It Only Takes One Meaningful Service Experience: Jumpstart and Alternative Spring Break
"Over the course of my college career, I have developed a deep passion and enjoyment in community service and volunteerism, particularly related to issues of education and youth development. My interest in service was initially sparked my freshman year, when I signed up to be an AmeriCorps member with Jumpstart, a national organization that partners with colleges across the country to bring college student volunteers into local Head Start and preschool centers to work one-on-one with children from low-income neighborhoods in order to prepare them for kindergarten. I can say with great certainty that my initial experience with Jumpstart easily shaped my course through college and to date is one of the experiences I am most proud of and grateful to have been apart of.
The child I worked with in Jumpstart, an energetic 3-year-old named Donovan, got hooked early on in the school year on the book Harold and the Purple Crayon. We would often not even get to the last page of the book before he would eagerly shout ‘read it again!”. It was also amazing to see over the course of the year, the way Donovan learned to recall the words of the book as we read and learned to write his name by the end of the year. These are small, but momentous victories for a 3-year-old and ones that brought me a deep sense of purpose in my time with him. Not only did I find meaning in my work with Donovan and with Jumpstart, the program also sparked an interest in education as a social justice issue. As a result, over the past 5 years I have focused much of my academic work in the Human Services program at Northeastern, on issues of educational equality.
In addition to Jumpstart, I also was a Service-Learning Teaching Assistant to the most wonderful professor in the world, Emily Mann, in the Human Services program at Northeastern. In Dr. Mann’s Child Intervention and Treatment course, I facilitated the placement of 19 students with 7 community-based organizations partnering with the course and supported students throughout their semester-long placement. Having been a student in service-learning courses before, it was interesting to see how much work and orchestration goes into supporting campus-community partnerships at Northeastern. While I only served as an S-L TA for one semester, in hindsight I often wish I had the time and capacity to have done it again. It certainly challenges one’s ability to stay organized and keep on top of communication between students, the community partners, the faculty member teaching the course and the staff in the Service-Learning program. However, it is because of that challenge that makes it a great learning and leadership opportunity.
Outreach 360, Dominican Republic 2010
Finally, I have also served as a Team Leader with the Alternative Spring Break program at Northeastern for two years, having co-led a group of 10 students and 1 faculty member each to the Dominican Republic to work with an Orphanage, and most recently, to New Orleans to work with an incredible organization called Rebuilding Together New Orleans (RTNO) to assist in rebuilding a home that was storm-damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Rebuilding Together, New Orleans 2012
These experiences were challenging in many respects, but also very rewarding. As a Team Leader, there is a lot of planning, communication and problem solving involved in running a successful trip. The best part about it though is the people you meet and the tangible different you are able to effect even in just one week. It was insightful to get to learn about the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the city of New Orleans from locals, from the homeowner whose house we worked on, and from the RTNO staff. It was also amazing to see how much work we were able to accomplish in only a weeks time. Because of the tireless work of our ASB team, we were able to significantly push up RTNO’s work plan on the house. In fact, I just received an email from RTNO that just about two months after we left, Mr. Gross (the homeowner) was able to move back into his home two weeks ago.
Rebuilding Together, New Orleans 2012
Experiences like these always remind me of a quote that I love by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. To me, service is about connecting with others and feeling a sense of purpose and meaning. It only takes one meaningful service experience (for me, it was Jumpstart) to realize that you can make a difference to someone and when you work together with other like-minded individuals who want to make a difference (such as many of the students who participate in programs at the Center of Community Service) the impact you are able to make grows and multiplies, reaching and connecting many more people for a common good.” -Katie Theriault, Alternative Spring Break Team Leader, former Service Learning TA, and Jumpstart Team Leader
Katie Theriault just graduated Suma Cum Laude from Northeastern University with a Bachelor of the Sciences in Human Services with a concentration in Public Policy and Administration. In addition to her involvement with programs at the Center of Community Service, she also serves on the Board of Directors of Massachusetts Service Alliance, the state commission on service and volunteerism. She is currently a volunteer research assistant to Dr. Lori Gardinier and Dr. Emily Mann of the Human Services program at Northeastern University, where she is assisting with a program evaluation of the Youth Development Initiative Project (YDIP) on campus, as well as assisting in a study of service-learning participants perceptions of poverty and a ‘just world’. She is also studying for the GRE and planning some personal adventures before figuring out what’s next!