Dr. Darolyn “Lyn” Jones is a professor of English at Ball State University and teaches English education, creative writing, rhetoric, and composition. She is currently involved in the Write for Change with the Muncie Mission program.
Can you tell us a little about Write for Change with the Mission?
I’m going to speak specifically to the Muncie Mission. It’s evolved and changed over the last several years, as the Mission now has a new community engagement officer. Her name is Lee Edwards, and she is quite dynamic. Our focus this year has been mostly on Walk a Mile, which is their largest yearly fundraiser. We’re also going to be pivoting to the Attic Window. The bulk of what we have done this year is that students have been reaching out to student organizations and making pitches to get these organizations to get involved, either by donating or raising money themselves or by walking as a team which requires you to raise money.
How do you think the efforts of students within the Mission affect their understanding of ethics and the need for community?
Lee Edwards and I co-teach students. They have what are called learning service days, where we go to the Mission and have a lesson for students. It might be learning about what the hub does at the mission, it might be learning about what facilities do at the mission or learning about thrift store operations, or even how Walk a Mile works. So, there’s always a lesson that is provided by one of the staff members, and then there’s a service component where students actually are engaged in a service activity that directly ties to what they learned.
For example, one day they learned about the hub. It’s similar to bridging when individuals come to the hub: They can get those individuals who are either experiencing homelessness or about to resources, and it might just be that they need food. It might be that they need medical care. It might be they need some assistance paying utilities. It might be need that they need some quick short-term shelter. The hub is a way for the staff to like bridge out and reach people and bring them into a safer place and to address their needs of homelessness.
Currently, students are writing and preparing podcast materials and a radio spot for W.I.B.C. for the Attic Window. The Attic Window is a thrift store, and the Muncie Mission operates five of them in the state. There’s two in Muncie, one in Newcastle, one in Winchester, and one in Hartford City. They want to highlight how important it is to donate to the Attic Window, as well as to shop there. In particular, they want to get Ball State students involved because Ball State students leave a lot of good stuff behind when they leave campus.
Students are going to be helping to create a radio ad and a podcast that talks about the good work they do and encourage the students to donate. We’re going to have a big truck on campus where students can donate both food material that’s unused and not open, such as any furniture or clothes that can be taken to the Attic Window. A lot of what my students have been doing has been more media-based, such as media composition, but with that involves a lot of project planning and teamwork since they’re on teams writing scripts. It’s going to be free, and it’s going to be appropriate for the different audiences that the mission serves.
How do you think the identification of these issues within Muncie affect yourself and your students? Is there something that stands out as to why you commit yourself to Write for Change with the Mission?
I’m a lifelong activist, and I used to be the Education Outreach Director for the Indiana Writers Center. I did that for 16 years, and I oversaw a public memoir project working with marginalized individuals in the city of Indianapolis, and we helped them write their stories in a way to help lift their voices up. I’ve had 13 other immersive learning projects here at Ball State, and I’m always working in the community.
For me, it’s critical that Ball State students board across the border get off campus and get into the community. This is the community they live in for four or more years, and they’re using that city of Muncie’s resources and engaging with its public. They need to be more involved with the Muncie community and not just the Ball State community. They need to feel like they’re included as well, and they need to leave a legacy here. Ball State students have a lot that they can offer the community and reciprocally, and the community has a lot they can offer the Ball State students. My students have learned so much from Lee Edwards and from other faculty and staff at the Muncie mission.
Is there a specific instance or moment within the Mission that has stuck with you?
It’s a two-way street. There’s a lot of different instances or moments that have worked stuck out for me, but one that we got to learn was about all the different kinds of “home-ing” that the mission does. It’s very complex. They don’t just have dorms set up; they do have a dorm for men, but they also have a women’s facility. They have a tiny home village. They have several apartment complexes near the campus where they can place individuals or families. They have transitional homes. They are taking blighted and vacant homes in the community and turning those into transitional homes for men who have been through the addiction recovery program to keep them close by so they can continue to receive support services.
