By Alexandra Marquez
For The Diamondback
Delahna Semwanga practiced step dancing throughout elementary school, but neither her middle school or high school offered the modernized form of traditional African dance.
Thanks to Students Toward Educational Progress and Philanthropy, or STEPP, a step and community service organization at the University of Maryland, Semwanga has been able to rejoin the dance she loved to do years ago.
“I joined the step team in elementary school, so kind of a long time ago,” said Semwanga, a sophomore international business major and one of two new students who tried out for STEPP on Thursday. “I kind of wanted to try it out again and see if it’s as fun as I remember.”
The group, founded at this university in 2010, aims to unify their members through philanthropy work and step. Typically, the group recruits two or three new members in the spring, and about five to eight in the fall, said Sydney Hart, the group’s public relations chair.
The other new STEPP member, Yemi Djayeola, a freshman criminology and criminal justice major, stepped in high school and wanted to get involved with a step team at this university.
“I did step my junior and senior year, and I honestly just wanted to do it here because I loved it so much and wanted to continue it in college,” she said.
STEPP President Maiya Forrest said the group plans to continue their philanthropy work by doing two to three charitable events a month this semester.
“UMD is really community service-oriented, and we try to help our members, especially our younger members, branch out and try to do good on campus,” said Cherokee Boddy, STEPP’s vice president.
Previously, the group has assembled meal packs for the homeless with Terps Against Hunger, a student group that fights food insecurity and taught step to K-12 students in the area with Freedom School, an academic mentorship program on campus.
They have also partnered with the Silver Spring-based anti-poverty non-profit A Wider Circle to distribute feminine hygiene products to women in shelters, as well as to teach step to young students in area K-12 schools said, Forrest, a senior family science major.
“Our service is normally geared toward what our members are interested in,” said Boddy, a junior communication major. “One of our members was very passionate about doing things for the betterment of women, especially women who suffer from homelessness or domestic violence, so we partnered with A Wider Circle to do that drive.”
Djayeola said her high school step team also did philanthropy, something she wanted to continue at this university.
“It’s always nice to give back and have fun, so that’s kind of why I’m joining as well,” she said.
When the team isn’t packing lunches or handing out hygiene products, it practices its step routine.
“We use it as a means to inspire certain values in our members,” Boddy said. “So discipline, dedication, and with being on a team, of course you need to have time management, you need to know your stuff.” Boddy said.
The group, which consists of about 30 people, normally meets twice a week for what several group members called a big family gathering.
“I had never stepped before, so this was something new to me,” said junior Ashley Edwards, the group’s community service chair. “I didn’t know I was going to gain the big family component. That was just a plus, I wasn’t even expecting that.”
Each semester, the STEPP family grows a little more as friends of current members are encouraged to try out.
“That’s how the family gets bigger,” Forrest said. “If you come in and already have a friend, you’re already part of the family, but you’re part of the family regardless.”