In high school I volunteered at a local elementary school as a tutor helping students with their homework. I began to really enjoy that environment and was hoping that when I came to USD I would find something similar to be involved with.
I was elated when I took Contemporary Social Theories with Sociology Assistant Professor Dr. John Joe Schlichtman because one of the course components was to pick a Community Service-Learning site that you could volunteer with. There were four options to choose from (migrant outreach, juvenile hall, Toussaint Academy and Montgomery Middle School). As I was reading the descriptions for each, I was most particularly interested in the program at the local Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility. This resonated with me the most because growing up I had always lived in poverty-ridden areas and was around many of the kids who ended up dropping out of school and winding up in a juvenile hall facility.
Fortunately my parents’ influential words and my personal goals kept me out of that system, but I was interested in why other kids did not have the same privilege. With determination, I raised my hand and not only wanted to volunteer at the site, but I wanted to be a student leader for it.
My responsibilities were to provide a space for the other students at the site to discuss their experiences and help connect their experiences to what we were learning in class through reflections. I was incredibly excited when I found out that I was accepted as the student leader and that our first session would be the following week.
When I first saw the juvenile hall facility, I was taken aback by how similar it looked to a regular prison. But I quickly overcame that sight once I sat down with the youth and began to have discussion. I can definitely say that from that point forward, the program had changed my life and my views. Today, three years later, I am still volunteering with the program, but have moved up to the position of site coordinator. Every week I visit both the boys and girls of the facility units and discuss character values through the use of literary prompts and activities.
Since I first began, we have expanded the program from three units on two different days, to six units on three different days and have opened up the program to outside volunteers as well, not just class-based students. I have found a passion with the kids that I have met because of their will and determination to battle against the harshness of poverty and oppression. I have learned so much from them and have gained an understanding of what I had the privilege of avoiding.
Since the program, I have also become involved with other things regarding different juvenile detention facilities. For instance, this January will be the third time that I will have traveled to Jamaica and volunteered with children at a local all-age school, as well as at the Girl’s Place of Safety, a home for girls who have been in trouble with the law or are unable to be taken care of due to poverty.
Community service has changed my life to the point that I do not call it service any more — I call it sharing humanity because to learn and understand other people and their experiences is the most rewarding feeling a person can have.
— Rhea Webb ‘12
Rhea’s essay was submitted in response to the USD Torero Store’s National Student Day essay contest, which asked students to describe their social responsibility. Photos by Nick Abadilla.