From the day he was born, David Dodge, a junior English major, has not been able to see out of his left eye. However, he's never let his disability stop him from achieving his goals and helping others.
"I'm completely blind [in my left eye]…I don't know what happened. It's one of those things that [doctors] don't have enough information on," Dodge said. "[In school] I think it was very awkward, when people realized that I couldn't see."
Dodge felt that most of these situations stemmed from a lack of communication between him and his classmates because people didn't feel comfortable asking questions about it, and thus, didn't understand his condition very well.
Most people with disabilities go through denial at some point, according to Dodge. Once he began to come to terms with his handicap, he began to change as a person.
"[As a child] I was nothing like I am now. I wasn't very talkative, I wasn't social and I [only] had a few close-knit friends," Dodge said. "It wasn't until high school that I realized [that] I had to deal with [my handicap] for the rest of my life. That's when I started to come out of my shell."
Dodge is from a place where, according to him, there are more cows than people and everybody knows each other, so everything was safe. He grew up in LeRoy, New York, about 45 minutes east of Buffalo.
"I sort of had a typical [old-school] childhood," Dodge said. "Like, before computers started to kick off and just before cell phones. [We'd] actually talk to each other and [we] went outside to play…there wasn't even a focus on video games."
Dodge has come a long way since then. He is now a student leader.
He is the former president of Student Government Life at Genessee Community College (GCC) and is the founder of UB's Alternative Break program.
The Alternative Break program is something that Dodge partook in at GCC. It is a program in which students can spend their vacations in places where they can engage in community service.
After transferring to UB, Dodge looked for ways to get involved. He saw the potential for the program to develop into something much larger.
"I founded this organization [here] to help people who were down on their luck," Dodge said. "We were able to expand on it [at UB] because UB has so many more [resources than GCC]."
Dodge hopes to not only lead these kinds of trips, but also to educate others about the severity of situations like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
"It was clear from my first meeting with David that he was extremely passionate about the work that still needed to be done in New Orleans, as he had been down there several times previously with Genesee Community College and on his own accord," said Amy B. Wilson, Ph.D., associate director of UB's Center for Student Leadership & Community Engagement (CSLCE). "David, in many ways, exemplifies leadership as we teach it here in the CSLCE. He identified a problem and he is doing all that he can do to a make a positive difference."
It was harder to adjust to the leadership role at UB, given the school's size. With over 25,000 students, UB's population is roughly four times greater than GCC's.
Dodge turned his humanistic ideas into a proposal and used the leadership office to turn it into a full program. Since then, he has made five trips down to the South in order to help those that still suffer from the aftermaths of tragedy.
"David had a lot of ideas and he came in very organized with a budget [of] how he was intending on paying for it," said Terri Budek, the community engagement coordinator of CSLCE. "[He knew] how much students would have to pay to cover their share of the cost. It was great to have somebody to motivate us."
With academics and leadership on his plate, Dodge explains that time management plays a crucial role in his life. While he claims to be good at time management, he admits he had some trouble adjusting in the past.
"Back in GCC there was an event we put a lot of time into. I sort of skipped class [to attend this event] and that was not a wise decision," Dodge said. "I came around to realize that academics come first and everything else is secondary."
According to Dodge, the struggle that his family went through when he was younger inspires him to do the best that he can. Neither of his parents went to college, and while his family was never poor, they weren't well off with money, either.
Dodge doesn't know what he would be doing if he wasn't in college, because getting his degree and participating in all the things he's doing now is what he enjoys the most.
"I know it sounds corny, but I really love my life and can't imagine [it] any other way than it is now," Dodge said.
His family members are both supportive of his ambitions and proud of his accomplishments.
"We're proud of him considering his handicap. A lot of kids don't have that determination," said Lloyd Dodge, Dodge's uncle. "He's never mentioned it to be a drawback because he did have what he needed [in order] to do well in school. He's always [done well]."
The Dodge family has get-togethers about once a month in Dodge's hometown. Lloyd said that they serve as a way to strengthen the family bond and share stories and experiences.
Dodge attributes his success to his family. They set the bar higher for him than they did for themselves, according to Dodge. Ever since he was in high school, simply doing ‘good enough' was not acceptable. That's what has inspired him to accomplish all that he sets out to do.
Dodge said that the best thing about being a leader and helping others is the satisfaction of knowing he's succeeded.
"If I had to use just one word [I'd say] ‘rewarding,'" Dodge said. "It's rewarding because [I'm] doing this without any credit or internships, and to have [my] ideas come to life and have others see it for what [I] want it to be, it is just that – rewarding."