A group of women sit in a circle at West End Ministries in High Point, N.C. as they discuss the latest selection in their weekly book club. They laugh, tell personal stories and support one another. This isn’t just any book club. It’s made up of women overcoming abuse and other challenges, and striving for a better life. They are residents, and former residents, of Leslie’s House, an emergency shelter for women.
The book club, one program offered by the house, is overseen by West End Ministries and High Point University graduate Anna Mahathey, a 2012 graduate of HPU. Mahathy serves as an Americorp VISTA at both High Point University and West End Ministries, providing new opportunities for HPU students to serve and improving the lives of those in need of West End Ministries’ services. She works on programs ranging from “Basics of Renting” classes, to food and exercise programs, supportive management, and other activities including the book club.
“The book club provides a safe space for people to learn, question and share their experiences with one another in a way that creates meaningful dialogue and appreciation for difference,” says Mahathey.
At HPU, Mahathey coordinates the new Bonner Leader Program, a program designed to deepen community engagement in higher education by offering student skills and assistance at no cost to community organizations. As program coordinator, Mahathey worked alongside six students deeply committed to serving and engaging in the High Point community. She meets with them each week to train on specific skills, guide them through issues-based discussions and lead them in reflection.
“It has been a remarkable experience working with the Bonners both through weekly meetings and in the community on site visits. Experiencing their deep commitment to service and dialogue, and watching them engage with their peers in meaningful ways has been enlightening,” says Mahathey. “We constantly challenge and stretch each other to find new ways to engage the campus and the community, to think about the meaning of service and to create positive, sustainable change.”
Mahathey says those are all skills she learned as a student at HPU.
“One of the most important skills I learned through classes and relationships with professors at HPU is to always continue thinking, growing, challenging and questioning,” says Mahathey. “By my professors’ example, I learned to be people’s safe space, where they can be fully and wholly themselves – questions, biases, goals and excitements included – while also advocating for sustainable justice through research, relationship and practice.”
Mahathey says her work with the Bonner Program, students at HPU and with West End Ministries is helping her reach her ultimate goal.
“My ultimate goal is to learn how to build community in such a way that people not only recognize the crippling effects of systemic oppression, but also engage in dialogue and action through their stories, lived experiences and gained insights to remedy those issues on a local level.”