GYSD Reflection from Jordan Brown

Jordan BrownGlobal Youth Service Day: Stories of Service

Jordan Brown, AmeriCorps VISTA, Rural Employment Opportunities

The food was halfway to her mouth. The girl stood there agape with a bagel held inches from her face. She was listening, actually listening, to the story that I was telling. I almost decided not to share the story about the volunteer experience that I had tutoring a young boy named Daniel, but my friends encouraged me to do so. From the outset, I don’t think we ever intend to create the stories that we tell later on; they simply come to be. I decided to be the lead organizer for Global Youth Service Day in Helena not because it was part of my AmeriCorps VISTA Assignment Description – it wasn’t- but because taking on a challenge often brings with it poignant moments that can make a person think, or smile, or care enough about the moments to eventually wrap them into a story to share with others.

Global Youth Serivce Day LogoWhen I agreed to organize Global Youth Service Day, I made sure to remind myself that the event was not about me; it was a team effort to put on an event that would inspire youth to become more active in the community. That is why I was hesitant to speak too much during the event. I love to speak in public, but I have learned through experience that a speaker must know his audience well, and a day intended to send youth volunteers to help out at six service sites in Helena was not a day for me to spend most of the time talking. Still, I felt that my story could inspire some of the approximately thirty youth volunteers who had shown up at Women’s Park in Helena. So after several of my friends, also AmeriCorps Volunteers, encouraged me to do so, I made it a part of my speech.

I know that stories can have transformative, influential powers, and, with this in mind, I began to talk about my experience tutoring a boy in math while I was a student at the University of Delaware. I went into that volunteer experience expecting to be a teacher imparting wisdom, and I came out as a student, learning something about friendship from this boy named Daniel.

I like stories because of the way they can surprise you, the way that they can sneak up on you and evoke an emotion. I think I like community service for the same reason. When you serve others, you willingly allow yourself to become familiar with someone else’s story. When I looked out at the crowd as I was relating my volunteer experience, it warmed me to see that, instead of straying eyes and chattering kids, I saw several youth actually listening, and not only listening, but truly hearing the message that I wanted to convey.

I stressed during the planning of Global Youth Service Day that I did not want it simply be a day of service for area youth. I did not want it seem like a requirement, a box to check, an obligation to fulfill. In the end, AmeriCorps Volunteers, with the help of community members and students, came together to plan and execute a great event for the Helena community. Was the event successful? It depends on how one determines success. If numbers are to be used as an indicator of success, then perhaps it would have been nice to have more youth volunteers attend. I’d like to measure success another way with one more story.

My coworker at Rural Employment Opportunities, the organization where I serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA, attended the event with her daughter and her daughter’s friend. Both girls are not yet teenagers. Both came to the event with open minds. Both laughed and joked at a booth organized by a local service organization, their curiosity for community service increasing. Eventually the two young girls volunteered at Montana Youth Homes and enjoyed themselves throughout the day, yet it was something that my coworker told me a few days later back at the office that impressed me even more. The friend of her daughter enjoyed herself so much volunteering that she now wants to volunteer regularly with a local nonprofit organization. A young girl inspired to serve others? Now that is a resounding success and the very beginning of another beautiful story of service.

-Jordan Brown serves as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Rural Employment Opportunities in Helena.

Originally from Rochester, NY, Jordan was motivated to serve in Montana because of a love for people and an interest to travel to places off the beaten path, where the best stories are usually found. Through his work forming job networks for low-income workers in small communities across the state, he has realized that Montana has many stories, which have made his time in the state well worth it.

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