There’s a lot that we learned about the homes and how those contracts work. We’ve learned a lot, and we’ve toured those facilities, but part of what we got to do one day is actually clean some of the facilities, and in particular one was in really rough shape. It had been a single mother with five small children and a very small apartment. And the apartment itself is clean, but it was old. And my students were really struck by the fact that there was only one bedroom. There were mattresses on the floor, and everybody would be living that way. And it’s just a temporary solution. They did get the family at a better location. My students all said, “I feel so grateful,” I mean, they just realized one very tiny bathroom and a very tiny kitchen with only a tiny refrigerator, and everyone sleeping in one’s place and with not a lot of storage. And just realizing this was a less than ideal situation. These individuals had been living in a car, but they were off the streets. So, it was humbling for my students to really see and experience that. And I think it sort of brought to light a lot of the stories we tell them about what happens at the mission, but to experience that directly is different.
My students are not allowed to engage with the residents. This is where they live, so we’re not going to interfere with those residents. However, when we built the sidewalk, several of the male residents who live there were assisting with the construction of the sidewalk because that was part of their work that is required when they live there. So, my students did get to engage with those individuals, and it was just a really wonderful day. Everyone was working so hard together, and the resident who lived in the transitional house came out and spoke to us and thanked the kids. I think there was something just very tangible about seeing the fact that, at the end of the day, they had constructed something that was going to make a difference for someone. And the same with that transitional home, the apartment, we cleaned it up so another family could stay there. And while the accommodations were small and meager, we had created a safe place for another family to go.
I think for the Walk a Mile itself; people are just all coming together on a very cold February morning, and they’re walking a mile to the mission. They’re talking and there’s men who live there and women and all the staff. Everyone’s walking. We’re all together. The mayor is there. There are city council people there. I was just so proud of my students. They were taking lots of photos and talking to different people. They worked really hard setting up and breaking it down. It was a lot of hard work. I just was really proud of how hard they worked that day and what a sense of pride they felt. Ball State teams participated, and they raised $121,000 which was the most money they had ever raised. They said they felt they were part of that, so that’s really rewarding.
With all these courses offer, how can students that aspire to join the efforts of Write for Change with the Mission look to become part of community outreach?
There are not enough people, and there are not enough resources. Ball State is this whole other community that can be part of the Muncie Mission that the mission itself just can’t tap into because there’s just so much work they have to do. They are one of the larger missions in the state of Indiana, but it’s something my students can do. With the mission, my students can get more folks involved, get content written, get content created, help raise money, and help raise awareness. That’s pretty exciting, and I think it’s incredibly rewarding work. I love it, and I love the Muncie mission, really. I’ve had a lot of partners, and they’ve all been wonderful, but I definitely have a real sweet spot for the Muncie Mission.
In terms of ‘how can we recruit students’, my class is a hybrid class, so it meets both in person and online. Sometimes with the online thing, the students get a little unsure about that. Sometimes that makes it more difficult for me to recruit because it’s hybrid. I think a lot of times, we’re very clear about what the class is about, but students will sign up saying they’re interested and not realize that it’s a lot more work. This is not just a ‘go to class and write papers’ and that kind of thing. When we go to learning service days with travel and time there, we’ve got a four-hour day. And we’re often almost always working outside, almost always working outside in some capacity, and we have to shift gears a lot.
Sometimes we’ll start in a direction on a project and then the Muncie Mission will go, “Okay, wait a minute, how about this?” So, there’s just a lot of flexibility, discipline, and hard work. Also, you have to be interested in social justice topics and activist topics. Honestly, some of the students who sign up think they will be or say they are or maybe they just realize it’s not what they want. But that said, I have a lot of students who want to be in this kind of class and stick with it and do incredible work. So, recruitment is key for us. It’s unusual because this is a Freshman class, so most kids don’t take those immersive classes right until Sophomore, Junior, or Senior year. So, living on a college campus and college as a whole is new for them, especially when being away from home. Then you’re putting them into this high impact immersive class, and it’s hard.
It’s exciting to have the same kids all year long. I’m right out there building the sidewalk with them and doing stuff, so you just really get to know them. It’s a very different experience at Ball State, and I wish more students would sign up for these kinds of classes because the work is authentic. You can really see the effects of the stuff they do. It’s not a paper that sits in there in their folder, OneDrive, or Google Doc. What they’re writing gets real criticism from the Mission, and they’re honest about stuff. The kids really learn that when they revise, stuff isn’t going to fly all the time. The Mission wants it this way, so what they’re writing is very authentic and different.