JoAnna Halk ’09
I′m from California, and when it came time to look for colleges, all I knew was that I wanted a small, out-of-state school. I didn′t necessarily know what I wanted to do with my life, so I wanted the flexibility of a liberal arts education. I also wanted to learn both in and outside the classroom and find out about the local region and people. I liked Rhodes academically and how service in Memphis seemed so accessible. It meant I could be part of not only a college community but a city community as well.
I′ve been regularly involved in Rhodes′ soup kitchen project, even serving as the coordinator. It′s been a really valuable experience, though at times it′s difficult to deal with everything. For example, the people who come are so faithful, easy-going and friendly, but sometimes, as students, we don′t know how to handle all the issues that come up—like whether and how to help someone who′s been evicted from his house. It′s hard to balance the friendship component and figure out our responsibility to our clients. How far do we go? Do we call places and try to help them? Do we pay for them to stay in a shelter if they don′t have any money?
Still, there are those defining moments when you realize that we′re not all that different in the end.
One time I was talking to one of my soup kitchen friends. I could tell he was upset and found out that one of his best friends from the Navy had just died. I haven′t had an experience quite like his, but when I was in high school I lost one of my friends to a car accident. So we just connected. Even though we were from two totally different backgrounds, in the end we could understand what each other felt. We experienced the same sadness, the same joys with our friends.
I′ve also worked with the Rhodes Hollywood Springdale Partnership. Many professors need help with projects and research, and RHSP gives students a good opportunity to practice in their career areas. Many students also provide leadership for initiatives. My own involvement was initially with the Just for Kids program on Saturdays. Children in the neighborhood were coming to Shasta Central (the neighborhood center Rhodes established there), and they needed someone to coordinate the program′s volunteers. In doing that, I learned so much about Memphis and the community—including the need to work with people when you′re in their environment and not just do what you want. I′m also grateful that a gift from a trustee allowed me to continue my work with RHSP over the summer.
During that time I got involved with the children′s garden project. Then the following academic year I transitioned from Just for Kids to helping a local resident establish a community garden. This project is progressing, and I′ve learned a lot from Mary, who is on the board of the neighborhood association and is heading up the project. The grant proposal I wrote was funded, and I feel good about helping monies come to the community.
I′ve always been a very curious person, and Rhodes has stimulated my interest in academics. In fact, I keep a long summer reading list of different authors mentioned in my classes whose works weren′t required reading for the syllabus. And sometimes we have deep discussions in class but don′t necessarily resolve the issue, so I leave thinking, "I have to figure out what the answer to this question is for me."