First-year student, Kayla Bledsoe, shares about her work toward peace and justice in Indianapolis.
Kayla Bledsoe, a first-year psychology student at Marian University, stumbled upon an opportunity to work with AmeriCorps. After being frustrated doing mindless work at a typical part-time job, she said she wanted a “better opportunity that would more align with what I want to do with my education and afterwards.” So Bledsoe Googled “part-time jobs with AmeriCorps” and found the perfect position.
She serves as an education director for the Boys and Girls Club, working with kids at IPS School 109 who are enrolled in the Indiana Kids Program.
The program (for K-6 kids) requires kids enrolled complete 20 service hours and 10 hours of career education, as well as maintain academic standards through 30 hours of logged homework time. Bledsoe's role is to help the kids achieve these goals—she plans volunteer opportunities, schedules guest speakers to help them learn about different careers, and assists them with homework.
But it’s not just work; there’s fun, too. Bledsoe helped put on a Valentine’s Day party for the kids this past month, and has a basketball tournament planned for March. She thinks it’s important to show the kids she works with that doing good work--whether it be learning or volunteering--can be fun.
While Bledsoe loves her job and the fact that she’s doing meaningful work, it does come with some challenges. The space used for the Indiana Kids Program is shared space—so their resources are limited, and dependent on what the school is willing to provide. There are more than 60 kids at this particular Boys and Girls Club location, and few volunteers. So Bledsoe has had to become a jack of all trades. From planning activities and events, to seeking fundraising opportunities, to doing paperwork and making sure the kids get their snack after school, her service is integral to the functionality of the program.
As a psychology major, Bledsoe has found her area of study to be helpful when working with AmeriCorps.
“They’re really complicated and I don’t understand them sometimes,” she says of working with kids.
But a human growth and development class gave her a solid background on how children learn and think at different age levels; this has helped in particular with understanding gender development and identity, leading to more constructive and genuine conversation with the children she works with.
After graduation, Bledsoe isn’t sure exactly what will come next.
“I want to do social activism in some way, and I don’t know if that’s through the non-profit sector and working with under-privileged kids, or if that’s like community organizing. But I’m really interested in breaking down stereotypes and reducing ignorance,” Bledsoe said. “I have to get 22 kids excited about volunteering for 20 hours, and that can be challenging, because they just want to have fun.”
One way Bledsoe tried to help make volunteering more exciting was by making tie blankets for children in foster care, responding to the foster care crisis in Indianapolis earlier this academic year. The hands-on service was both fun and meaningful for Bledsoe and the kids. Even though most of the children Bledsoe works with could be considered underprivileged themselves, Bledsoe says she has tried to show them that “there’s always someone you can help regardless of where you are.”
Bledsoe has found ways to combine her involvement at Marian University with AmeriCorps as well. She has been involved with the Student Organization for Latinos (SOL), and connected the Boys and Girls Club with SOL. SOL came to the Boys and Girls Club to lead an activity for Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Bledsoe saw this as an opportunity to encourage diversity.
“Kids who are Hispanic or Latino could see people who look like them and celebrate a tradition they’re familiar with. But also, kids who aren’t familiar with the tradition get to experience it,” Bledsoe said.
Bledsoe views part of living out the Franciscan Value of Peace and Justice as being with other people, recognizing others’ cultures, and being okay with, and celebrating, differences.
To anyone interested in being more involved with peace and justice initiatives,Bledsoe has some advice.
“It’s hard work, but it is what you make of it” she said. “Going above and beyond is where it counts—and what makes service meaningful. Even though it can be hard work, finding an opportunity to be an advocate for peace and justice is easy: just literally Google it."
AmeriCorps is a civil society program funded by the United States federal government, with the goal of engaging people in public service, and to help meet the needs of the community. To learn more about AmeriCorps and job and service opportunities in the field of peace and justice, visit https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps.