When Jessica Waldron starts a project, it’s not just a project: it’s a vision. Waldron, an RU junior interdisciplinary studies/middle school education major from Salem, works in an AmeriCorps position with Beans and Rice Inc. As part of her job she leads an after-school and summer program for children who live at Meadowview Apartments in Pulaski County.
Last summer, Waldron offered a financial literacy class to a group of Meadowview children in grades 6 - 12. They practiced distinguishing needs from “wants” and learned to create budgets. They played a “real-world” game, in which each participant drew cards assigning his or her individual income, family status and other basic information for the purpose of the game. Based on what they drew and “shopping” online, they made financial decisions, such as choosing a house, clothes, food and other necessities to buy. Waldron sent them “bills,” for which they wrote “checks” based on their individual incomes.
At the beginning of the summer, the group also identified a real shared need -- new school clothes -- and set a goal to raise money for shopping by August. To participate in the shopping trip they were required to attend 75 percent of the 20 program days and to demonstrate good behavior.
Waldron started calling area stores to see what community outreach programs they might offer. The group also chose a project to raise additional funds: making duct tape bags to sell. The Footlocker store at New River Valley Mall responded to Waldron’s call with a $100 gift card. With that, and with what they made from their duct tape bag sales, five children went on a real shopping trip.
Late in the summer, Dublin’s Wal-Mart responded to Waldron with the opportunity to apply for a grant. She applied and in the fall was awarded a grant of $1,000. Since they had already bought their school clothes, the group decided to use the money for Christmas shopping, with each of the five children receiving $100 to spend. The other $500, said Waldron, went back into the program for a future project.
Waldron, who knew she wanted to teach, started looking for ways to get experience as soon as she came to RU. As a freshman she worked at a daycare facility, but she wanted more experience with middle school children. “One day I walked past the Beans and Rice window in downtown Radford and decided to go in,” she said. Inside she met program coordinator Eric Bucey, a co-founder of Beans and Rice, which is a nonprofit community development corporation that grew out of service-learning and alternative break classes taught by now-retired RU sociology professor Nelda Pearson, president of Beans and Rice.
Waldron also works in an after-school program funded by a federal Twenty-First Century Grant at Pulaski Elementary School. There she supervises service-learning students from RU. When she graduates, she said, “I will pursue my career as a teacher.”
She encourages fellow students, especially those planning to teach, to take advantage of opportunities to volunteer with children, both for the experience and because “there are so many rewards. You get to see the kids develop and mature.”