[Today's Engaged Life Feature is with Jill Hokanson current AmeriCorps VISTA and former Lutheran Volunteer Corps member. Jill is a lifelong volunteer and a proud supporter civic engagement.]
Why don’t you introduce yourself?
Well, I’m Jill Hokanson, from Austin, TX. I’m a graduate of Texas Lutheran University, and a lifelong volunteer.
What are you currently doing?
I’m working as an AmeriCorps VISTA leader at the VISTA program we have here at The University of Texas at Austin. (VISTA stands for Volunteers In Service To America.) Part of my job involves writing stories and using social media to promote the work of The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, so that the local community can get involved, and take advantage of the resources that the university has to offer. And the other part involves working with a team of 15 VISTA volunteers to ensure that their year of full-time volunteering is a valuable one.
How did you get into that?
I had wanted to explore the world of higher education from the staff side of things, and found out about the VISTA program at UT-Austin through a librarian friend. I applied, and served as a coordinator of arts and culture university-community partnerships before staying on for a second year in a leadership capacity.
What drove you to volunteer?
I think volunteering is a great way to learn more about yourself and what kind of role you want to play in your community. It has always been rewarding for me to use my talents to help organizations I really believe in. I love finding a synergy between the needs of my community and my own gifts and passions.
How has serving changed or shaped your life?
Oh, definitely. I feel like I now have a better sense of what kinds of opportunities that exist in the non-profit and higher education worlds, and where I could fit into them. And every time I encounter a new group of people, it increases my awareness of them and my capacity to care about their concerns, in a way that simply reading about an issue or studying it cannot accomplish.
What is your inspiration to keep serving, sharing and giving back?
In the face of environmental and economic turmoil and community breakdown, I don’t really feel that we have any other option — I believe that it is through service to others that we can restore our communities, find empathy for each other, and begin to solve the greatest challenges of our time.
Who inspires you?
I am inspired by all sorts of people — My sister, who finds the most creative ways to work toward a ecological and educational justice; Jennifer Long, my old boss at Casa Marianella (a homeless shelter for immigrants and refugees), who is calm-headed and wise in a way I only wish to one day be; NPR investigative reporter Laura Sullivan, whose work has been the game changer for people in the U.S. justice system, including wrongfully convicted death-row inmates; Muhammad Yunus, who started investing in the world’s poorest people before anyone else would.
What other organizations have you been involved with?
In addition to AmeriCorps VISTA, I’ve volunteered through Lutheran Volunteer Corps at the Alliance for Global Justice/Nicaragua Network. I’ve also worked at Casa Marianella.
I’ve also been involved with the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, Habitat for Humanity, Young Adult Resource Persons (a Texas youth ministry organization) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America as either a volunteer or member.
What does your family think/feel about you moving around, going to grad school and volunteering?
Well, I must confess that my family is right here in Austin. Though I have caused my mother much anxiety by studying abroad in Central America and then moving to Washington, DC for Lutheran Volunteer Corps, right now she’s happy that we live just 10 miles apart. I’m lucky to have grown up in an awesome town, but I had to go away before I realized how cool it is.
Sometimes I think my parents are getting to the point where they’re like, “Okay, Jill, time to get a real job,” but for the most part they’re just happy that I’m happy.
What tips would you give something that’s trying to figure out how they too can live an engaged life?
Just go out and do something! Find an organization that shares your values, and ask how you can get involved. I tend to be a thinker rather than a doer, but I take that first step in showing up at a volunteer event or filling out an application, it’s easy to quickly become immersed in service opportunities. Good luck and travel well!
You can follow Jill on twitter, her personal blog, or on the Community Engagement portal that she helped create for the University of Texas at Austin website.