Kristen Farah has far-reaching goals as she looks beyond her college years: equal educational opportunity for children in the United States, for starters.
Her inspiration comes from opportunities to volunteer through the Center for Community Engagement, where staff set her up with Jumpstart, a national early-education organization that recruits and trains college students and community members to teach language skills to preschool children in low-income neighborhoods.
Disparities of opportunity
Farah described her first experiences volunteering with Jumpstart as “life changing.” The urban preschools where she served were unlike anything she’d ever seen.
“It was really eye-opening. Coming from a small town and going to the inner city and seeing the different economic and socioeconomic statuses of people—and just the ultimate struggle that children face based on their area code—really made me see that I was fortunate and privileged to have the life that I enjoy,” said Farah, a junior with a double major in psychology and sociology.
From then on, Farah was hooked. Instead of renewing a lease on an apartment near campus, she moved home to New Hampshire and now commutes more than an hour each way, a money-saving option that allows her to decrease her work hours and increase the time she has to volunteer.
“After seeing the children wanting to succeed and the different obstacles and struggles that they face each day, I realized that this is my thing. I love helping people and promoting change in others. I needed to do more,” Farah said.
Mentoring and leading
Farah, who is now a Jumpstart team leader, began her association with the initiative as a freshman. She’s gone from working with groups of three preschool kids to a class of 21 at UP Academy, a Boston charter school. She’s also mentored a student as a lunch buddy at the Eliot School, an elementary school in the North End of Boston.
“I’ve learned how a small thing can make such a huge difference to someone else. Here I was, just sitting for thirty or forty-five minutes having lunch and talking to a student, but just by being someone they could talk to and look up to I was having an impact,” Farah said.
Volunteering has not only defined her college experience, but also has impacted Farah’s goals. She ultimately wants to get a PhD, with a focus on child psychology and the impact of prescription drugs. But before pursuing graduate studies, she hopes to participate in Teach for America, reaching into another low-income community through AmeriCorps.
“No child should ever be stigmatized for where they reside. There should never be that gap in achievement and learning just because a child grows up in an inner city,” Farah said. “The idea of equal opportunity for children is why I’m so dedicated to helping, and I am working toward the day that that becomes reality.”