Volunteer Testimonial – Ethan

Ethan Bilyeu is a JCCC student and the new Community-Based Learning work-study employee. We are very excited to have him on board! Below is a piece he has written on his volunteer experience in Spain.

“This past spring, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Seville, Spain, which is an enchanting place to live and study for a semester. I was part of a group of about 30 students from across the United States who descended upon the primitive city, eager for adventure and excitement in a foreign place. During our time together we became close-knit, almost like a family away from home. In between classes and nightly tapas with friends, I volunteered at a local hospital and an after school program that was known as el colegio safa blanca paloma. This was an excellent way to fully immerse myself into the community and foster an interconnectedness with the people of Seville. It was also a perfect opportunity to practice speaking Spanish, for that was a main goal of mine while studying in Spain.

In both the hospital and school, I worked with kids, who are, in my opinion, much less intimidating than adults when trying to practice a language. Every Tuesday afternoon after class, I hurriedly ate a nutritious Mediterranean-diet lunch prepared by my loving housemother, and I walked with two other students to the school, which was a good forty-five-minute trek. We ventured far away from the touristy part of Seville, which is aesthetically charming, and found ourselves in a notably poorer area of the city; graffiti and trash littered the streets where small, worn-out apartments cast cool shadows on the cars lining the sunny street.  Upon arriving, the kids were always thrilled to see us, and their bright smiles became the only thing we noticed. The school offers programs for children pre-k through middle school aged. Our job was to assist coach Luis, who led recreational activities and games. The kids in his group aged from 7-12 years old, and that was the usual number in the group as well.

The kids wore roller skates as we ran and chased around the concrete courtyards playing various tag games. If it was raining, the activities were moved indoors to the gym. The kids adored coach Luis who was patient and gentle, yet had a firm presence as he broke up quarrels and directed the children. The kids were intrigued by us and were eager to engage us, and one sweet boy in particular proclaimed his undying love for each of us in turn. It always seemed that our time spent at the school playing and laughing with the kids passed too quickly. Tuesday afternoons became a highlight of the week for me, and a welcome contrast to studying. However, what I learned from my afternoons at the school was in its own way a form of studying. My time there had a greater impact on my Spanish speaking abilities than reading a textbook.

On Thursdays I volunteered in the children’s ward at the hospital, which was perhaps more personally rewarding than volunteering at the school. It was a much shorter walk to the hospital than to the school, and I had time to breathe in the refreshing, warm air of Seville as I made my way down the street. It took me a while to get used to walking everywhere in Seville, but once I adjusted, I realized it was a nice way to slow things down and gave me time to reflect on my studies and volunteering. The hospital was a popular place to volunteer, both for students from the United States and Seville. The first day there was an overflow of volunteers, who were mostly American students eager to give their time for a worthy cause and practice their Spanish. Yet, as the weeks went by, fewer and fewer volunteers showed up, until eventually it was just another girl from my program and I, and three girls from Seville. Every week we met in a space dedicated for kids to have fun and forget their pain for a few hours. The classroom was full of every toy and game you could think of; shelves lined the light blue walls with activities that would distract and uplift the sick children, and indeed their parents.

From playing the popular game Headbanz in Spanish, to painting a picture, to working a Spiderman puzzle, to smashing together action figures, we did whatever the kids wanted to do. This was their time and space where they had control of something in their life that was overwhelmed with sickness. Some children were there recovering from minor surgeries or broken limbs and were in and out of the hospital during my time volunteering. Others were dealing with greater struggles, which were marked by the tiredness in their eyes and scars on their bodies; these children I saw and played with every week for the entire semester. About halfway through the semester, the playroom was shut down for construction, and this meant that we had to go room to room to interact with the kids. Always asking permission first, we would enter a room, which usually housed a couple of patients. This more intimate setting was intense at first, but I grew to embrace the opportunity it provided to get to know the boy or girl more personally. The relational aspect of interacting with people is what makes service-learning so effective and beneficial, both for the student and community.

