My name is Jacob and I have been working at the BrashearAssociation for about a year and a half. I was hired as a ‘Program Aide’ in January of 2014 after I applied for the position through Duquesne University’s work-study program during the fall of my freshman year.
Before I applied to any work-study positions, I evaluated a number of factors about each one in order to determine my respective levels of interest. Namely, since I am a psychology and sociology double major, I was very eager to work somewhere that would enable me to apply the knowledge that I would gain throughout my college education. However, what was more important to me throughout my work-study job search was finding a position that involved working with and helping others. Duquesne University prides itself on serving God by serving others, so they offer a number of work-study and volunteer opportunities through local agencies that serve individual communities and the larger Pittsburgh community as a whole. And as I researched each one by searching the Internet, local newspaper articles, and the agencies’ individual websites, I soon realized that I could apply psychological and sociological knowledge to nearly all of them. Resultantly, it was difficult for me to decide which such opportunity I wanted to pursue the most; I had to evaluate and determine which one would be the most important and meaningful to me as a person—which one I would be most passionate about. To me, this became the most important factor to consider when making my decision because in my opinion, passion is what makes people perform their job function most effectively, and it’s also what creates strong, meaningful, and mutually beneficial connections between staff and community members in any community service. I didn’t just want to do a job well—anyone can learn how to successfully perform a community service function without actually caring for what it is or whom it benefits. Rather, I wanted to passionately perform my job function.
In light of all this and some careful introspection, I soon realized that I most passionately supported The Brashear Association’s mission, values, and strategic plan and, as a result, felt most passionate in my desires to help them continue bringing these things to fruition. After realizing this, I applied for the ‘Program Aide’ position and eagerly accepted the Brashear Association’s invitation to hire me.
My primary functions as a ‘program aide’ during the after-school and weekend programs entail providing homework help, reading, drawing, and playing games with students, walking students to the program and their homes, resolving conflicts and behavioral issues, teaching lessons, providing support for other staff members while they teach lessons, making and passing out snacks, cleaning our space, and numerous other things. Most of these things are also done by every staff member and volunteer there, so I like the teamwork aspect of performing these functions.
Additionally, I thoroughly enjoy doing these things because they enable me to help our staff to provide students with opportunities that they may not otherwise receive. For instance, we educate many of our students about a variety of subjects—such as art, culture, nature, healthy eating, and community, to name a few—that they may not otherwise learn about in their elementary school. Similarly, we work very hard to educate our students about ways to appropriately and maturely respond to adverse situations such as conflicts, difficulties learning, etc. Their initial responses may involve violence towards others or doubting their own abilities, so we do our best to cultivate more positive attitudes, perspectives, and behaviors in these contexts. Whether or not our students are afforded these opportunities in other situations, I am glad to play some kind of role in providing them in our center. In light of all this, I think all of our staff members and volunteers enjoy the job so much because (1) the activities and games, etc. are fun to participate in and (2) we play a role in educating students.
However, in doing these things, each staff member also gets to know and build meaningful connections with our students as well. In my opinion, this is the aspect of our job that everyone seems to appreciate the most. I don’t think there’s ever been a day wherein staff members couldn’t find a great deal of humor in our students’ personalities; and as we get to know their personalities more, it seems like they only become funnier and funnier. Not to mention, as time goes on, we have the opportunity to see them grow and evolve—for better or worse. This allows us to recognize and appreciate the instances in which it is clear that our program has significantly impacted a student for the better, which is a very rewarding feeling for any teacher, community service worker, or professional who works to help others. Furthermore, because of the rapport that we build with our students, I think that all of our staff members and volunteers take pride in being a role model of sorts and knowing that we have the potential to shape our students in positive ways as a result.
Since the other Duquesne work study employees / volunteers and myself are of a younger age than the other staff members, I think that we are in a unique position to be especially effective role models for the students. I think this is because so many of them have older siblings and cousins who are in our age range, so they are used to viewing these people in a different light than they view people who are closer in age to their parents. This certainly seems to be the case in our programs, as many students talk about learning ‘cool’ and acceptable things from these people. Therefore, I think we (work-study employees and volunteers) are in a unique position to model behaviors, habits, interests, etc. that may not otherwise be modeled for our students. I think we all find this to be very rewarding because it reminds us that we do have an impact on them, which further motivates us to maximize the positive impacts we have. This is certainly not to say that our other staff members are not positive role models for our students, however; they too are role models that benefit our students in their own unique ways. Nonetheless, my point of saying all this was mainly to give an idea of what it’s like to be a work-study employee or volunteer at The BrashearAssociation.
In conclusion, I honestly cannot think of a work-study or volunteer opportunity that I would enjoy doing more than I enjoy working at The Brashear Association. I am very grateful that Duquesne University provided me with the means to obtain this position, and I am equally grateful that The Brashear Association provided me with this opportunity.