Twin brothers make community service a priority
By Dwain Hebda
Last Thanksgiving, when families all over the country were gathering around the dinner table, the Stodola men—Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and his twin sons, Robert and John Mark— were touring a downtown church that served the homeless. At one point their guide, the ministry’s coordinator, ushered them into a large rec room where some of Little Rock’s less fortunate had gathered for warmth and a meal.
“He paused and he told all the people there, ‘Hey everyone, this is our mayor—he cares,’” recalls John Mark. “That was just a really cool thing to see and it really made me want to give back to the community.”
The Stodola brothers, now seniors at Little Rock’s Catholic High School, say such examples were everywhere while they were growing up and have been powerful influencers on what it means to be civic-minded.
“Dad being the mayor opened us up more to opportunities to be involved and just being exposed to things that go on in the community,” John Mark says, although the brothers point out that the decision to embrace these opportunities was entirely theirs.
“I feel even if dad wasn’t the mayor, I still would’ve been involved in the community and just try to make the community a better place,” says Robert. “Dad never pressured us into anything, really.”
The twins found their calling in service, nonetheless. Both have been members of the Little Rock Mayor’s Youth Council, which performs monthly volunteer and community service projects throughout the city. As juniors, both also stepped up to a subgroup of the council, the youth leadership program.
“The youth leadership program is basically the Mayors Youth Council on steroids,” Robert says. “You learn much more about the city and what goes into running the city. At the end of this program we were able to visit Newcastle, England, which is a friendship city of Little Rock. Our role was to go there as youth ambassadors and to experience a new city and make a bond that unites the two cities across the pond.”
The brothers also found an outlet for service by serving six summers as counselors at Camp Winnamocka in Arkadelphia. Last summer, their quick thinking helped save a camper’s life after she was bitten by a poisonous snake, but even the routine interactions with campers are experiences they called life-changing.
“You get to relate to these kids and affect their lives because they look up to you as a counselor,” John Mark says. “I have these kids tell me that I was their favorite counselor and hearing that is one of the best things you can ever hear. It just means the world. Being a camp counselor has helped me grow into a great adult.”
The brothers also have activities that have helped forge them as individuals. John Mark has participated in the school’s Broadcast Journalism Club, responsible for morning announcements and producing funny on-air skits. He also made the transition from recreational to competitive runner as an upperclassman for the Catholic High cross-country team and middle distance on the track team. Running also afforded him unique coming-of-age moment.
“Before the Little Rock Marathon and Race for the Cure, Dad sits up in a little bucket like what they use to trim tree branches,” he says. “I remember when we were really little, me and Robert and my dad would squeeze into this tiny bucket and wave to the runners.
“What was even cooler was last year I got to see it from a runner’s standpoint. I was running in the Little Rock half marathon and I got to see my dad waving down from the bucket.”
Robert has stepped outside his comfort zone—twice—to take the stage, appearing in school productions of “A Few Good Men” as a junior and the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” last fall.
“I had never acted before and so I was really surprised I got a part,” he says. “I had over 150 lines and it improved my public speaking. Then, in my senior year…I was cast as this crazy, sadistic dentist, which was something special for me because the guy is my complete opposite. But it was a lot of fun. It’s more fun playing the bad guy.”
Robert was also part of Catholic High’s inaugural mock trial team as a sophomore and has participated in the activity ever since. He says mock trial has helped kindle an interest in the law, although he’s still undecided about his college and career choice. One thing, though, is certain.
“In whatever profession I go into, I know I want to help people,” he says. “Honestly, I think that’s why we’re here is because we’re supposed to help people become who they want to be and in doing that, we’ll become who we want to be.”