For Erin Choe, the experience of volunteering can be both uplifting and humbling.
“Volunteering is not only for the community but it’s also for each other. By working as a group to support someone else, we get to see the good side of things. We aren’t out there only seeing the bad.” Choe said.
The co-president of West Coast University’s Alumni group in Dallas/Fort Worth,
Choe said she remembered the chapter’s first night volunteering with Jonathan’s Place — a non-profit organization whose goal is to provide loving homes, promising futures and a safe place to abused and neglected children, teens and young adults.
Choe recalled one 10-year-old boy in particular whose optimistic spirit left a lasting impact.
“We were painting, and he was talking about what kind of family he wanted and what kind of family he was going to be adopted by. He said, ‘I am going to find me a forever family because I’m going to get adopted and have pets and we’re going to be happy.’ It gets to you.” Choe said. “It’s like, I know someone out there who went through this thing that’s worse than me and look how bright and cheerful they are. It brings us back to a level and reminds us, ‘We can do this.’”
Founded in 1991, Jonathan’s Place offers specialized services to infants through young adults.
The Emergency Shelter program provides housing, medical attention and education to up to 16 children. The Girls Residential Treatment program houses young girls, between 10 and 18 years old, who have experienced neglect, abandonment, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Jonathan’s Place also offers a Transitional Living program to young woman aging out of the foster care system (between 17 and 23 years old).
“We operate six different programs but all the programs on our campus touch upon each other,” Jonathan’s Place volunteer and community outreach manager Danielle Blanco said.
“Ultimately, the goal is to help by providing services and a promising future for these young children who have been abused or neglected in their homes.”
Altogether, Jonathan’s Place serves around 150 youth in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. However, currently there are more children that need placement than foster homes available, according to Blanco.
“Before Jonathan’s Place, these children would sleep in the offices of Child Protective Services while CPS worked to find them a placement,” Blanco said. “Jonathan’s Place gives a child a place to go that is temporary. Some kids in our shelter are there for three or four days or three or four months. Even the kids who are spending Christmas here will get their Christmas gifts.”
Although the state of Texas provides reimbursement for 60 percent of the cost per child living onsite, 40 percent must be raised through donations, Blanco shared. In large part this comes from individual and community donors and sponsorships, like West Coast University. Apart from financial need, Blanco said that community members volunteer their time by engaging with the youth at Jonathan’s Place.
“We are really blessed with the great relationships we have with foundations who are willing to donate and keep our doors open,” Blanco said. “Having people come out and truly show these kids that they care about them by showing a little bit of love is so important and that’s exactly what volunteer groups do.”
Laura Broussard, a fellow member of the WCU alumni chapter, echoed the sentiment. She said she believes it is important to engage with young people who come from more difficult means and situations.
“If somebody can inspire something different… one day maybe they’ll look back and say, ‘My life can be different. I don’t have to go through this circle,’” she said. “Jonathan’s Place provides a place for them to stay. If they didn’t have that where else are they going to stay? Who else is going to feed them? Who else is going to look after them?”
Broussard said she is glad to be part of a university that practices what they preach.
“If you’re going to be a university that’s going to prepare people for something in the health industry, you need to also show that the university is interested beyond that,” Broussard said. “I think it’s great that they keep helping out the community.”