This is a final update from Jocelyn Kirk, a church member who served as a Young Adult Volunteer for the Presbyterian Church (USA). The church supported her ministry this past year and along the way she has shared her experiences.
My choice to join the Young Adult Volunteers (YAV) program was a basic one: to join my two passions of faith and education. I chose New Orleans because I wanted to pick a city where the education system was not perfect; even before Katrina, New Orleans has been fighting to make a school system that ends the school to prison pipeline and promotes high school educations, whether from public institutions, private affairs, or charter schools. As an educator who has studied the school system for four years, I want to make a difference in school systems rather than simply be a part of the machine.
Working in adult education does just that. This non-profit work has come up simply because of the school system’s lack of success. Our students who walk through the door each day have been failed by the school system, yet they still find that education is the link to growth in their personal lives. I had a new student come in, bruised and beaten from an abusive husband, who saw the education of herself and her son as the best start to their new lives. That is powerful.
The YAV program is unique in the fact that it supports both education in the surrounding community and the education of their workers. I do not simply go to work and go home each week. Instead, my group reads and discusses books about mass incarceration, education, faith, and faith exploration. In our year we are focusing on New Orleans and its school system, the prison system, and the culture.
Immersing myself into my surroundings is key to the YAV program but it also is helping me with my original goal of mixing my two passions. That goal was not as basic as I believed, mainly because each day my faith and my education is thoroughly tested. My students have walked through hardships that I cannot fathom and end up on the other side; I frequently question why such wonderful, dedicated students are given such hard tasks in life. It made me question so much during my time in New Orleans because I see poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and the aftereffects of incarceration everyday. However, as I have progressed, I think I have grown to see that my students are so much stronger than I think I will ever be. They have pushed my comfort level, they have opened my eyes to the injustice in the world, and they show me everyday why teaching is my passion.