February 27, 2017
Savione Demouchette, Jersey Village High School freshman, works with his team during a rotation to scrub the seats of a bus used to transport homeless people from around the city back to Impact Houston for services and care. (Photo by Ashlynn Smith, Jersey Village HS)
By Ashlynn Smith, Jersey Village HS
Feb. 27, 2017—PACE Plus students from Jersey Village High School partnered with the Ambassadors of Compassion on Feb. 2, spending the day with their mentors at Impact Houston, an outreach program assisting the Houston homeless community.
The day was spent performing volunteer work such as repainting fences, sorting donated clothing, cleaning the program’s bus and preparing a warm meal. The students were accompanied by Stacy Leonard, Jersey Village academic achievement specialist, along with Virgil Ray, MAPSS teacher, and Henry Gonzalez, PACE Plus algebra teacher.
Shomari Dixon, Jersey Village freshman, stands ready to assist as Brianna Rodriguez, freshman, stacks pans of baked chicken prior to serving a hot lunch to the outdoorsmen. The food for two full meals which fed Jersey Village students and dozens of homeless visitors was donated by Leonard Bench, AOC mentor and owner of Jake’s Finer Foods. (Photo by Ashlynn Smith, Jersey Village HS)
As lunchtime approached, the friendly faces of the homeless men and women, or “outdoorsmen” as they are referred to at Impact, filed into the large cafeteria for lunch at Impact Houston. The PACE Plus students were on hand to greet them as they entered. Students passed out iced tea, salads, plastic ware and large plates of food to the outdoorsmen, joining them afterwards for lunch and conversation. After nearly 3 ½ hours of volunteer work, students felt a high level of satisfaction in seeing the effects of their laborious work.
“There was one man I sat next to and ate with. He was telling us stories about these two boys, and how their dad just did awful things to their mom. It was a crazy story but being able to relate to him and his story, it just felt comforting,” said Natalie Mandujano, junior student and member of the first AOC cohort at Jersey Village.
Students listened to stories of how easily their lives could become devastating and lonely, similar to those commonly known as the outdoorsmen. As employees and those visiting Impact Houston for lunch relayed true, hard-hitting stories to the students about how easily their normal lives had decayed, students were able to relate, some even feeling comfortable enough to share their personal stories as well.
“I was able to feed the homeless, season some chicken and do other kitchen work, and sort clothes. All of it was just really satisfying and made me enjoy myself. I loved being able to help them, even if just for a day,” Mandujano said.
Before heading home, the AOC coaches, JV staff, and sponsors of Impact Houston expressed their gratitude and excitement about the students' progress made throughout the day, particularly in terms of the sincere compassion they demonstrated, with each adult providing his or her personal observations and offering individualized encouragement to the students.
Noah Burris-Allen, Jersey Village freshman, contributes by painting over graffiti on a fence bordering Impact Houston’s complex. (Photo by Ashlynn Smith, Jersey Village HS
“We spent two separate days with Impact Houston and during both trips, there were a handful of students that emerged as they noticeably connected to the idea of being compassionate towards others,” Leonard said. “They really got it and came out of their shells and showed a different side of themselves that we don’t usually see in the typical classroom setting. They expressed ideas about continuing this type of compassionate behavior even once we returned to the school. With several students, we saw this experience hit an emotional chord because there was something in their family or their past to which they related this experience. It kind of brought out different and new feelings for them.”
PACE Plus is a CFISD-designed course for freshmen that helps students explore their personal, academic, and career paths. Ambassadors of Compassion, which partners with JVHS through Cy-Hope, meets with students during PACE Plus once a week and teaches students important character lessons and life skills they are able to carry with them past their high school careers and long into their futures. More specifically, they narrow the curriculum into four main categories using a short but relevant acronym known to them as LIFE—Labor, Influence, Forgiveness and Experience.
“It’s an easy way to organize the curriculum—each of the four words is a unit students work through with videos, journaling and small group discussions, facilitated by their AOC mentors,” Leonard said. “Each word represents an abstract ideal that isn’t always addressed in a school setting however, these topics are incredibly beneficial to educating the whole child and the growth of students. We would like our students to learn to make positive decisions for themselves and find out who they really want to be going forward.”