Staying Connected to Community After Commencement (by Guest Blogger Jeana McClure)

Hello Capstone Students:

IMG_0921I’m Jeana McClure, PSU Class of 2012. My journey to commencement was completed in fits and starts over a span of 31 years. In 2009, I decided I wanted to get my master’s in library science, but needed to finish my BA first. I didn’t only want to “be done,” however, I wanted to learn something interesting.

When I applied to PSU, I chose the Applied Linguistics program. That turned out to be an excellent decision: Linguistics made sense of everything I’d studied and experienced to that point. Through linguistics, I realized my greatest interest is in literacy issues, particularly in early childhood. Choosing Enhancing Youth Literacy as my capstone class was a no-brainer decision. I learned so much in class and through volunteering at the Charles Jordan Community Center preschool.

That wasn’t my first experience volunteering with young children, fortunately! I volunteered for five years with the SMART program (Start Making a Reader Today). SMART is a fantastic program for children in grades K-3, delivered by a nonprofit organization through the public school system. SMART volunteers read with the same child for half an hour, every week, modeling literate behavior and providing one-to-one support. If you have time during the school day, and can commit to visiting once a week for the duration of the school year, SMART is hugely rewarding, and a simple way (there’s no wrong way to read with a child!) to become involved with your community.

When I started classes at PSU, I wasn’t able to continue volunteering with SMART. I missed the interaction with the kids, and also realized that if I want to be a librarian, I probably should spend time in a library! In 2010, I volunteered with the Multnomah County Library Summer Reading Program, and at the end of that summer was asked to continue at the Belmont branch as a Story Time volunteer. This will be my fourth year volunteering with the library. In July, I’m adding another volunteer opportunity working with adults, as the Talk Time facilitator at the Gregory Heights library branch. Talk Time is an informal way for non-native English learners to practice their conversational skills.

The key to long-term volunteer engagement has been the ability to focus on an area that’s important to me — literacy — and to contribute in ways that are meaningful. For me, that’s hands-on work with children. For someone else, that might be through advocacy and involvement in public policy decisions. For yet another someone, that might be through making financial contributions.

I still work full-time, and started my MLS program eight short weeks after commencement. That alone is more than enough to keep me busy (I’ll be reading all those books in the photo for my Young Adult services class this summer!). However, being part of my library community is so rewarding that I can’t imagine giving it up. Instead, I give up things like cleaning. I’d rather spend Saturday mornings singing Wheels on the Bus with a group of 3-year-olds than dusting my bookshelves!

I hope you’ve gotten as much value out of your capstone experience as I did (thanks, Zapoura!), and that you’ve been inspired to stay engaged when classes are over. Congratulations on your impending graduation!

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18 thoughts on “Staying Connected to Community After Commencement (by Guest Blogger Jeana McClure)

  1. I loved hearing your story about volunteering with the children at the Library. I think for myself to stay involved with volunteering in my community, I will also have to volunteer doing something I am passionate about. I hope I can stay committed to working with children after this capstone, I am thinking about reaching out to my local middle or elementary school and asking if they need any volunteers. I would love to stay committed to the placement I am in now, but its just so far away from me, I don’t think I could motivate myself unlike if I were volunteering closer to where I live.

    • Logistics is certainly a factor, and there’s no shame in wanting to make volunteering as convenient as possible. I also adored working with the kids at the community center preschool, but I didn’t adore the commute: It took me 45 minutes to get there from my house, driving (which I dislike more and more, the older I get!). I can ride my bike or take the bus or walk (if I’m really motivated!) to my local library branch and have as great an impact, plus I’ve been able to sustain that for four years.

  2. Like Jillian I wish I could continue my work at the community site I’ve been at this term, but the distance makes it difficult. Luckily I mentioned this in one of my journals and Zapoura knows of some schools in my area that need help. It’s a recent realization for me that volunteering not only benefits the people at the volunteer site, but it’s beneficial to you (me) as well. I want to be a teacher’ my passion is working with children so I should be taking every opportunity I can to be in that environment and get those experiences. As long as you find volunteer work that you are interested in and are passionate about. That’s the key. Even with a busy schedule (as we all have) you can find time, even once a week for volunteering with something you’re interested in.

    • I agree that it will be hard for some of us in class to stay connected to where we have volunteered this term, due to distance and other interests. Personally, I have been itching to go back and volunteer at a particular animal rescue shelter, and even though it is not working with students I still feel like I am doing something to help the community I live in. I’m hoping that with graduation it will be easier to find the time to get active and stay involved.

