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Jillian Sands

Describe what attracted you to the Meelia Center, and what your involvement has been through Meelia?

When I was a senior in high school my sister volunteered through the Meelia Center and would come home with these amazing stories of people she had met in the community. I knew I wanted to get involved right away, so I chose to be in the service-learning Humanities class. During the first few weeks, I met Dan and well, if you've talked to Dan Forbes, you know he can inspire just about anyone. At first I started volunteering because I loved learning others' stories and culture. I found the Webster House, a site that helps at-risk youth get the chance they deserve to have a good future. Eventually, I developed a realization that the Meelia Center was not just a volunteer center, but was itself a small community that was expanding one engaged student at a time. I loved it so much that I am now the Webster House and Boys and Girls Club coordinator!

What was the most memorable service experience that you or one of your volunteers has had through the Meelia Center for Community Engagement?

One of the most memorable experiences was when I was doing my service at a nursing home. I was assigned to work with a woman on the computer through the program Seniors Connect which helps them use email to keep in touch with family members. I had no idea how much we would mean to each other just two months into the program. One of the reasons that this experience was so special to me was because I got to learn her story in a way that I would never have had a chance to do. Through writing her emails, I got to learn little pieces of her life every week.  In each email she would call me her "secretary" and tell the person how thankful she was that I would do this for her. In my mind, I was the one who was thankful. It's not easy to let another person write your personal emails and the fact that I was 21 years old and she had just met made it even more special that she would trust me.  When we finished her emails, we would research her condition and brainstorm ideas to help her with her rehab. I could see her progression through the weeks, her hope was returning and all this time she was calling me her teacher when she had no idea how much she was actually teaching me.  I was so excited every week to see how she was doing and what she wanted to do that day.  My experience continues to be memorable as we still write emails every week to connect to her family. We are working on ways to improve her condition and I cannot wait for the day when she meets her personal goal.

How does your work and service through the Meelia Center contribute to well-rounded education?

My work and service through the Meelia Center have contributed to a well-rounded education by giving me an outside perspective on how lucky I am to have an opportunity to actually go to college. A lot of my work focuses on mentoring teenagers and children to have a better future, and I wonder where I would be if I didn't have my family, friends, and teachers that believed in me my whole life.  My service has taught me that I should not take my education for granted and that makes me work harder. I also apply a lot of the material I have learned in my classes to service and my work in Manchester. Learning sociological and psychological theories out of a textbook can only teach you so much, but I get the chance to develop those theories in the community and use the material to understand where the people I serve are coming from.

What skills have you developed through your work at the Meelia Center that will help you realize and achieve your future aspirations?

First and foremost, the most critical skills that I have developed through my work at the Meelia Center are relationship building and communication. My coordinator position requires me to be active with the directors at my sites, finding out the site's needs, and what they expect from us, as well to stay in tune with how my student volunteers are reacting to their experiences at the site. I need to be in constant communication with both sides to make sure we are doing the absolute best job to serve our community. My work has taught me that going out of your comfort zone is the best way to learn your true potential.

Describe the site you manage and the opportunities for students to serve at the site.

I am the coordinator of the Boys and Girls Club which is an after-school program designed to engage the kids ages 5-18 until their parents can pick them up after work. Staff and volunteers provide tutoring, activities, and even dinner to over 1,000 children every month all at a low cost to the families. Their goal is to have the kids reach their full potential and have a great opportunity for the best future possible. They have everything from a computer room which offers Photoshop lessons, to cooking classes, to arts and crafts. The student volunteers can help with homework, play with the kids, and even start their own programs such as Dance Class or Basketball. As long as they have a passion they want to share with the kids, the Club tries to give them all the resources to make it happen. 

I also am the coordinator for the Webster House. It is a place for teenagers to stay who are unable to live at home for some period of time. The youth there have many different stories, but the Webster House provides structure along with love to ensure the best possible home whether it is for weeks or years. The organization strives to make the House a stable environment and provides all the necessities they need. The kids live there but they still go to school during the day. The staff encourages after-school activities and accommodates each individual's schedule. The student volunteers are mostly mentors and tutors, and provide a positive new face for the youth there.  They can also get involved as Career Coaches, where they engage Webster teens in career exploration linked to either job search, interviewing and work etiquette or college selection and admission.

Why do you think students should seriously consider community engagement while at Saint Anselm College?

I can say with all my heart that the best moments I have had in college have been from volunteering. There is no better way to cheer myself up than going to Boys and Girls Club and being hugged by ten different children at once. St. A's can be stressful, and everyone is heaped with work. Volunteering gives you a chance to get off campus and not think about yourself or anything in your life for a couple of hours. It entails focusing entirely on the people you are serving. Getting involved can help find your passion in life and meet friends at the same time. The Meelia Center makes it so easy to find any site with any population you can think of; why wouldn't you get involved!?