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Children’s Healthcare TRIP Leaders: Karlee Curtis ’22 and Olivia Peplinkski ’23

By Alaina Heenan

Turning Responsibility Into Powerful Service (TRIPS) is “an alternative break service program that gives students the opportunity to put their values, convictions and religious beliefs, into action through service.” ( In other words, TRIPS is a program that gives students the opportunity to perform service regarding a specific social justice issue during winter and spring breaks. Following service opportunities, TRIPS emphasizes how important reflection is to the service experience as it introduces new perspectives and creates a broader understanding of the needs that face the local and national communities. However, following the beginning of the pandemic, TRIPS has had to adapt to the rapidly changing environment to best suit the needs of communities. 

There were three winter breaks TRIPS scheduled this year- Addressing Homeless: Our Nation’s Capital, Children’s Healthcare, and St. Anthony School: Education for the Whole Person. The Children’s Healthcare TRIP was set to travel to Little Rock, Arkansas to volunteer at Arkansas Children’s Hospital for a week. Led by TRIP leaders Karlee Curtis ‘22 and Olivia Peplinski 23, members of the group learned about social justice issues related to healthcare. Karlee and Olivia each led small group meetings and provided TRIP education to their group of five members with each leader traveling independently to Little Rock. However, the service opportunity was canceled due to the omicron variant, and while members did not have the opportunity to learn directly from the service, Karlee and Olivia had already taught their groups so much about what it means to have a positive impact on a community. 

About Karlee Curtis ‘22 and Olivia Peplinski ‘23

Karlee Curtis ‘22 is in her final year here at St. Norbert College, where she is majoring in biology (biomedical sciences) with a minor in Spanish. After she graduates in May, Karlee is going to the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse to study to become a physician’s assistant. Her other campus involvement includes being an academic peer mentor and teacher’s assistant for general biology students and is a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa Honors Society. Karlee is also a certified nursing assistant at a local hospital. 

Olivia Peplinski ‘23 is in her third year here at St. Norbert College, where she is studying biology (biomedical sciences) with a Spanish Language Certificate. She is planning to attend dental school after graduating from SNC. Olivia is very involved on campus as she, in addition to TRIPS, is a member of the pre-health club, biology club, American Medical Student Association (AMSA), is a teacher’s assistant for anatomy and comparative vertebrate anatomy, and researches with Dr. Danka.  

What are your previous experiences with TRIPS? Karlee Curtis ‘22

Karlee’s experience with TRIPS first began her freshman year as a participant at St. Anthony’s School in Milwaukee, which is primarily a low-income, Spanish demographic school. Through the service, Karlee and other members of the group dedicated time to the social justice issue of “Education for the Whole Person.” Through this service opportunity, Karlee and others spent time in a middle school health science classroom where she helped with things like lesson plans and organizing. By the end of the week, Karlee had the opportunity to give her own mini-lesson to the students about the functions of the liver. Karlee also mentioned that her Spanish minor was very helpful during her service because she could translate and interact with the students in ways non-Spanish speakers could not. In fact, the ability to communicate with these students inspired her passion for working with literacy initiatives for bilingual students.

In her second year, Karlee was a leader for the Affordable Housing TRIP. The service opportunity was scheduled to begin on March 13, 2020, but it was canceled due to the novel threat of the pandemic. Unfortunately, this marked the end of Karlee’s second year with the TRIPS program.

In her third year, Karlee was a leader for the Children’s Healthcare TRIP where she led 12 students in the local community. The 12 participants were split into 3 groups of 4 with each group making a 20-minute educational video that was paired with a craft. The video was based on a book that TRIPS members read to the children via videos, then having a fun craft activity that was based on the topic of the book. For example, Karlee’s book was Who was Kobe Bryant? so she and other group members made a basketball craft that could be sent to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. 

In her final year with TRIPS, Karlee led the Children’s Healthcare TRIP again. She and Olivia split this role evenly, each leading a group of 5 others that would travel independently to Arkansas Children’s Hospital to complete service opportunities for a week. However, due to COVID-19, the TRIP was canceled, closing the chapter of Karlee’s TRIPS journey. 

What are your previous experiences with TRIPS? Olivia Peplinski ‘23

Olivia’s TRIPS experience began her freshman year as a participant in the Living Large TRIP which traveled to Cleveland, Ohio. She and other TRIPS participants volunteered at an international organization that houses individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities so that they have a community to live in. In Cleveland, there are 5 or 6 houses with 2-3 people with disabilities that also have live-in caretakers. While volunteering with this organization, St. Norbert TRIPS participants stayed in these houses during their service and rotated through each house so that they had the opportunity to interact with all members of the community in which they were serving. Through this service opportunity, Olivia and other volunteers spent time with the community members, played games, and helped the caretakers with any tasks they needed. Additionally, one night, TRIPS participants and members of the community volunteered at a homeless shelter, giving Olivia and other students the opportunity to build relationships with not only the community they were directly serving but also other community members in the Cleveland area. 

As a junior, Olivia led the Children’s Healthcare TRIP. She was scheduled to be the first TRIP to travel to Little Rock, Arkansas during winter break, however, as previously mentioned, the TRIP was canceled due to COVID-19 which unfortunately ended Olivia’s junior year TRIPS experience. 


