New theme house aids area high school students

House members help students with school, society and life in general | December 30, 2002

To influence others in the community with your actions is one aspect of service. Yet, to influence and encourage action of your community exemplifies serving. And a houseful of University students is doing just that. This year, five students—Allison Jones, Kenya Jackson, Lauren Readus, Natasha Hamilton and Tamara Brummer—founded Jumba La Nia, a new University theme house. Meaning “house of purpose” in Swahili, Jumba La Nia (pronounced joom-bah-la-knee-ya) was established to combat the plight of African-American youth in the community, specifically by focusing on the mentoring of area high school females. The house members selected 10 students from area high schools and spend at least 10 hours a week mentoring them on school, society and life in general. “I see a piece of me in each girl,” says Readus. “I didn’t have anyone to help me learn life lessons, and to give that to these girls is a self-learning opportunity.” “This program helps me to become a better person, too,” says Jackson. “You can’t tell people, ‘Do as I say, and not as I do.’ ” The group focuses its yearlong programming around the theme, “What young black women need to know,” focusing each month on a specific word. In September, it began with “what,” introducing the participants to the house and campus, and by presenting seminars as well as workshops on what it means to be a black woman, what a black woman needs to know and what a black woman needs to do. Each month, programming includes overnight stays at the house, which are complimented with a service learning activity the following morning. In addition, the women offer study tables, seminars and workshops as well as collaborative dinners with other organizations on campus to increase their participants' academic as well as social awareness. “I want people to know that African-American women need to have a responsibility to each other,” says Jackson. “If more people were willing to give up their time to people who need it, the community would be different.” Their efforts—despite being brand new—are making an impact beyond the students they mentor, too. A group of administrators and staff members within the University, for instance, were so impressed with their actions that they volunteered to prepare food for events at the house. The women are still students who have academic duties in addition to their service, says Pat Woeste, administrative assistant to the academic vice president and coordinator of the effort, and this gesture gives them time for other concerns. “I think it is incredible what they are doing,” says Woeste. “It really speaks to what Xavier is about.” Currently, the women of the house are looking for other women who are willing to accept the dedication to lifelong service and continue the house’s efforts. The legacy of the program, they say, continues after they're gone. Graduation of the high school students, for instance, is only part of their ongoing efforts. The dedication goes beyond instilling the purpose of the house on campus but also in the community. And there is so much to do. With dozens of high schools in Cincinnati and hundreds of students in need of a mentor, it takes collaboration as well as heart to tackle today’s problems for tomorrow’s accomplishments. “I love the people who I am working with in this house, and you have to have the same type of relationship in order for this to work,” says Readus. “We love what we do, and we do what we love.” For more information about the Jumba La Nia theme house, visit its web site.