Category Archives: Mission Year
During Mission Year, I worked at the Georgia Justice Project (GJP) as the Prison Support Coordinator. I donned the title “paralegal” and visited our clients in prison. One particular man mentored me in this role. His name is Sanchez and he tells the best stories.
I wasn’t a huge fan of stories growing up. As I think back to my Dad reading to me before bed, I recall a series of non-fiction books about animals and plants and things. I’m sure my parents read fiction to me on occasion but I don’t remember it well. Being interested in math and science, it was easy to ignore. To this day, I’m known kind of strangely for being able to sit down with a good textbook and enjoy a read.
Last week I learned that a friend of mine in Atlanta passed away. His name is Otis and during our year in Atlanta, we grew close to his family. He leaves behind a mismatched family of five and will be sorely missed. I hadn’t interacted with him a lot while I was in Atlanta but I appreciated his friendliness and warmth.
It feels ironic to describe Otis’ friendliness and warmth because when I first saw him, I admit I was kind of frightened. He had a look that was easy for me to mistake as anger and it looked as though the streets had worn him down for a long time. I remember the feeling of surprise the first time I heard him speak. He wasn’t angry at all. Inside he was kind and cared about his family.
Following Our Dreams, Achieving Our Goals
by Grant Jenks
In January and February, when we returned from Winter Break, Mission Year challenged us to study the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. We were all, of course, inspired and encouraged by his “I have a dream …” speech. In that context we were challenged to look also at the life of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. With these examples, I developed and pursued my own dreams for the neighborhood.
My first dream was to raise up young engineers through inspiration and learning. My goal, as I have described in previous newsletters, was to take our Robotics Club on a tour of a college robotics lab. We were fortunate to receive and take the opportunity to do so in April this year. Our club spent a day inspired and instructed by brilliant research. It’s my hope as the students continue through High School that they feel a call to University and pursue engineering further.
by Shannon Jenks
As we quickly approach our last month here and the heat continues to climb to record heights, we have been consistently encouraged by our leaders to finish our year strong. And we sure have been doing that!
I’ve been teaching environmental science workshops at the Emmaus House Summer Camp. I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know about 100 more kids in the neighborhood. I think their favorite activity so far was making mini compost bins with real worms! I hope some of the kids realize that science can be fun even though it’s hard.
We’ve been working hard on our garden and have even been able to eat some cucumber and green beans. A lot of our produce has been stolen but at least fresh fruits and vegetables are entering our community anyway.
Making Dreams a Reality: Gardening
By Grant Jenks
At the start of the year, I had three dreams and set forth three goals. One of those dreams was to see our neighbors choose to eat healthier foods like fruits and vegetables. We brainstormed the issue in our house and discussed many facets like education, access, and supply. Our teammate, Josh, has been researching the topic in depth for an essay on “food deserts.”
Food deserts describe neighborhoods where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain. Despite differences in terminology and definitions, I think the term arises from questioning about increased obesity rates, malnourished children, and starving families. The summer-school program which has replaced the Emmaus House after-school program, is focused primarily on providing meals to children in the neighborhood. This program is vital to those families with children that rely on school vouchers for meals.
Education Struggles in Peoplestown
By Shannon Jenks
As a teacher by profession, the education of my neighborhood has been especially interesting to me. The kids in Peoplestown begin their education at D.H. Stanton Elementary here in the neighborhood, move on to Parks Middle School in the next neighborhood over and finally end across the train tracks to the Schools at Carver. There are few in my neighborhood who have completed high school. In this economy, finding a job that can support a family with only that amount of education is next to impossible. Despite this the dropout rate at Carver is still high. Teen pregnancy, jail and drugs are all too common causes of this.
I work at the after school program at Emmaus House in the hope that my influence might encourage the neighborhood kids to see education as a way out of their situation. A few of the students have incredible potential and are excelling in school. A few aren’t. One such student is a young man named J. J is in 5th grade. He’s supposed to be in 6th. He reads at about a 3rd grade level. He spells at a Kindergarten level. Even though he’s behind in Language arts, he’s pretty good at math, although he struggles with memorizing the multiplication and division facts. He love’s science and can tell you anything you want to know about volcanoes. J has dyslexia. Since I am the only tutor with actual teaching experience, I work with J on his reading and spelling with some supplemental work.
