The Why’s Part II: Why Education? In Baltimore?

May 26, 2009

Here’s something you may find surprising: I have no experience teaching and spent a grand total of about 4 hours in Baltimore over 4 years ago. So why would I accept a placement with JVC teaching in Baltimore?

It all started last summer when a friend recommended that I watch HBO’s The Wire. It’s a fictional show about the Baltimore City, its people (cops, criminals, addicts, children, politicians, & everything in between), and its government systems.

Each season looked at a different aspect of the city. The first season focused on how the police department handled drug problems and interacted with drug dealers within the city. The second season focused on unions, the third on politics, the fourth on education, and the fifth on the press (public relations professionals reading this should take a look at season 5. It offers a very accurate portrayal of a news room). The show strived to show a realistic vision of an American city. All institutions depicted, from drug trafficking operations to City Hall, were dysfunctional in some way, causing the characters, no matter how noble, to adapt to their reality, continuing the cycle of dysfunction.

What really inspired me, however, was the fourth season on education. In my opinion, education is where the cycle of poverty manifests itself the most (Check out the circular imagery from the 1:16 mark in the season 4’s introduction). Middle school and high school may be the time when a child makes the most important decision of his or her life: stay in school or to start or continue down a path towards poverty or crime.

Each season ends with a musical montage of scenes showing where each character is headed in their life. Season 4’s montage ends with a long shot of a crossroads (5:30 mark), perhaps representing the crossroads that each child faced.

After watching The Wire, I felt that education would be the best place to volunteer. Here, I would be able to pass on what I’ve learned in my own education to those who may not otherwise receive that help. I know I can’t save the world, but maybe assisting some students with their class papers will add to the mission* of the school, help school be cool and, be a place where students not only learn about writing, but also about life.

*The school’s program caters to students in low and medium income families, who demonstrate academic potential and motivation, and are mature enough to be employable. Students pay part of their tuition by working five full days a month at area businesses.


The Why’s Part I: Why a year of service?

May 21, 2009

I think in order for you to understand more about me and this blog, I should explain why I have decided to do a year of service. In Baltimore. In education. I’ve never even been to Baltimore and I have no background in education (other than being a student of course). The next couple posts will be about how I came to my decision.

During my time at Villanova, I became involved in the school’s Service Break Experience program, specifically with the Habitat for Humanity trips. My fourth, and final trip was to El Paso, Texas this past fall. Upon returning, Villanova’s Campus Ministry plans post-break reflections in order to better cope with coming back to “our world” from the different areas in which we had volunteered. Many times, it’s difficult to relate these experiences to those who haven’t been there themselves.

Before breaking up into our smaller groups, Rachelle, my advisor from a previous Service Break Experience trip to South Dakota spoke to all 200 (or so) trip-goers. She spoke about her time with JVC Northwest working with Native Americans in Montana and the four core values of the program: social justice, simple living, community, and spirituality. She told how she had been “ruined for life” by her experience.

It was right then that I looked around at my group of optimistic, loving, and enthusiastic college students sitting around me and realized that a big reason why I kept going back to do these trips (4 total, leading 2) was because I could devote a whole week to someone else without distraction with other people that truly cared. I loved it. If I liked doing it for a week, why not a year? When else would I be able to devote an entire year to help others and work towards justice? It gave me chills thinking about it and I nearly teared up. I would forever regret NOT doing a year of service.

And that’s when I knew I needed to make it happen.


May 19, 2009

Hi there folks!

Thanks for checking out my blog. My name is Tom O’Keefe and TheVolunteacher blog will chronicle my year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps teaching at a small, private school for low income families in Baltimore.

The blog will act as a way for me to reflect on my experiences. Subjects will include teaching experiences, writing tips, volunteering, the City of Baltimore, community, morality, spirituality, sometimes being the “bad” guy, and coping with being known as “Mr. O’Keefe” (yikes!).

I invite you to read more about me & and my placement in the “What?” & “Who?” sections.

Coming later this week, I’ll tell you more about why I chose to do a year of service.