Kellie Jarrard knew she wanted to do something different.
As a major in Child and Family Studies at Baylor University, her prior volunteer experiences had included teaching children and working within the foster care system. But when the time came to choose an organization to work with for her class on planning and administration in family and consumer sciences, Jarrard said she was taken in by Youth Connection executive director Carolyn Nichols’ enthusiasm and the organization’s devotion to teen mothers.
“I went in the next day for an interview with her and was really captivated by her passion for the youth in Waco and the desperate need for an organization like Youth Connection to exist,” Jarrard said. “I loved hearing about the teen mother visits, especially because teen pregnancy is so idolized right now in the media. This seemed like a unique opportunity and I was thrilled to know I could be a part of it.”
Throughout the fall semester of 2011, Jarrard served Youth Connection. She was involved in “Real Care Baby” presentations, and helped acquire sponsors and donors for Youth Connection’s annual fundraising event, Down on the Bayou, Nichols said.
“Kellie participated willingly and effectively in any task I asked her to be a part of,” Nichols said. “She is extremely dependable and very organized. I found her to be a very capable, pleasant and responsible person.”
Most of Jarrard’s time, however, was devoted the organization’s teen mother visits at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, which provide guidance and information about programs such as education, parenting, job training and child care to teen mothers, Nichols said.
“The teen mother visits were so enlightening to me, and I found myself thankful for the myriad of resources available in Waco and the surrounding areas,” Jarrard said. “However, seeing as how many of these teen mothers lived in poverty or poor living conditions, it would be very difficult for them to find these resources on their own.”
Jarrard said she was glad Youth Connection was able to play such a huge role in encouraging young mothers to go back to school or finish their degree, and in providing options for career and life choices following their graduation.
“The work I’ve done with Youth Connection has taught me the importance of awareness in a community when it comes to helping those who can’t help themselves,” Jarrard said. “So often the focus seems to be on criticizing these girls who end up on welfare and Medicaid because of their economic situation, but it really just takes someone to come alongside them and explain to them the wide array of options that exist outside waiting for them.”
Jarrard said she would love to see more nonprofits like Youth Connection in different areas, and she hopes that anyone who begins to volunteer with the organization realizes how influential of a job they are partaking in.
“Sometimes we are the only ‘cheerleaders’ who go into those hospital rooms and tell girls that they have options to finish school and pursue a career,” Jarrard said. “I just think that’s so special.”
As for her own future, Jarrard said Nichols has been an inspiration.
“She was an absolute blessing to work with, and I loved seeing her passion for youth in Waco,” Jarrard said. “She has really inspired me to one day look into starting a similar nonprofit in the Dallas area, where I’ll be moving after graduation, because I know there is definitely a need there for an organization like Youth Connection.”
Youth Connection invites a handful of student volunteers each semester, many of which come from the child and family studies program at Baylor like Jarrard. Other student volunteers have come from the Baylor School of Social Work, McLennan Community College and local high schools.
“Youth Connection mostly looks for volunteers who wish to work in children related fields following their college graduation,” Nichols said. “But we have also worked with others who were drawn to the programs Youth Connection offers.”
To get involved, potential volunteers should contact her to discuss if a placement with Youth Connection will be best for them and the organization’s programs, Nichols said. She can be reached at (254) 202-8480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.