Marta is Smarta
By Grant Jenks
Monday through Thursday, I wait about five to ten minutes for the bus to take me twenty minutes to downtown. Then again I wait about five minutes to catch a train that travels two stops to the station nearest my work. Then I walk half a mile to my office. The stations along my route are in the South and East parts of the city, the poorest areas. Along the way and at the stations, drugs, graffiti, and trash are common sights. The whole process takes about forty five to sixty minutes one way. In total, I’ll go about three miles. Atlanta calls this public service, Marta, with the slogan “Marta is smarta.” In exchange for unlimited use of this service, I pay a hundred dollars per month. There’s got to be a better way.
There is. I’ve started walking. Because I can choose the route, it’s safer. And at only three miles, it takes about the same amount of time with less stress and an unbeatable price.
How to Love Your Neighbor
By Shannon Jenks
I’m going to be honest. Sometimes it’s difficult to love my neighbor in Peoplestown. I do not appreciate bass thumping stereos late at night on Fridays or Saturdays. I am bothered by the amount of men loitering in front of the corner store drinking beer. I haven’t yet met a kid who hasn’t lied to me at least once. Moms scream at their kids. Kids call each other ugly or much worse regularly. How do I show these people love? How do I show these people that God loves them? How do I show these people that they are more valuable than the way they are treated by others or even the way they treat themselves? I can easily get overwhelmed by the feelings of helplessness. So what do I do? I take one day at a time. I talk to and reach out to people one at a time. I can give my umbrella to the woman who has no car and needs to walk home in the rain. I continuously tell the kids I work with that they are smart and capable. I make sure to give the sulky teenager on the street corner eye contact, a smile and a friendly hello even though I know I probably won’t get a response. I give parents compliments on their children, which they probably don’t get very much. I make myself available for Chemistry tutoring at the youth center. Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough or that I’m not accomplishing anything. However, I will trust my belief that a little bit of love goes much further than I think it does.
Motivated by Dreams
By Grant Jenks
In the spirit of resolutions, we began the year by dreaming. With dreams, we also set goals. While we won’t see an end to obesity, ignorance, or fundraising, our goals can make a difference. There’s a significant need to accomplish something tangible as we live here. The Christmas break was a great time for processing and to love despite the ambiguities was one of my resolutions.
Emmaus House performed a survey of the community at the end of last year. Two specific needs stood out: lack of access to affordable fruits and vegetables and lack of employment and other activities for young adults. And so our dream is to see a fruit and vegetable stand raised up in the neighborhood: one which connected the produce of local farmers with the health of inner-city Grandmothers and children. Our roommate Josh has taken particular interest in this dream and will focus on it as part of his Master’s work. As a tangible goal, we hope to sell discounted fruits and vegetables at the Emmaus House community dinners which are hosted once a month.
Sorry for the delay in posting this. The holidays made for a busy month. But we’re feeling recharged and dreaming of what God will do with the rest of our Mission Year.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
Our December weeks have been filled with good cheer as we run about Atlanta preparing Christmas parties for kids, families, and seniors. One of the highlights came last week as we celebrated “Christmas in Peoplestown.” This was a joint production put on by the McDevitt Youth Center, Study Hall After-School Care, and Emmaus House Church. Over a hundred kids came out to make ornaments, eat cake, and sing carols. It was truly heart warming to sing and dance together as a neighborhood.
I’ve always thought of this season as a time for hope. As we enter the New Year, our hopes are high for our neighborhood and the time we spend here. Join us in hoping this season for an upcoming year of justice and jubilee.
For the holidays, Shannon and I are getting away to Augusta, Georgia. We are so excited for a time of reunion and rest with loved ones! We wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Any last minute holiday shopping? Good Shoppr has thousands of gift ideas for everyone on your list. Shop online and 5% of all sales will contribute to our fundraising efforts. The inventory and discounts are as big as Amazon’s! Shop for goods, shop for good on www.GoodShoppr.com