When asking Karlee Curtis ‘22 why she decided to join TRIPS as a freshman, Karlee said that “[she] wanted to get involved with an organization that does service. As a freshman, I learned that TRIPS is about action, education, having difficult conversations, and taking a holistic approach. It is more than just volunteering- it is about your place in the world and how you address the issues. I wanted to become a leader because I had such a great experience and I thought I could help facilitate these conversations- I am really passionate about it- and I like leading a group.” 

When asking Olivia Peplinski ‘23 why she decided to join TRIPS as a freshman, Olivia said that “[she] had done quite a bit of service in high school. I wanted to find a club that did organized service in a community that had the resources to do service. As for the Living Large TRIP my freshman year, I always worked with the disabled community in high school and I wanted to continue that. I also have career goals that involve this community. 

I wanted to be a leader because I wanted to be able to facilitate the opportunity to have a good first service experience, and for those that have already had opportunities, to continue it.”

What did the process of becoming a TRIPS leader look like? 

Karlee and Olivia both had similar experiences in becoming a TRIPS leader. First, they applied through a general application and written essays. They then continued onto an interview and, following a strong interview, were offered the position. Both Karlee and Olivia, upon their first time as a leader, were paired with an experienced co-leader that guided them through the process. Every Monday night for roughly 10 weeks the TRIP leaders did 1 hour 15 minute training sessions. Prior to COVID, the training sessions were in person but following the pandemic the training sessions were switched to a hybrid format. During the sessions, topics such as leadership development, crisis management, and social media etiquette were covered such that the leaders had extensive knowledge going into the position. In addition to the sessions, there was a day long workshop for TRIP leaders on campus. All training was led by the TRIP leader trainer- Sloan Wunder ‘22 this year. Following Karlee and Olivia’s first experience as a TRIPS leader, only general written applications are required. 

What are your major takeaways from TRIPS? 

One of the foundational aspects of TRIPS is the ability to reflect on your service experience, thereby taking the important things you learned into everyday life and future service. When asking Karlee Curtis ‘22 what she considers to be the most memorable aspect of her experiences in TRIPS, she said “the importance of adaptability and flexibility- whether you are trying to facilitate a group meeting or something else, you need to pivot. If your trip gets canceled, you need to handle that with grace. Even this year, we learned a lot about taking things with grace and adaptability.” 

Similarly, when asking Olivia Peplinski ‘23 what she considers to be the most memorable aspect of her experiences in TRIPS, especially post-pandemic, she said “one of the largest ones is the importance of combining reflection and education with direct service. While direct service is important, if you don’t educate yourself both prior and after you don’t really know what you are doing for the social justice issue. The reflection allows you to make connections with what you did for the social justice issue and how you can actually help.”

What leadership skills have you learned?

TRIPS also values the experiences that improve leadership skills. When asking Karlee Curtis ‘22 what she will take away as a leader in TRIPS, she said that “TRIPS does a good job of breaking things down. I feel that I have been a natural leader, but the training breaks it down so that I can think about problems more strategically than emotionally. There is more about strategy in leadership than I ever thought.”

Similarly, when asking Olivia Peplinski ‘23 what she will take away as leader in TRIPS, she said that “the specific strengths from the strengths quest [that we took as freshman] told me how to use my strengths to my advantage in leading a group and how those play in.” 

How has TRIPS changed your perspective on social justice? 

Finally, TRIPS would not be TRIPS without broadening the understanding of social justice issues. When asking Karlee Curtis ‘22 what she has learned through her experiences with various social justice issues, she said that “TRIPS has made me realize that you need to go out into the world and really interact with people that are different than yourselves. Different issues, conflicts, and just kind of going out and experiencing things is huge. At the end of the day, social justice is not just merely boots on the ground, it is thinking it through, doing things intentionally, and when everything is said and done you reflect, think critically, and take something with you that you can learn from.” 

Similarly, when asking Olivia Peplinski ‘23 what she has learned through her experiences with the “Living Large” and “Children’s Healthcare” social justice issues, she said that “it has made me realize how important it is to educate yourself, but doing that through conversations with people that face these issues on a daily basis or work with it on a daily basis. You can learn from articles or friends and family, but it is different to learn from someone who specifically faces it. Then take it with you into your daily habits and address specific political issues and how they can harm or help a certain social justice issue.” 

Final Thoughts

As I learned through my interviews with Karlee Curtis ‘22 and Olivia Peplinski ‘23, and as a TRIPS participant myself, helping a community requires much more than simple service. It is the education, reflection, and relationships that you develop along the way that makes a difference in respective social justice issues. Additionally, being an effective leader looks different for everyone, however, there is one common theme that I saw in Karlee and Olivia that made me realize what it takes to be a true leader- passion. Both Karlee and Olivia are very kind and dedicated individuals that have a true passion for helping others, which is a wonderful and contagious trait. On behalf of myself and other members of the Children’s Healthcare TRIP, thank you Karlee Curtis ‘22 and Olivia Peplinski ‘23 for all the time and dedication you put into this experience!

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