see the good that comes out of an effort like this, Oh points out that getting involved and making a difference is something that will help the person who is serving as much as it helps the person being served. “Doing things for others teaches leadership and social responsibility. It helps you learn to love those around you. Above all, it makes you happy.”

And, if our local Iron Fist Taekwondo class is any example, following the path to that legacy can lead you places you would have never guessed. The important thing is that you take that first step.

-By David Cowley