americorps

Jorrel “Joey” Diaz, A Different Way to Serve America

Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Matthew [20:28]

Jorrel or known as Joey had skipped school and was with his foster brother. He was a freshman in high school and considering dropping out of high school. As they were roaming the streets of the South Bronx a nearby gunfight broke out. Unfortunately, his foster brother was accidentally hit and killed. For a person so young, he witnessed the death of his only real friend and family member. But it was also a moment that Joey chose to change the direction of his life.

Joey was born into an unstable household and was sent to live with his grandparents. At the age of eight, both his grandparents died, and Joey was placed in foster care, joining a house of eight children. School was hard and life was tough, leading up to the day of the fatal shooting of his foster brother. Prior to this he had stopped going to school and was ready to drop out and pursue a life on the streets.

The death caused him to rethink his life’s journey and he rededicated his efforts in school. Becoming a model student, he was able to enter a very prestigious college; Trinity in Hartford Connecticut. In 2013 he earned his degree, with a major in Education and Urban Studies.

After school, he entered AmeriCorps and was assigned to the East Harlem school district. His job was to help students stay in school and stay on track. After his first year, he agreed to stay on and became a Senior Member and today still serves in the same school district.

So what is AmeriCorps? Well, it is a way to serve your country without enlisting in the military or the Peace Corp. Their assignments are in the poorer parts of our country. Many youth choose this path after college to serve their country. Most just for a year.

But unlike the Military, it is quasi-unpaid service. They receive a  meager living allowance and medical insurance. After completing their one year service they can receive a five thousand scholarship for future education or the same amount to forgive a portion of their student loan.

Many work far more than the required forty hours a week and have very limited resources to do their jobs. Even if you include their medical benefits and scholarship they make far less than minimum wage.

The resourceful members procure donations to do their job. Perhaps if you assigned to making sure children in disadvantaged school districts get the proper amount of nutrition every day, you can find businesses that will donate food. Or perhaps get the school district to let the children take home excess food to ensure they get three meals a day. Being resourceful with little is something that these people learn.

Or if you like Joey, skillfully become an advocate for youth, as they navigate the world of scarcity and neglect. Keeping them on track to go to college. Then continue to work with youth after they enter college, to stay in college. Without this help, the college graduation rate of these students is less than twenty-five percent. Not because they are not bad students, rather they are pulled here and there by financial turmoil; or disruptive living and family life conditions. Joey’s job is to keep them in school.

But Joey serves at far less pay than many of his peers who graduated from a prestigious school like Trinity. Joey certainly could have gotten a much higher paying job than working for AmeriCorps. And like others who chose this course; his reward is not material, but in serving our country.

Many who serve in our military, also serve their country. Their service is far better known and the resources they receive are greater. Their service is still notable and worthy. Those who serve in AmeriCorps receive far less recognition and pay. And more should be known about these people who serve just as valiantly.

Jesus says in Matthew [20:28], For the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many. Many times we hear Jesus referred to as the Son of God, but Jesus more commonly referred to himself as the Son of man. His goal was to serve and not be served.

This is the spirit of AmeriCorps workers. A surrendering of themselves to help others. Joey’s motivation, driven by the horrible experience of seeing a loved one gunned down, was also to serve. To make the world better for others that walked that same path.

So this is a radically different thought. Why not include AmeriCorps veterans in the celebration of Veterans Day. Shouldn’t it still be appropriate to say to these unknown warriors, thank you for your service? After all, like our wonderfully patriotic armed forces servants, they have also lived to serve and not be served. Both groups are driven by a noble desire to not put themselves first.

When we think of the greatness of our country, service is one of those things that makes up the American ethos.

In very many ways these wonderful people live into Jesus’s statement of serving and not being served.

So, Thank you for your service; Jorell “Joey” Diaz.

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Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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