My time volunteering significantly affected my experience in Spain. If I hadn’t engaged in service-learning, I would have spent more time interacting with American students, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, I cherish the relationships that I formed at the hospital and at el colegio safa blanca paloma, and everything I learned about Spanish culture and language through serving the community. Connection and relationship are two key components of service-learning. It is the interaction and sense of community fostered in service learning that proves its value. Volunteering abroad provided my experience with a wholesome balance to the fiestas and fun with friends that oftentimes accompanies studying abroad. I had the opportunity to develop an interconnection to Seville in a meaningful, tangible way: through its people. I would recommend service-learning anywhere, but especially while abroad, for it is a way to know a place intimately and engage its culture wholeheartedly.”

Happy Volunteering!

Johnson County Corrections Volunteering

Today I want to write a post about a cause that’s close to my heart. We all volunteer for different reasons, for different causes, and in different ways. The trick is to find an opportunity that fits your reasons, that’s for a cause you care about, and to help in a way that’s meaningful to you. When you’ve checked off those three things, you’ll know because you’ll be excited to keep going back. 

For me, one cause that I’m particularly passionate about is reducing recidivism. Recidivism is the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend. I think many people are capable of turning their life around, but often there are outside circumstances that keep them from doing so. I believe that rehabilitation and reducing recidivism – not just punishment – should be in the mission of every correctional facility. Johnson County is lucky to have a correctional facility like that. Here is their mission statement:

Johnson County Corrections supervises juvenile and adult offenders through progressive, effective and sound correction, rehabilitation, and recidivism reduction programs. The Corrections department forges partnerships to bridge the gap between offenders and the community by encouraging client responsibility and behavioral change. 

Another thing that’s awesome about Johnson County Corrections is that their volunteer opportunities are flexible. I also happen to be an artist, so helping people through art is very meaningful to me. When I reached out to the volunteer coordinator about teaching art to their clients, I didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised when she was as excited as I was! I have been teaching art classes there for about 6 months now and I absolutely love it! I go in twice a month and work with the adults. They are always so excited to see me and they are so grateful! I get about 20 ‘thank you’s’ a class. Every time I leave, I can’t wait to go back. 

I hope that everyone who reads this blog can find opportunities like this – opportunities that are meaningful to you and that serve a cause you care about! 

If Johnson County Corrections peaked your interest, make sure to visit their webpage and check out ways to get involved

 Happy Volunteering!

Tara

Serve Today, Change Tomorrow – A Volunteer Testimonial

By Hunter Smith, a JCCC Honors Student, the Vice President of Service of Phi Theta Kappa, and a member of the Civic Leadership Program 

Approximately 80% of college students work while attending school, add in family responsibilities and the additional stress of increased independence, and there is little free time (Huffington Post). The easiest, and most truthful answer, to the question “how are you?” from one student to the other, is “tired”. We are pushing ourselves. So, when the service learning department suggests adding more, it’s understandable that many students balk and refocus on the next deadline. However, focusing only on deadlines and the never-ending cycle of classwork leads to a sparse college resume and an empty inner life. Isolation – whether physically holing up in the library or SRC or MRC, or emotionally – is detrimental to a student’s well-being. Roughly one third of college students struggle with depression or anxiety (APA). Volunteering has been shown to improve both mental and physical health, by decreasing feelings of loneliness and lowering blood pressure (Harvard).

