Grateful My Time in Service Led Me Full Circle – submitted by Donya Jenkins-Gai

Donya blog post 1.8.20
Donya, Abubakar and Medina at the Citizenship Ceremony

I moved back home to Des Moines in 2014 after serving three service terms in AmeriCorps in New Orleans. I went there because I wanted to do my part in helping the city to rebuild after Katrina. Since I still had service on my heart I applied for a position at Oakridge Neighborhood Services. I had worked there many moons ago so I thought this would be a good place to serve. I applied for the VISTA Community Outreach Lead position where my responsibilities were to find resources for ESL class participants. I had always had a passion about knowing my community and its resources because I always loved to help people when they had a need so I thought this would be easy peasy for me. I also do not meet a stranger so working with refugees and re-learning my community was right up my alley. Well, I learned very fast that befriending the refugee community was not as easy as I thought only because (I believe) my personality is ummm, big I will say. After I took a breath and took a step back and took my time to get to know the class participants and the residents in the community we began to gel before I knew it. I was being invited into homes for meals, the children would run up to me and give me hugs, and I was given cultural attire.

Oakridge Neighborhood has 300 units with over 1,000 residents from many different countries and so many languages that I cannot begin to count. Just a beautiful bouquet.  Well I served in that role for two years and met many community members including my now husband from South Sudan. One family in particular pulled at my heart. Their baby boy was super chunky and cute (all of the kids were super cute and sweet). I give nick-names and the baby boy’s nick-name was “potato” because he was healthy and heavy.  Dad spoke the best English in the home and worked a full-time job. He would come to ESL class when he could but Mom was faithful during those two years. Mom came in any type of weather with “potato” in his stroller and their three or four year old (who was not too sure of me almost the entire time lol). Close to the end of my second term we did mock interviews with Mom because she was looking for a part-time job. Boy was I excited for Mom because she has a very quiet personality and was VERY self-conscious about her English skills even though she spoke well. Oakridge also had a free driving course for the residents and Mom took the class. I cannot express the feeling I had watching Mom gain confidence in herself and her abilities. Mom got a job and her license. I departed Oakridge Neighborhood to serve as a VISTA Leader at Volunteer Iowa in which allowed me to learn my community in other ways, to network with different community leaders and learn how to advocate and support the service members when needed.

These two things together are important because I re-learned my community from my service time at Oakridge Community and Volunteer Iowa in which prepared me for my current job at MercyOne as a Community Health Worker. My job is to connect our patients with community resources for ANY need, and I mean ANY need. I also advocate for them when asked and be a support to them when needed. Well, while at work I was walking down the hall and who do I see in a room? I saw shy Mom at the clinic with her eldest child. We embraced each other and kissed one another and hugged some more.  Mom told me she and her husband were going to their Citizenship ceremony the next day and she wanted me to come. (Typing this is making me cry again). Between my happy tears I said yes, where and what time? Time and place, if I didn’t work in the role that I was prepared for I wouldn’t have bumped into Mom and been invited to share in their life milestone.

I am ever so grateful for the opportunity to serve in which built my skills and allowed me to network in the community. I didn’t know where those service opportunities were going to take me, but I landed on my spot. I am yet serving my community and because of those service terms I am an asset to my community in which I am truly thankful.

Happy Serving,

Donya Jenkins-Gai

Community Health Worker

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