Barringer High School ServiceWorks Capstone Project

serviceworkswithasmileBy:  LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

As a ServiceWorks AmeriCorps VISTA, I’ve often visualized my scholars as glowing embers; a tempered heat, reserved, uncertain and at times even uninterested, but you can still see a glow, however faint. Depending on their circumstances and perspective, some are also quite charred but it never bothered me because I understood the importance of time; of the trust and rapport needed in order for more free-flowing conversations. I knew that the flow, coupled with the realization that someone genuinely cared about what they had to say and about their thoughts on issues in their community could actually make a difference. “The embers will glow until they catch,” I once wrote. “And then there will be fire.”

“I’m tired of all the shootings,” yelled one student in the middle of a brainstorming session when they were trying very hard to finalize their Capstone Project. “Yeah, me too. It’s all over the place,” chimed in another. Other thoughts popped up here and there, but everything always came back to gun violence. Always. It’s a grave topic with an enormity that can be hard to grasp no less actually address, and it certainly showed on their faces at times but, “we’re not trying to cure cancer in a day,” I reminded them. “What can we do, here, now to make a difference even in just one person’s life?”

I don’t remember the exact moment, but I do know that the embers began to burn a little brighter. The heat intensified at the prospect of doing a school assembly; of having some type of discussion around gun violence that would be engaging and not just another adult droning on to students. There was a crackle of excitement when one suggested ordering bracelets that could be handed out to all of those in the audience with a message that would encapsulate the theme of the day: It Starts With a Smile – ServiceWorks, they all agreed.

There was plenty of ServiceWorks project planning and ServiceWorks project development in the interim, but I did my best to fan the flames when the idea of creating videos to highlight gun violence and its effects was thrown on the table. “You can absolutely do this,” I urged. “You just need to think it through.”

In the end, my ServiceWorks scholars created two impactful videos: one that depicted images of people in mourning and crime scenes of violence juxtaposed against gun violence statistics of their city. It also included voice overs of interviews with people of various ages discussing the problem. The second video was a brief, filmed dramatization of gun violence scenarios that the class acted out (see combined videos here: Barringer HS Capstone Video). Both videos preceded three former gang members who spoke with raw honesty about the dangers of gang life and alternate routes to take which can truly create different and better options (see small clip here: Barringer HS Capstone Speaker). The energy was one of quiet captivation. The 120 students in the audience (glowing embers in their own right) absorbed it all as they watched and listened to stories of pain and tragedy but also to the possibilities that stand behind better choices.

As a ServiceWorks VISTA, I absolutely loved watching my scholars literally see, firsthand, their Service actually Work; to see them eye the many students who felt compelled afterwards to approach our speakers to spend a little more time talking.   I was excited for them and truthfully, quite proud. I also saw what I already knew, and that is that embers do glow. Embers do catch so that there is fire. And fire, well — it spreads.