      • Anything you do to make your community a better, more compassionate, more humane place, is awesome!

        If your passion is working with animals, go for it! I have two dogs who I love to pieces, no matter how often they roll in disgusting dead things (which is quite often 🙂

        I almost think caring for animals must be harder than working with people – animals are, so often, so dependent on us humans, and we so often let them down.

    • What I’ve found is, the busier my schedule, the more important volunteering becomes! I think for me it’s because the things that keep me “busy” aren’t necessarily the things that are important to me. Volunteering helps me remember what’s important, to me and to my community.

  3. Before taking the Enhancing Youth Literacy capstone, I had two years of volunteer experience. I see the benefit to myself and the individuals that i interact with while I am at Creston K-8 school. It has brought me out of bad moods and has given me energy! I hope to always have some time to volunteer and give back to the community. As we get older and have to start working full-time, families, and any other things that comes up that become more of a priority than volunteering. Through my experience, I now have K-8 students depending on me to be there on wednesday, and help them with any school work they are having problems with.

    • Knowing that those kids are waiting for you? Is a huge motivator! I *always* feel better after volunteering. Plus, when it’s mutually beneficial, volunteering is so much easier to sustain over time.

      When I volunteered with the community center preschool, there were mornings when I was literally crushed under the weight of half a dozen 3- to 5-year-olds wanting me to read them a story. Reading with them definitely took me out of myself and whatever trivial difficulty might have been weighing me down before I walked in the door.

  4. I absolutely agree with you. It’s one thing to volunteer when it is required of you, but i am sure many people give up and quit once it is no longer necessary. And i’m sure it’s even easier to quit volunteering when you have excuses such as work or many other things that we have going on in our lives. But you’re right, if you start volunteering at a place or subject matter that is important to you and that you are really passionate about, you are much less likely to leave and move on. So that is one piece of advice i would give to anyone who is thinking of volunteering somehwere and is looking around for a place to start. Pick a subject matter that is really important to you, or just an event or problem that really concerns you. If it is something that you are really passionate about, no matter how busy your life is or what happens when you move on after graduation, you are much more likely to find a way to continue volunteering and making a difference.

    • I used to work in the department that organized many of the volunteer opportunities at work, and there was an explicit expectation that everyone would participate a certain number of hours with certain “hot” organizations.

      I did it because it was expected (the worst reason to volunteer, as far as I’m concerned), and it was basically “going through the motions.” They were all one-off events (walks, mostly) where I could write a small check and be done with in a couple of hours.

      AND, it was always an imposition, not the best frame of mind with which to be contributing to one’s community.

      So! Given that experience, I completely agree with you that volunteering is about discovering what you’re passionate about. I’m so passionate about helping kids learn to read that it’s almost embarrassing – especially when I get all teary-eyed when I see how fascinated they are with words and books and language!

      When you have the passion, it’s as easy as breathing to volunteer. It’s almost as important as breathing 🙂

  5. I too agree that in order to ensure a full commitment with longevity, in the case of most volunteers, it must be convenient and reasonably close in location. My partnership at the James John school in North Portland was a 35 minute commute from my house, however there was no distance that could keep me away from those kids once I got involved with them. However, I also will not beable to keep up my commitment because of location, hours, and longevity. I am looking for a partnership with more longevity that I can stay involved in for the long term. I hate to see those relationships that I have built with the kids come to an end and naturally become more invested when I know there is a chance to see long term growth that could result from my volunteer hours and level of involvement. I also feel a deeper connection to my service work when it is within my community as I am reminded of the changes I have made or could make on my everyday route. Seeing this community support around me is inspiring and uplifting.

    • Oh man, the absolute hardest part of volunteering with kids is saying “goodbye.”

      It’s almost harder when it’s the kid who’s moving on!

      I console myself with knowing that, no matter how brief or fleeting, the time with we spent together helped all of us, and changed us in ways we may not recognize for years.

      Sure, that sounds melodramatic 🙂 But I still remember the teachers, from kindergarten through my undergrad studies, who challenged me or supported me. They all helped me become who I am today.

      And in small ways, every time we volunteer in a classroom – or however we are engaged with our community – I think we help each other be better human beings!

