Building Life Skills Through Service

life skills

This story is featured in the Spring 2018 edition of the HPU Magazine. Below, learn  how HPU sophomore Briana Smalley is discovering the ways a community can create positive change. 


Inside the High Point City Council Chambers, Briana Smalley sees leaders in her city offer someone a second chance.

That someone was convicted of a past violent crime. But today, they’re being addressed by a police officer, FBI agent, prosecutor, U.S. Marshal and nonprofit leaders, all of whom gather quarterly to send an important message: Crime isn’t welcome here.

“I’ve learned that some people can turn their life around,” Smalley says. “These meetings help them understand they have a choice to become a productive member of society or return to prison.”

Smalley, a High Point University sophomore and criminal justice major, knows that this kind of meeting is rare. She’s interned at the state attorney’s office in her hometown of West Palm Beach, Florida, for three consecutive summers, where she saw victims receive needed support. But she never saw officials from different agencies work together to prevent offenders from repeating crimes until she began working with High Point Community Against Violence (HPCAV).

“These are local, state and federal officials who wouldn’t work together anywhere else,” Smalley says. “To see this happen so regularly blows my mind. In High Point, it works.”

HPU’s Bonner Program connected Smalley to HPCAV. The Bonner Program is located on select campuses across the country. Its mission, along with HPU’s expanding Service Learning Program, is to offer students the chance to give back while building their skill sets.

“HPU has great resources for students who want to be involved in community service,” says Smalley, who completed more than 2,000 hours of service by the time she graduated from high school. “It’s a vital part of my life I wanted to continue in college, and the Bonner Program gives me the platform to escalate my passions.”


Learning from Crime Prevention Leaders

Smalley chose HPCAV as her service site after a round of rotations at High Point nonprofits.

It made sense. Smalley is a criminal justice major who loves to apply her knowledge to help Jim Summey, the nonprofit’s executive director and only full-time staff member.

In turn, she learns from a man whose deterrence model lowered crime by 57 percent in a 17-year period.

“Jim has become a huge mentor to me,” Smalley says. “I never thought about offenders after they went to jail. Now I know there is more to their story. Some can change their life.”

Summey founded HPCAV in 1997 to reduce violent crimes such as burglaries. He connected and built relationships between law enforcement agencies, nonprofits and community leaders, and he convinced them to come together for the bi-weekly call-in sessions, where, together, they face a former violent crime offender and persuade them to change their path in life.

“We represent the voice of community morale,” Summey says. “We work directly with offenders and tell them their actions are wrong, unacceptable and won’t be tolerated in our community. We also listen to their story so that they can be heard, and we help them identify the moments when they made bad decisions.”

Smalley is at HPCAV’s office in the heart of the city several times a week. She rides along with police patrols, helps provide assistance such as job training inside the organization’s carpentry workshop, and discovers the delicate dynamics of an offender’s life, as well as their family’s life.

“She has exposure to all aspects of the criminal justice system and gets to see the inner-workings of law enforcement,” Summey says.

She has helped advance some of the organization’s technology, and she’s become Summey’s team member.

“Briana brings positive energy to our organization,” Summey says. “I can see that she is soaking up experiences and knowledge. She helps me with problems I’ve had online for years. She’s willing to be a person who makes a positive difference wherever she is.”


A Future in Law

Smalley acknowledges that being a Bonner Leader and serving at HPCAV is a major commitment.

The 38 Bonners at HPU serve no less than 300 hours per year at sites throughout High Point.

But balancing coursework with real-world experiences builds their resumes and helps them rise above competition in the marketplace.

Combine that with the opportunity to help someone in need, and it’s all so worth it, Smalley says.

“I’ve met offenders who tell me they’re working to become better citizens for their children and their families,” she says. “Some of them want to start their own businesses or go back to school. What Jim and HPCAV does for them is issue a wakeup call. They come to appreciate that.”

Someday soon when Smalley begins law school applications, she’ll have experiencethat students from other universities won’t have.

Like working one-on-one with victims and offenders. That’s a standard part of law school clinics, but she’s already done both.

Or understanding the perspectives of police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, victims’ families or offenders’ families. And understanding that people can change if they choose to.

“I have this 360-degree perspective, and I know all the ways that different entities can come together at the end of the day,” she says. “I’m having real conversations with offenders, prosecutors and others about what can be done. That’s putting me on a maturity level with certain issues that I don’t think others my age will have.

“Through my work at HPCAV, I have learned that I can be a change agent.” 


View this story and more in the Spring 2018 edition of the HPU Magazine:

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