In every town there are organizations that quietly and steadily support the community behind the scenes, changing and enriching lives, each and every day in multiple ways. As we all go about our business each day, there are children and young people who are getting help with their homework, learning a new skill and growing in ways that would not be possible without these organizations’ help.
Each day, there also are students who are helping neighbors, the elderly, and nonprofits in order to “pay forward” the assistance they receive from Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s beloved nonprofit with the funny name: The SKJAJA Fund.
SKJAJA helps students from families with limited resources afford enrichment opportunities like sports, the arts, leadership camps, etc. In return for the funding received, grant recipients “pay it forward” through a community service project.
Matt Lawing, who coordinates “SKJAJA Saturday” service opportunities, has watched students embrace, and enjoy, “giving back”.
“SKJAJA gives these young people a heart for service,” he says. ““The result is a ripple effect – SKJAJA helps the students, the students help others, and others, seeing the importance of service through SKJAJA kids, pay it forward to help even more people.”
Chapel Hill High SKJAJA club member Caitlin Grubbs, who often participates in SKJAJA Saturdays, values the opportunity to work with recipients. “SKJAJA enables older students to go out and help younger kids,” she explains. “It makes Chapel Hill-Carrboro a better, more connected, community.”
Some of the recent SKJAJA Saturdays have involved sorting canned goods at TABLE, serving lunch at the Orange County Special Olympics soccer tournament, and cleaning up the grounds of the Hargraves Center. “It is important to nurture you own community and help out locally like this,” club member Karis Dean says. “A lot of people think about helping people in other countries, but there are needs close to home too.”
Through SKJAJA’s support over the past several months, for example, CHCCS students from disadvantaged families have been able to participate in their school bands/orchestras, attend taekwondo summer camp, play on Rainbow Soccer teams, accompany their school classmates on out-of-state chorus and theater trips, attend Communiversity after school, travel to an FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) conference out of state, and travel to am FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) meeting.
As a SKJAJA volunteer, I have really enjoyed getting to know these young people at the SKJAJA Saturdays, particularly a couple of the Communiversity students, one of whom plans to be president so she can help all sorts of people and another who wants to be a therapist so he can help people when they “get stuck.”
Communiversity is an afterschool program at UNC’s Sonja Haynes Center for Black Culture and History. The students in the program are assisted with their homework, learn about their culture across the globe, and discuss current events. The students and parents with whom I’ve spoken about Communiversity credit it with helping them find their own unique spark.
“SKJAJA is about community,” says executive director Charlotte White, “which is why our gatherings, like the upcoming Beach Shack Boil, are always so much fun.”
This year’s Beach Shack Boil, on Nov. 16 at The Rickhouse in Durham, will feature a delicious low country shrimp boil, the usual beverage, step performances by Communiversity students, and festive music by Lester Fricks. Tickets can be purchased by going to SKJAJA’s website: www.skjajafund.org/events.html.
Michelle Fishburne is a SKJAJA volunteer.