By Grace Beckner
Ohana is a new group on campus for students who might feel they are on the fringes of Trevecca’s community.
“International students…come on down!” said Sam Stueckle, professor of mathematics and co-founder of Ohana with his wife Sharon. “People from different religious takes–athiest, pagan, Muslim–I don’t care, all of those are not in the mainstream of Trevecca. People who are struggling with their gender identity or their sexual identity, people who don’t have friends here.”
Stuekle said the group happened organically over the course of the semester, as he was in discussion with students and in a discernment process with his pastor at Trevecca Community Church.
“We had been working through this whole idea for the last several years and trying to figure out a way we could love kids here,” said Stueckle.
The purpose of Ohana is “to provide a place where people who may not feel a part of the Trevecca culture can feel like they can build a community and be loved,” said Stueckle.
The group meets every week in the pavilion near the counseling center on Wednesday nights from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., or whenever Stueckle and his wife have to go home.
Stueckle said Ohana is not meant to be a Bible study or a small group by a church’s definition. He would like there to be some formal time built in for discussion driven by student interest, but for the most part he wants to provide a space for students to build relationships.
“[Ohana] doesn’t seem to fit standard categories,” said Stueckle. “I can tell you a lot of things it is not, but it is a place to come and feel like you are loved and develop a sense of community.”
Savannah Posner, a freshman computer science major who attends the group meetings said it is for those who differ from the Trevecca stereotype.
“[Stueckle] told me he was looking to create a group for people who differed from what the stereotypical Trevecca student looks like,” said Posner. “And I agreed with him, I thought that was an amazing idea.”
Posner felt drawn to Ohana because she saw a lot of pain on campus.
“I really just wanted to help. I saw a lot of people feeling left out and unloved, and in a place of frustration,” said Posner. “This really seemed like a good way to provide something that could actually be beneficial to people.”
Stueckle said the name for the group came from the Disney movie “Lilo and Stitch,” where the characters define Ohana as family, “and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.”
Stueckle said the more his wife researched the word, the more he felt it fit the vision for the community group.
“My wife looked up a definition for ‘Ohana,’ because it really is a Hawaiian practice,” said Stueckle. “The whole sense of a constructed family, broader than biological family, where people care for each other and are bonded to each other and build each other up.”
Posner said the first time she attended an Ohana event, it seemed like a place where students were able to relax, have fun and enjoy other people.
“You are able to get to know other people really well, and to see a lot of really great things about other people,” said Posner. “Everyone does seem really comfortable with each other.”
Shawna Songer Gaines is the lead pastor of Trevecca Community Church, where Stueckle attends. The Ohana group is affiliated with TCC, meaning it is not associated with the university.
“This allows me to sort of step away from my role as a professor and be in a different sort of relationship with students here,” said Stueckle.
Songer Gaines said her church hosted an eight-week discernment group last spring over Zoom for those who “felt like God might be stirring something in them, calling them to something specific, but they didn’t know what.”
Stueckle was one of these participants.
“Over that time, it just became really clear that Sam and Sharon both were feeling that God was calling them to something working with students on campus, so it was pretty exciting to walk through that with them,” said Songer Gaines.
Songer Gaines was Trevecca’s chaplain from Aug. 2016 to Dec. 2019, and said it was hard for her to reach students who felt they had been marginalized by religious groups, but mentorship from people like Stueckle can go a long way in impacting these students’ lives.
“When I was chaplain, I knew there was always a group of students I was not going to be the one that they came to with their deep spiritual questions, typically the students that want to come and talk with the chaplain already have a significant faith background and feel really welcome in the church,” said Songer Gaines. “There is a need for mentorship, to have older people who have been following Jesus for a long time in [students’] lives to love on them. I think that’s the space Sam and Sharon are really meeting.”
Posner has noticed her friend and other students who have gone to Ohana leaving feeling both relieved and excited to have this community available to them.
“I think there are a lot of people who are in a state of anxiety a lot of the time on campus, and I think they are able to let that go when they come,” said Posner. “I think that is a beautiful thing about Ohana.”
For more information on meeting dates and times, visit Ohana’s Instagram page @ohanatcc.