Volunteer Julia Brown
Meet Julia Brown, high school chorus teacher in Columbia, SC who started as a Chaperone, turned into a Writing Coach, Writing Coach Coordinator, and then watched her own son become a Peer Leader. Every year at workshops she tells her students: “When you got here you came with a suitcase filled a lot of heavy burdens. When you leave, you have a suitcase filled with everything you need to start you journey into the next chapter of your life’s journey.”
I am from New Orleans, LA and I grew up in a household where not going to college was never an option. College was always part of the conversation in my family. My mother had both a Bachelors and Master’s degree. My father went into the Army and took courses along the way. I had a lot to live up to!
When I was a junior in college, I landed my first job as an elementary school music teacher. It was then that I realized everyone didn’t have the same advantages I had, suddenly I was given a mission – to impart the importance of a higher education on my students. That was over 29 years ago now, and I’ve been an educator ever since. In all those years, my best advice to students was always “Leave your hometown. Go out into the world and explore. If after you have explored and have the desire to return, then do so but bring those experiences with you to impact future generations”
I got involved with PeerForward by a fluke. A teacher who was supposed to serve as a Chaperone cancelled, so our principal approached me about filling the spot. I accepted the invitation and the rest is history. I was not in love with being a Chaperone – I had too much downtime! So the Workshop Director put me in charge of decorations for the banquet. I made decorations that are still in use today, in fact. That was the most fun, and watching student reactions really lit up my world.
That following year I went off and started my Writing Coach experience. It’s just been wonderful. I feel like I finally found my niche, where I can make a difference with a whole new set of kids and teach a whole new subject. I absolutely look forward to it every summer.
I had the opportunity to work one of the Florida workshops this year. I remember going home and telling my husband about how so many of these kids had survived the horror of the earthquake in Haiti. Looking into the faces of so many first-generation college bound students saying “I’m going, it doesn’t matter how but I’m going to get there.” I remember this one Peer Leader with over a 5.0 GPA who didn’t think he had the chops to actually go to college! Unbelievable. They come in thinking they’re not worthy and then on Sunday they realize the power they truly have. I wouldn’t trade my PeerForward experiences and connections for the world.
My son is a product of PeerForward with aspirations of serving as an Alumni Leader. You have no idea how proud I am to say that. He said he didn’t really know what he wanted in life, but he knew he wanted to go to college. I’m not sure why he thought there would be an option! He was accepted to every school he applied to. I credit that to PeerForward. Now he’s at Prairie View A&M University in Texas with almost a full ride.
Anybody is PeerForward. You just have to believe it, receive it, and achieve it.