"Reaching out a helping hand to those in need was one of the best feelings in the world."
Rashaunda Jackson ('11) (second from right) worked on issues of hunger and housing in Winterpark, Fla.
What attracted you to participate in an Alternative Break or other community service experience?
What attracted me to taking part in an Alternative Break trip was the idea of being a part of this nationwide movement of college students making a difference in the lives of others. My first Alternative Break trip was as a sophomore when I went to New Orleans over Thanksgiving. Being in the company of people who selflessly gave of their holiday to reach out a helping hand to those in need was one of the best feelings in the world.
After going to New Orleans I was inspired to take part in another journey of service. I entered the Center for Multicultural Student Services lottery and was chosen to go to Winterpark, Fla. where we worked around the issues of hunger and housing. We stayed in a church with homeless families, volunteered in a discounted grocery store, worked in a free homeless clinic, and worked side-by-side with homeless children. This experience brought me closer to understanding that people who are homeless are no different than you and me. Many of them fall in the category of what we would call "the working poor."
Did you know what to expect or was this a totally new experience?
Going into the trip I kind of had an idea of what would be taking place. My trip leaders informed of us the living environment and what our daily activities would be. Although we felt prepared and ready to have this new experience, there was no way to even fathom how much we would learn, see, and feel while volunteering with our agency. I must say this was a totally new experience for me.
How did your experience influence your academic career at JMU?
The Alternative Break Program influenced my academics at JMU in a major way. First off as a public policy and administration major I have a better understanding of how the government implements policies and develop programs to battle the issue of homelessness and hunger. As a nonprofit studies minor I also get to see the other side—where it's the nonprofits and volunteers who really get out there and make a difference. The churches that open up their doors in the cold winter, the soup kitchens that serve a meal every day, and the thrift stores that donate clothing—these are the acts that truly make a difference.
Currently in my studies, I have been trying to figure out how the federal government and nonprofit agencies can collaborate to be more efficient in dealing with the causes of why people become homeless.
Has it changed or influenced your plans for your future?
Definitely! I am currently working in the Office of Community Service-Learning on campus as the service coordinator of hunger and housing. As a liaison between the JMU community and local nonprofit agencies, I get to share my passion of helping the less fortunate with my peers. I also get to bridge the gap and assist JMU students in reflecting on the difference they make over the course of a semester. The best part about being a service coordinator is I get to listen to the experiences of service learners and how they have gained a better understanding of how a little act of service can go a long way.
After JMU, I will pursue a career within the federal government that will allow me to do research and better understand how to handle the issues causing hunger and homelessness. In return, I hope these efforts will lead our nation to being a step closer to eradicating poverty on a global level.