It was a Saturday, less than 15 minutes after graduation, and Shannon Barr was still in her black graduation gown when she got a text message from one of her professors, Amy MacArthur.
“Are you still on campus? I have an offer for you.”
She went looking for MacArthur and found her along with the Rev. Dr. Joe Blosser, the Robert G. Culp director of service learning. That’s when Blosser asked Barr if she wanted to be part of something big – HPU’s AmeriCorps VISTA program.
She’d work with local non-profits and service organizations and connect them with students in HPU’s new social justice endeavor known as the Bonner Leader Program.
Barr jumped at the chance.
That was nearly two years ago. Barr is now 23, and she is still part of HPU’s AmeriCorps VISTA program.
A Leap of Faith
She knew the job she accepted as a VISTA would challenge her in new ways. It was liberating, she says, and terrifying.
All at the same time.
“I was out of my academic element, but I gave myself grace,” she says. “I allowed myself to stumble, and I learned from that. And now, I still learn something new every day.”
In her first year as a VISTA, Barr led the charge to re-launch the Community Writing Center in its new location at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. The CWC began as a collaboration with the church and Kirkman Park Elementary School. Since then, Barr has helped increase membership, expand programming and add partnerships to include support from Walmart, the High Point Community Foundation, the Hayden-Harman Foundation and Used Pages bookstore.
It’s one of many ways she helps support community revitalization.
It’s also how many HPU students get involved, too. Barr helps place Bonner Leaders in the right volunteer roles, and coordinates students on campus to tutor children in the CWC. For many students, it is their first introduction to serving in the community. For others, it’s an extension of their commitment to give back.
“This is Everything”
Barr says she loves building bridges with the people who make up the High Point community.
Take one recent afternoon, for example.
Once again, Barr is helping Jakki Davis with the local non-profit D-Up’s after school program, Physical Activity, Nutrition, Academics and Character Development, better known as PNAC.
Davis stands inside a building near campus called The Ritz, holding a handful of dresses for children to try on for their Christmas celebration. As always, she is happy to see Barr. She says she couldn’t operate PNAC without her and HPU’s Bonner Leader students.
But Barr isn’t inside. She is outside playing soccer with a second-grader whose hair is braided and tied with plastic hearts.
“This is everything,” Barr says between kicks. “It’s not about the emails I send or the research I read. At the end of the day, it’s this. Relationships.
“Throwing the football with kids playing outside while we’re door knocking for community events. Drawing or reading with kids at our after school programs. Being welcomed into communities, homes, hearts, and lives. Those are the moments that I cherish most.”
And that is why she stayed.
“You walk along with them on the journey, and you understand, ‘It’s not about me,’” she says. “I’ve met the most inspiring people and learned about myself, and I’ve become more humbled and thankful more than anything.”