While some volunteer opportunities can be easy access for the student, group work at an animal shelter, or marching with a political candidate, these have not had the most impact on me, personally. The opportunities with the longest process, the most education, the greatest commitment, have allowed me to grow the most. For example, SafeHome is Johnson County’s domestic violence support system, advocacy group, and shelter. Their volunteer education process requires a background check, an interview, and an 8-hour educational training session. I spent over 50 hours as a volunteer there last semester, working in their (now defunct) clothes closet. I had the opportunity to be a part of something unique, impactful, and truly necessary in our community. Next month, I will participate in a weekend long educational training to become a MOCSA advocate after completing their 40-hour online training. MOCSA is Kansas City’s only rape survivor support and advocacy group. Volunteer positions like these take more: more time, more energy, more emotional involvement. But they give so much back in the personal growth you can achieve. It is worth it to take each and every opportunity, because you will be able to help so many more people, both now and in the future. Training at organizations like MOCSA and SafeHome develop sensitivity in anyone, but especially those individuals planning on working in healthcare, social work or education. So instead of considering it as an add-in, or an extra, community service is just as much a part of a college student’s week as a job or classes. It can have equal impact on their future.

Works Cited

“College Students’ Mental Health Is a Growing Concern, Survey Finds.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, June 2013, www.apa.org/monitor/2013/06/college-students.aspx.

Kingkade, Tyler. “Poll: More Parents Pay
Cell Phone Bills Than Tuition.” The
Huffington Post
, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 7 Dec. 2017,
www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/07/college-students-jobs_n_3720688.html.

Watson, Stephanie. “Volunteering May Be
Good for Body and Mind.” Harvard Health
Blog
, 30 Oct. 2015,
www.health.harvard.edu/blog/volunteering-may-be-good-for-body-and-mind-201306266428.

Pinnacle Ridge – Volunteer Testimonial

By Mekdes Zewdie, JCCC Student and Honors & Community-Based Learning Work-Study Assistant

Pinnacle Ridge is a nursing and rehabilitation center that provides care for the elderly, people with injuries that seek daily medical attention, and those who might have difficulty with daily routines like getting up, getting dressed, or walking.

Volunteers are an integral part of bringing the feeling of home to the facility. As a volunteer at Pinnacle Ridge, I helped provide company for residents and assisted in card games, bingo nights, painting and drawing. I volunteered every Saturday in the mornings from the time the residents got up to lunch time, which are the times when most of the activities happen. Some of the residents couldn’t see or hear clearly, so I helped them with bingo and card games while another volunteer called off the numbers. After bingo and the card games, I painted their nails.

The residents were very sweet and appreciated my assistance. I enjoyed volunteering there. Once they got to know me they had so many interesting stories to tell and advice to share with me. The smiles I saw when they won a card game or bingo and how passionately they told their stories made my volunteer hours much more enjoyable.

If you’re interested and would like to volunteer at Pinnacle
Ridge you can stop in at 400 S. Rogers Road | Olathe, KS 66062 and ask for the
life enrichment director or call 913-782-3350.

Service Testimonial – Lauren Stephenson

Advancing Computer Science Education

   

 “A few years ago, I was really into an online pictionary game. It was a simple idea; one player draws a picture while other players rush to type the correct word that represents the picture. You were told in advance how many letters were in the word, and over time a few letters would appear to help you solve it. The sooner you guessed the word, the more points you earned. Long story short, I had an epiphany about how I could increase my odds of winning. I spent hours creating a program that could help me solve each puzzle quickly. After I started using it, I won nearly every round. The game was no longer interesting but I was ecstatic about my achievement. I stopped using the program for ethical reasons, and then repeated this process with other video games. These experiences led to my decision to become a software engineer.

This happened just a couple of months into my first computer science class in high school. Most schools didn’t teach the class, so I was fortunate to have the opportunity. Without it, I don’t know when, or if, I would have started learning to code. I also learned why I was the only girl in my class. Girls and youth of color were, and still are, severely underrepresented in computer science. I didn’t want other kids to grow up without a chance to experience coding.

I joined the JCCC Civic Leadership Program with the intent of volunteering my time in computer science education and outreach programs. I volunteered at several nonprofits and at each one, I witnessed how empowering learning to code could be. I saw kids who never coded in their life create awesome video games and websites. Even kids who would seem shy at first often ended up presenting their creations with confidence and pride. I especially enjoyed seeing the students at a local “Girls Who Code” club work together on “community impact projects”, collaborative projects that help solve problems in their community. Inspired by these groups and wanting to do more, I co-founded “KC STEMinists”, a group for middle and high school girls to learn how to code as well as learn about other areas of computer science.