  6. It is really awesome all the volunteer work you continue to keep doing even with a busy schedule. I am having a hard time with balancing the volunteer days and work. There are days that I just dont want to go work and volunteer but at the same time im torn because I need the money to make rent and pay my tuition. I do plan to continue volunteering with site, but it may not be 2 days a week like it is this term. Who knows maybe I can find a weekend to start working with the youth. I do find that my time at this program is important and a rewarding experience for me.

  7. I love this! I totally agree with everything you have said. I feel like when you’re passionate about your volunteer opportunity/job, it’s more like a fun hobby than work! And when the little kids hug you or draw you pictures- it’s worth more than a million dollars. Thanks for sharing your story with us.. you’re an inspiration!

  8. Jeana-
    There are a lot of similarities with your story and my own. My education started after high school, took a brief break to go to beauty school and work in that industry. All together this BS degree will have taken me 27 years and 5 colleges. I wish I had finished with my BS before children it would have gone by much faster.
    When I moved to another state with my husband’s job I was certified as a STAR tutor. It is the Utah State Office of Education’s Student Tutoring Achievement for Reading. I was certified from that state to be a tutor in the public schools. I was in Utah for 4 years, and tutored in that time. Sadly right before we left the schools discontinued all of their Reading Specialists that had their own classroom in the elementary schools. I had the experience by then to start my own reading room in that school-continue it as a volunteer. I had everything I needed from the Reading Specialist. There is a huge demand there as families have many children and a big percentage had challenges in learning. The have one of the biggest Special Education schools in the country in Utah because of the need there. I moved the summer before the school year I was going to direct the reading resource room!
    Now, in Portland and almost done with my BS, I would love to get a Master’s in Library Science. Sadly, here in PPS and BPS they do not have “Librarians” they have “Media Specialists”. The Librarians had Masters with the degree. Now with Media Specialists only in the libraries, people with any BS or BA degree can go into that job. My next door neighbor has a BA in Criminal Justice as the Media Specialist in my neighborhood elementary. Librarians were replaced with Media Specialists. That is where schools are going.
    So, it was a no-brainer for me to take this class… Enhancing Youth Literacy. I am employed as a Sub in the Beaverton Public Schools as an assistant in the classrooms and as a media assistant in the library. After this class is over I can work 5 days a week if I want! Yea. It has been many many years since I worked full-time. I am very nervous about doing it feeling my family will feel the hours I am away. No one to take care of things at home or the dog. It will be “interesting”.
    I love reading with kids and seeing that spark light up with them learning to read. It is very powerful to be the person to help a young child read. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child! All a person has to do is read with a child, that’s it….simple.
    -Jen Watt

  9. Jeana, thanks for sharing your prosperous experience through Zapoura’s Enhancing Youth Literacy capstone. This class has broadened my curiosity of education and has motivated me to not only thrive for more information but to also seek adventures by volunteering in a variety of niches throughout my community. I’m interested in learning how to get involved with the SMART program. You’ve mentioned contributing to the organization for 5 years and I’m inspired to gain such positive experiences as you have. Do you have a friend’s email address that I can contact to learn more?

  10. Jeana,

    Thank you for sharing your story! I think it’s absolutely wonderful that you are such an active member of the community and also that you have been able to take your volunteer experience and connect it with literacy, something you feel so passionate about.

    You make a fantastic point when you talk about how the key to long term volunteering is finding something that is important to you and then to give in ways that you find meaningful. Before Enhancing Youth Literacy, I had no idea how much I enjoyed working with kids. Then, when I was given the opportunity to teach creative writing after school, which is something I love, my entire experience with volunteering changed. I absolutely love working with the students and talking about writing for an hour each week. This experience has changed my entire perception on what it means to be a volunteer.

    Can you talk a bit about your experience at Talk Time?

    Thank you for sharing,
    Amira

  11. Jeana, Thank you for your inspirational words! I especially loved : “The key to long-term volunteer engagement has been the ability to focus on an area that’s important to me — literacy — and to contribute in ways that are meaningful. For me, that’s hands-on work with children. For someone else, that might be through advocacy and involvement in public policy decisions.” I really appreciate the knowledge that the KEY to LONG-term engagement is focusing on an area I care about. That is exactly what I have decided to do! It is nice to have that affirmed. Also that someone can help in different ways… not just monetarily. There are important issues out there that I can help with, but the ones that will be long-term with me our in the areas I feel the most passion about. I can make a difference! Thanks!
    -Sasha

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