Student finds purpose in community outreach


For most, the road to success involves graduating from high school, moving onto college, finding love, graduating, finding a job, getting married and starting a family. Maybe there are slight variations of the pattern, but the idea is the same. For sociology senior Vashti Jenkins, her path to victory involved a detour, putting her in a place she never expected.

During her senior year at Tara High School, Jenkins gave birth to her son, Kevin. After she received her high school diploma, Jenkins was determined to jump into the work force.

After a year of LSU service-learning courses, Jenkins found meaning in giving back to the community.

“I never thought I would have the opportunity to go to LSU,” Jenkins said. “I knew the path I had chosen would make things more difficult. I thought I should just get a job and go on with life.”

Neither of Jenkins’ parents earned a college degree, but they encouraged her to pursue further education.

“The thought of failure intimidated me, but I wanted to please my mother,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins enrolled in Baton Rouge Community College and completed nearly two years of school—she was one class shy of earning an associate’s degree before she came to a conclusion.

“I had been underestimating myself,” she said. “I was right at the maximum number of credit hours LSU would accept. I knew an attempt was better than not trying at all.”

During the spring of 2008, Jenkins enrolled at LSU. In her second semester, she needed a sociology elective, but the only one available had a service-learning component. Jenkins was about to make another conclusion.

“When I signed up for the class, I didn’t know sociology of education would be something that would change my life,” she said.

Jenkins’ sociology class was paired with Volunteers in Public Schools, a local group that serves as a support system by offering tutors and education partners. For the class, each LSU student was given a younger “Reading Friend”—a student who reads below the grade level.

Aside from reading with the assigned partners, students read articles and discussed ways to help their Reading Friends improve.

“A majority of the students at the elementary school came from broken homes,” Jenkins said. “It was exciting to know my student was improving, and the methods we came up with in class had a direct impact on his reading level.”

Jenkins said her Reading Friend was raised in a single parent home. She felt connected to the struggles his mother faced, trying to be both parents at once.

“As a young mother, I struggled with time management,” she said. “Working two jobs, picking up my son from school and spending time with him got really hectic, not to mention being a college student.”

Jenkins continued lessons with her Reading Friend at least twice a week, until she found out he moved.

“Tears were streaming down my face,” she said. “I realized how fulfilling my service experience was.”

The following semester, Jenkins scheduled a second service-learning class—poetry. The class partnered with Connections For Life Inc., a non-profit organization that serves as a transitional housing unit open to women coming out of prison, treatment facilities and battered women’s shelters, among other places. The residents are given an apartment, clothing, food and job placement assistance, which may include working at a partnering thrift store.

Jenkins and her classmates were required to volunteer at the thrift store with the women. During class, they discussed how poetry could serve as a release agent for victims of abuse, or anyone trying to overcome adversity.

“I had such a wonderful experience working in the store with these women,” Jenkins said. “They had inspiring stories that motivated me tremendously.”

After participating in one year of service-learning courses, Jenkins said she was encouraged to apply for the university’s Student Advisory Council. The council is open to students who have taken a service-learning course and want to be involved with the community. The council plans service projects and events, while promoting service-learning through classroom visits and presentations.

After being accepted into the council, Jenkins was assigned a new Reading Friend, among other projects and activities. Jenkins is also an active member in the LSU chapter of the NAACP, in the social-service committee. During Thanksgiving, the group adopted a family and provided them with food and goods for a happy holiday.

Jenkins is one of many students participating in LSU Serves the World, an initiative launched this year to honor the university’s history of service and civic outreach. LSU Serves the World will feature four signature service events this year, in hopes of bringing all members of the LSU community together. Their Web site also serves as a forum for volunteers to share their service experiences.

Jenkins expects to graduate this May with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She plans to attend graduate school for a master’s degree in social work. Jenkins credits LSU for helping her realize a dream.

“Because of my service at LSU, I realized I have a heart for the community,” she said. “I know my purpose in life is to reach out to others.”

In the future, Jenkins would like to start a non-profit organization for single mothers and young women.

“I feel like I owe an explanation to every young single mother who feels like her life is over because it’s really just beginning,” Jenkins said. “Although I am a statistic, within every sample of data there is an outlier. I think of myself as the outlier.”


Holly Anne Phillips | Editor | Office of Communications & University Relations
January 2010