Through research and listening to the stories of girls and fellow mentors, I learned there were many obstacles for girls and women in STEM. One middle school girl told me she was being teased at school because of her interest in computers. She didn’t feel welcome in her coding class. A fellow mentor said she was so uncomfortable in her first high school computer club meeting, she left before it was over and never returned. Volunteers who were working in the tech industry shared stories of discrimination and harassment. I hadn’t realized how common these experiences were for women. Upon reflection, I realized that even I had experienced feeling isolated, underestimated, and downright uncomfortable.

Groups like Girls Who Code and KC STEMinists provide a safe space for girls to develop technical and soft skills while building their self-confidence. They can code and collaborate without judgement, without worrying about whether they are accepted or truly belong. The negative effects of gender roles and misconceptions of who can excel in STEM fields are still issues, but these organizations can help girls overcome these obstacles. They provide girls a better opportunity to succeed in STEM classes and careers.

Learning how to code provides numerous benefits to individual people and has great potential to benefit communities as well. Countless problems have been solved through technology and advancements continue to be made each day. When I mentor students who are learning to code, my goal is to empower them. I hope that through advocacy work and volunteering at nonprofits, I can continue to help close the tech gender gap and better equip students during a time when computer science education is lacking in schools. You can change the world with code. Everyone deserves that opportunity, and through the combined efforts of nonprofits, more students will have the opportunity.”


Lauren Stephenson is a former JCCC student and Civic Leadership Program graduate. She was a member of many clubs and organizations on campus including the Honors Program, Phi Theta Kappa, American Association of University Women, and more. We wish her the best in her future endeavors at the University of Kansas!

Phi Theta Kappa SAFEHOME Fundraiser

I want to highlight the JCCC Phi Theta Kappa chapter today. They raised $65 and collected over 125 paper products and other toiletries for SAFEHOME, an agency that helps victims and survivors of domestic violence.

Good work PTK!

While doing this fundraiser, PTK also helped educate students about healthy and unhealthy relationships through surveys, tabling events, and an interactive video bingo game on campus.

     

Student Testimonial

Here is a volunteering testimonial from Ana Lim, a Student Engagement Ambassador here at JCCC. Ana is working towards earning the Civic Leadership Distinction and will be presenting about her experiences at the National Community College Conference on Service Learning & Community Engagement in Denver, CO in the Spring.

Last Wednesday, I headed to Happy Bottoms distribution center right after work, located at 14820 W. 107th, Lenexa. Happy Bottoms is a non-profit organization that works to provide diapers to low income families in the Kansas City Metropolitan area, and I volunteered to package diapers that evening with State Line Service League ladies.

As soon as all of us arrived, the Community Outreach and Volunteer Manager invited us to walk with her to the backside of the building where all the diapers were stored. Then, she told us what I did not expect to hear about diapers. Over the years, Happy Bottoms has witnessed that lack of diapers was one of the factors that culminated in neglect and abuse of babies, many of whom wear dirty diapers over a prolonged period of time, which causes health problems. This information struck my heart to the core. I didn’t think much about the importance of clean diapers up to this point, and I realized that sometimes making a difference in society begins with recognizing what most people (including myself) would consider to be a not-so-grand problem in the community, such as diapers.

I was impressed to see the different sizes of diapers Happy Bottoms provides to families, and packaging them with the amazing State Line Service League ladies was so much fun!

Happy Bottoms is always looking for volunteers throughout the year, and I highly recommend Happy Bottoms for any volunteers in the Civic Leadership program. Every baby and child deserves to wear clean diapers.

