Susan Gladin: Johnson Interns helping to make our world a better place

Apr. 18, 2013 @ 03:58 PM

The end of this column holds an invitation for you - an opportunity for a good time that benefits a good cause. 

But here at the beginning I want to talk about something called Praxis, because that is where this all began. The term “praxis” refers to applying a lesson or a skill.  It is about action – doing something that you’ve learned how to do. 

Every fall eight young adults come to Chapel Hill-Carrboro to live and serve for a year.  Every spring these “Johnson Interns” are challenged to find or create a project to which to apply the lessons they’ve learned from the work and study they’ve done since their arrival. 

Working as a Praxis Team they must assess strengths and needs, plan a project, write a grant, and then make it all happen. They do all of this while each intern works 32 hours a week in an area service organization and deals with life together with seven other people in a small house with a modest food budget that they all have to share.

The 2012-2013 Johnson Interns came here from seven different states to serve in eight distinct service organizations scattered throughout Orange and Durham counties. They live together in what is called “intentional community,” which means living more like family than friends, with a commitment to the whole that takes precedence over the individual. On Fridays they take part in a Servant Leadership curriculum to explore inner growth, faith, and outward expressions of compassion through issues of social justice.

By January, when Praxis Projects begin, they’re pretty good at working together. This year the Interns were struck by statistics - namely that 16 percent of Durham’s homeless population are children. A recent “Point-in-Time Count” identified 759 known homeless individuals in Durham, 118 of which were under the age of 18. It is hard to imagine 100+ children living on the streets.

A number of the Johnson Interns have previously served as counselors for children in summer camps. They know the benefits that children reap from the fun and challenging experiences there. They also realize that homeless kids usually don’t get to go to camp, and they have set about to change that fact by focusing on the children living at Genesis Home in Durham.

The interns already raised over $1,000 through their participation in “The Great Human Race,” held earlier in April. Now, before the month runs out they want to send even more children to camp this summer by bringing us all together for an event called “Rock and Roll and Raffles.”  It will be held on Friday, April 26, at University Baptist Church in Chapel Hill starting at 8 p.m.  This is your invitation, and will only cost $10 per person to get into the fun.

The popular Hillsborough band Red’s Rhythm (with my husband on rhythm guitar) is donating their musical talent to the event, with plenty of opportunity for dancing and fun.  The interns have secured a host of raffle items for you to take a chance on, and you can be assured that 100 percent of the ticket price or the raffle purchases will go directly for camp fees for a child or youth.

Because of my involvement with the Johnson Interns over many years, I am confident that this generation of young adults will leave the world a better place than they found it. They come with an urge to serve and to deepen their spiritual life, and those two impulses are brought together in their Praxis Projects each year. 

I see these young people “lead from within,” and in the process they teach others how to be servant-leaders as well.

Please join us on April 26 at University Baptist Church, or consider a donation to Genesis Home (mailed to JIP Praxis Project, PO Box 16786 Timberlyne Station, Chapel Hill, NC  27516). You can learn more about the Johnson Intern Program at, donate online, and meet the eight interns there: Kindred, Allie, Erica, Elizabeth, Ellen, Christine, Andrew, and Rachel. For details on this event, contact


A CHH columnist since 1998, Susan Gladin is a freelance writer, United Methodist minister, and curriculum coordinator at the Johnson Intern Program in Chapel Hill. She tends horses and a home business on the farm she shares with her husband. Their two grown daughters live nearby. You may e-mail her at, or write c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.