Elon university students find joy, growth in serving others

It’s all about self-empowerment, according to Elon University senior Alexis Janes.

Janes is completing her practicum at the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) in Burlington, an organization that gives women in Alamance County the support they need to become self-sufficient.

The WRC is hosting its 15th annual herb festival April 26-28 to raise money for its programming and initiatives. For Janes, working on the project has been a professional eye-opener.

“I might not take the traditional route of human services, but it’s been really good experience seeing how a nonprofit works,” she said. “I’m in the more event-planning side of it, marketing, and I really got involved with the members to raise money.”

The money from the herb festival event funds most of the WRC’s annual activities, according to intern and senior Jessica Gibian. The staff is hoping to raise $30,000 in three days, with help from generous members and festival attendees.

For many of the women coming to the WRC for help, life has only recently forced them into dire straits. According to Janes, the center serves displaced homemakers, the underemployed and the unemployed. Most of the time, clients have recently experienced divorce or job loss.

“We do job counseling, help them write their resumes, practice interviews and develop networking skills,” Janes said. “We provide them with gas cards to help them, we find appropriate housing and daycare. So much goes into finding a job that you don’t ever think about.”

The WRC also serves as a liaison between clients and other organizations such as the Burlington Housing Authority.

For Gibian, working with the WRC has shaped her career plans.

“This past summer, I started thinking about taking (the human services route),” she said. “Since I’m part time, my parents suggested I take some of the time I’m not in class to do an internship that will bolster my resume, but also give me experience and narrow down what I want. I started at WRC and I loved it immediately.”

Both Janes and Gibian said they believe in the purpose of the organization and feel they’re benefiting from the experience.

But they’re not the only ones receiving value from the WRC.

“I really love seeing women come in and say, ‘I need this money to get recertified,’ and then two weeks later they’re on their way to income,” Gibian said. “I love seeing their mission carried out. I really believe in it so much because it really can continue itself. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll have fish forever.”

By witnessing the importance of social services and assistance, Gibian has a greater appreciation for what she has.

“I know I’ve been really lucky to have avoided all of the pitfalls that lead to that, but not everyone is born lucky,” she said. “To see someone who maybe had a rough childhood, or in the past few years things just haven’t been going well, be on their own and be ready to be on their own is a cool thing.”

For both students, bringing the WRC to a younger generation has been a top priority.

“We’re really trying to get people involved in our social media because our member group is mainly the older generation,” Janes said. “My goal is really to get people involved that are younger, people that have just graduated college, because I learned so much.”

Not only has it inspired Janes to connect with more youthful members, the experience at the WRC has changed her view of the female gender.

“Now I see that women can work, they can volunteer, they can have families, they can be members of an organization,” she said. “They can do anything.”

Finalizing plans for the herb festival and knowing it can change the lives of the clients at the WRC has been of great importance to Janes.

“This is how we can afford to give these women a gas card, or give them counseling and legal help for free,” she said. “The best part has been seeing the herb festival all come together, and seeing what all that money is going to do.”

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