Service in a Post-Election World

From Hands and Feet / YAV - AVL Briana Joseph... 

Salut!

In today’s blog, I want to switch things up a bit and talk briefly about why I feel the work I’m doing through the Young Adult Volunteers program is so important in America’s current post-election state. But before I do that, let me tell you a little bit more about what it is that I do.

Through the YAV program I am placed at the University of North Carolina Asheville in (you guessed it) Asheville, North Carolina. I work in the Department of Multicultural Student Programs and am tasked with helping increase community engagement efforts for the department. More specifically, I manage what’s called the S.T.R.I.V.E Mentoring Program in which UNC Asheville students are matched with youth in the Asheville City School system to foster opportunities for character building, self-esteem improvement, cultural education, and academic assistance. Mentors from UNCA engage in hosting an enrichment activity for elementary school kids at a community center in one of the city’s oldest housing projects. Throughout the course of the academic year, I also invite these kids to join myself and the mentors on campus to participate in various university events – e.g. basketball games, trick or treating in the residence halls, the homecoming parade, etc. Essentially, the goal of the S.T.R.I.V.E Mentoring Program is to help students on campus get connected with the greater Asheville community while simultaneously empowering underrepresented youth to become global citizens and to see higher education as an attainable and fruitful option for their future.

With that being said, I am passionate about the work I do through the YAV program because I believe that it is important to have strong mentors and role models in place to help convey certain messages to the developing minds of children – messages of what it means to see the humanity in others, to be patient and gentle beings, to engage with people and things that seem foreign or unusual to us, and to use dialogue as a means of seeking out answers when we don’t already have them for example. If you’ve ever had any interaction at all with kids, then you probably know that they are highly impressionable beings. They very easily absorb the beliefs and values of the environments around them. Pause here for a moment to think back on a time where you realized that a particular thought, behavior, or belief of a child you know was influenced or brought about by some external socialization process in their life. Was this influence positive or negative? If positive, that’s great! I bet you, too, understand the value of positive role models and the significance of socialization in a child’s life. However, imagine if this influence had been a negative one. How difficult was it to change the thought or action that stemmed from the bad influence? Or has is been changed at all? How has this influence impacted the child’s interactions with family? With peers? With individuals that hold identities outside of their own? I raise these questions to encourage you to think about what it would mean for a child to grow up in a world where there are little to no opportunities for guidance and mentorship and what that would mean for them as they mature and enter what we so often refer to as “the real world.” I’ll let you rest with that thought for a moment.

After November 8, 2016, the thoughts and emotions of just about everyone around me seemed to have undergone a major shift. I observed a wide range of emotional and intellectual reactions to Donald Trump’s defeat over Hillary Clinton. And I grappled with how to interpret my own emotions and how to prevent myself from adapting an “us and them” mindset and closing myself off from people who supported what is now infamously known as a campaign ran on hate and bigotry. If you experienced any of the thoughts or feelings I just described, imagine what it must have been like to be a child caught in the midst of this whirlwind. The cognitive dissonance that likely came along with the messages of kindness, love, and respect that we try to instill in kids in conjunction with some of Trump’s comments and behaviors was probably quite frustrating for the young, growing mind. This brings me back to the significance of the work I do with S.T.R.I.V.E. A majority of the kids I work with are from underrepresented populations where they don’t always have the same exposure or access to certain resources and information as other groups might. Through my program’s efforts, we want to give all children (that we work with) the chance to experience healthy and holistic development by not only incorporating messages about positive self-worth but also of cultural appreciation to help teach these kids at an early age that they can love and celebrate who they are without having to devalue others because of real or perceived differences.

“A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.”

Before the Parade

The S.T.R.I.V.E Mentoring Program at UNC Asheville’s Fall 2016 Homecoming Parade

In the meantime, if you would like to make a donation to support me in the Young Adult Volunteers program, you may do so by visiting the following link: donate here. If you have any questions about my year of service or about the donation process, I would be happy to chat with you more!