Gerald Thomas was a senior at Philander Smith College when he first heard about the Global Justice Volunteers program. This opportunity allows young adults ages 18-30 to receive training and do 10 weeks of hands-on mission. He signed up not because he wanted to travel — he preferred to stay in North America — but because he felt God's call to work with communities in need.
The next summer, Gerald joined 23 Global Justice Volunteers for two weeks of training in Manila, the Philippines. The training included information about crisis management, preparedness, direct and indirect service, and community development.
"Service and religion came together," he says. The group members abandoned their cell phones and ate a ton of rice. The program was eye-opening, and it also forged a strong bond among the 2012 Global Justice Volunteers. "We all still check on each other," Gerald says. "We are a family."
From Manila, Gerald traveled to New Orleans to begin his work with high school students who had been affected by Hurricane Katrina. His job at Fountain of Youth Foundations was to help develop curriculum and organize a video program to help keep kids off the streets. His major project was to learn how to shoot video, teach the kids to use simple cameras, and work with two filmmakers to compile and edit the footage into a documentary.
"Some of the kids didn't want to be there, and they made sure we knew it," Gerald says, laughing. "I was sorta known as the daddy of the class, the tough guy." He wouldn't let kids act like their lives didn't matter. Eventually, his students became his friends. "We were able to convert 100 percent of those students to believe that they were worth something," Gerald says with pride.
He admits that it wasn't always easy, but the experience reminded him every day that he was called to be his brothers' keeper and his sisters' keeper. "I owe it to every single person I come in contact with to let them know: you are special," he says.
This passion has extended beyond the 10-week Global Justice Volunteers program. Gerald is now in California working for AmeriCorps to provide career training for people on welfare. "I want it known that this program changed my life," he says.
Who do you know that could benefit from an experience like Gerald's? Applications for young adults considering the Global Justice Volunteers program are due March 1. Consider applying, and pass this along to someone who you think might be interested!