-Ana Hyo Young Lim
Student Engagement Ambassador
President’s Office

Becoming a Part of the Struggle – By Graham Murphy

Becoming a Part of the Struggle

While service may just be as simple as volunteering several hours of your time to a cause, for those who give their heart to it, it can often be life changing. Investing oneself in service is a process by which; through exposing ourselves to the ills of the world; we develop sincere care, and seek to find new ways by which we can dedicate more of ourselves to the cause. As for myself, my life outlook, goals, and passions would all be completely different had it not been for my experience with the homeless: working to serve them, getting to know them, and learning about the issues surrounding them. In my work with the homeless, I have cleaned their campsites and delivered them supplies, but I believe what I have taken out of these experiences is far greater. What I have gained, and what I believe can be gained through service by anyone who carries it out conscientiously, are three invaluable human properties: perspective, vocation, and empathy.

The first time I formally introduced myself to a homeless individual, I was in the seventh grade. Having grown up in a lower-middle class suburb in Overland Park, I never would have suspected that there was a homeless camp hidden in the overgrown lots on my very own block. I was innocently exploring the neighborhood with friends when we stumbled upon it. There, surrounded by trees and mounds of litter was a makeshift wooden shack, an array of beat-up old furniture, and other miscellaneous items stashed out of view of the average passerby. I met several individuals here who came and went, with nowhere safe they could call their own. This was my first exposure to that struggle and those who fight it, and through my teen years I heard the stories of these people and came to know a completely different world, one our parents try to shelter us from that you will not hear about in school. From this I gained an entirely new perspective of my life in relation to the world and its complex issues; humbled, I was motivated to pursue my first service initiatives, cleaning the homeless site and the surrounding lot of litter and hazardous items, such as IV needles. This I did of my own accord, in my own home neighborhood.

In my senior year of high school, I had assembled a group of like-minded students who were interested in involving themselves in the struggles of our local communities. However, after several clean-ups, and the candid interactions we had with the homeless in doing so, I began to contemplate how I could make a more lasting contribution to the issues I had come to care about so deeply. As a group, we had decided that it was not simply enough to become a part of the struggle, but also to make it known to others who might care and have the ability to help. After that, we began to more critically examine the issue of homelessness in Kansas City: how do environmental issues relate to it? What are some of the causes? Where do they congregate most, and why? We interviewed knowledgeable community leaders and the homeless themselves, in addition to deducing what we could from the environments where we would conduct our service. From the information we gathered, we wrote articles and informed others at our high school of the findings. These endeavors were fundamental in calling me to my vocation as someone who researches, in addition to serves. And had it not been for these vocational callings I would not currently be pursuing a career in journalism, and my higher education would not be an exciting journey toward my dreams, but an obligatory task to which I would not apply myself.

While perspective and vocation both are important qualities in increasing our awareness, and leading us to pursue what is the most important to us in life, the third and last is both the most difficult to understand, and the one which most radically changes you. Nobody can quite put a finger on what empathy means, but all I know is when I see the suffering, the community and humanity of those on the street, something in my heart changes. Each time I saw my friend Billy from the camp down the street, his paranoia had increased more and more until finally he could not recognize me. And then, after a couple years of not seeing him at all, I ran into him in the west bottoms, wild-eyed and shivering, rocking back and forth on an upturned plastic crate. Something in my heart broke that day.

When I am giving food out of the back of a truck in the bitter cold to people with friends, family, pets, dreams, diseases, addictions, stretching what little they have, without knowing if they will even wake up the next day, it is impossible to walk away unaffected. But despite all the pain of their existence, I have also witnessed remarkable warmth: joking around a trashcan fire on a cold night in the city, playing the blues by Indian Creek with a man who was interested in my company- not my money, and I will never forget how one man dropped what he was doing to help me and my service group in our cleanup of the camp in my own neighborhood. Experiences like this are authentic in a way that do not seem to come easily in our day to day lives and they cultivate passion for the human condition which can’t ever be taken away from you. Through service, we become more engaged in our world, and while giving ourselves in what may seem a selfless act, we ourselves are given depth of care that we may carry with us through our lives.

-Graham Murphy, Student at JCCC, Vice President of Service, Phi Theta Kappa International Honors Society