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When questioned as to what inspires him, Jason Pittman responded, “A little boy named Wil.” It all started eight years ago when a group of friends wanted a fun spring break trip without the cost. What resulted was a lifelong relationship with inner city children and missionaries, one renovated park, a permanent after-school program targeting at-risk youth, a relationship between Little Haiti and the JMU Alternative Spring Break program, and an eventual career change for Jason Pittman. Eight years ago, Jason and a group of buddies packed their bags and headed down to Little Haiti, Miami for, what they believed to be a week of minimal work in order to maintain free room and board and plenty of relaxation on Floridian beaches. Instead, Jason and company embarked on a life-changing journey, a story which leads him to our podium today. 

Jason says, “What we realized was an overwhelming need for something in this neighborhood. There was something going on in this community that was drastically different than anything we had experienced in middle class homes.” During the week, Jason and friends began an experimental youth program in a small park in the heart of the city. The program was so successful, Jason accepted a position as its full-time director that summer. It wasn’t the job that brought Jason back to Little Haiti, it was a boy named Wilmer. Jason states, “It was interesting seeing the face of poverty through the eyes of a 7 year old boy.” Through the course of the first spring break week, Wilmer and Jason developed a deep friendship, resulting in an eye-opening examination of the cyclical nature of poverty. On his birthday, Wil brought home a perforated card from his teacher, wishing him happy birthday. This would be the extent of Wilmer’s birthday celebration. Jason says, “It absolutely broke my heart when Wilmer told me in a very plain way that he was not the type of person who had birthdays because of who he was. He had decided that he was this lesser type of person who didn’t get birthday parties because he didn’t deserve it.” To a child who does not understand why others receive unfair advantages, poverty appears to be their fault. Determined to ameliorate the problem, Jason vested time, love, and a huge birthday party into his friendship with Wil. Jason says, “That was what stuck with me. I wanted to start leveling the playing field for some of these kids.” By the end of the week, Wilmer asked, “Will you remember me?” Jason interpreted this as a more personal question, “Are you going to live your life for yourself or are you going to remember this?” Trips to Little Haiti became an annual event. Jason remained active within the youth program, returning each spring break with fresh recruits to help out. Upon graduation from VCU, Jason pioneered his own dotcom business in Richmond, Virginia. Dedicated to supporting the youth of Little Haiti, Olive Tree Studios created lesson plans to help get reading and writing levels up to state standards and turned student drawings into an animated showcase. When a group of kids began hanging around the Olive Tree office, the company made a workshop teaching the kids how to build computers and design web pages. Eventually this workshop evolved into a program for both the local and Little Haitian YMCA as well as the Boys and Girls Club. Realizing that he was more passionate about these programs than actual work, Jason sold his business and headed to JMU for his masters in middle school education. In May, Jason will graduate and return to Little Haiti teaching in inner city schools. When questioned why he made such a sharp career change, Jason said, “If I can make such a difference to one kid in one week, think of what I can do with more time.” Evan Henck writes, “I think Jason inspires the people around him to be more than they are on an average day...he is a leader and a skilled articulator, he is resilient and he perseveres.” 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated, “Everybody can be great because any body can serve...you only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love." There is no one who emerges as a more striking example of this quotation in practice than Jason Pittman. I am proud to see Jason receive the All Together One recognition simply because it is so rare to see perfect humility combined with unending dedication. As his sister, Jennifer Pittman states, “He has found that giving to others, lending a helping hand, sharing a laugh, and showing encouragement are the most rewarding parts of life.” Jason embodies the spirit of JMU and is an inspiration to all who place faith in the power of one. 

The JMU community would like to thank Jason Pittman.

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