By Jessica Wall
Since this magazine celebrates women in many different capacities, I wanted to focus on a topic that’s dear to my heart this month. I had the privilege of getting a masters degree in Cultural Sustainability (MACS) from Goucher College in Baltimore, MD in 2013, and while I was in the program I met many amazing women who are truly making a difference in their communities. In all of my travels and experiences, I have never met so many brilliant people who share such a rich passion for preserving the cultures around the world that are important to them, and who are so dedicated to making the world a more beautiful and enriching place. Drawing from subjects such as anthropology, history, folklore, ethnomusicology, communications, business and management, linguistics, and activism, the MACS program focuses on giving students real-world tangible skills that they can apply in many different career fields. I took classes and graduated with so many unique women who represent many interests and passions, including (but not limited to): traditional African American storytelling, independent writing and consulting for indigenous cultural groups, museum curating, sustainable food practices (both in the US and abroad), creating and promoting sustainable tourism opportunities, ethnographic fieldwork, the preservation of languages, building community driven advisory committees, and exploring ideas of heritage and identity through archival research and interviewing methods.
One of my colleagues in this program was Jessica Guild. Jessica and I have become close over the past few years and I am always in awe of her ambition, as well as her passion for enriching the lives of those around her. She is an excellent representation of HaveHeart Magazine, as she is truly an inspiration to women everywhere. At only 27 years old, the work she is doing in her community sets such a strong example of just what one person can accomplish when they are passionate and driven. Originally from Nevada and California, Jessica has had the opportunity to both live and travel abroad. Having deep roots in New Zealand (where her mom has family) and living in Argentina and Israel in the past, Jessica has gained a unique broad world perspective that she applies both in her personal life and professional work. Having received BA in Latin American and Latino Studies with Honors from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and her Master of Arts in Cultural Sustainability from Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, she is well educated and has a deep appreciation for complex cultural studies and issues. Jessica has worked with young people throughout the last 10 years, been a professional photographer, started a business, helped launch a non-profit, and worked every odd job under the planet. These experiences have given her a broad foundation of knowledge to draw from, which is useful in helping organizations meet their full potential. All of these endeavors have led her to her current position, which is a 4-H Program Representative. Her work entails being responsible for the delivery and maintenance of the 4-H program in San Mateo and San Francisco Counties (in California).
I recently had the opportunity to interview Jessica about how her position with the 4-H program is not only changing her life, but also the lives of the people she works closely with. She told me that 4-H is the largest youth development organization in the country, and that the H’s stand for Health, Heart, Hands, and Head.
She explained that she is currently working on getting to know 4-H volunteers and youth members better, and how her goal is to learn how to help make the program run more efficiently by providing tools to members that will help the program grow. She also just launched a new website which she hopes will be a resource for old and new members alike. When I asked what drew her to the 4-H program, she told me that she has worked with youth organizations for over 10 years, and that was one of the reasons she felt qualified to apply to this job. Also she informed me that 4-H also has a deep tradition in agriculture, and that many people know 4-H as the organization where kids raise animals. She says “initially, this drew me to 4-H too. Over the years, I have identified food issues, primarily food security and production, as passions of mine. I am deeply concerned about the state of our food systems and how we can improve access to fresh food and reduce the environmental impact of food production. At the same time, these issues are also intricately linked to people and the livelihoods that depend on agriculture. The intersection of humans and the environment is full of tension, but these tensions need to be addressed. I’m not saying I’m the person for the job, but these tensions interest me. 4-H seemed like an interesting place to begin my career. I could use some of the skills I already possessed, while further exploring some of agricultural issues that I was passionate about.”
When I inquired about the community she works with, she explained to me that she actually works with many communities. She went on to tell me that this makes her job very exciting and hard. Further, she said that “the Bay Area is already a very diverse place and I happen to cover an area that ranges from rural, to semi-rural, to urban. Each area has its own unique assets and challenges. I have 4-Hers on the coast of California that don’t get cell reception on their ranches. I also have 4-Hers in San Francisco who are raising chickens in their back yards. Fun fact, you can raise goats in San Francisco! I believe my main task is to empower my volunteers, who know their communities the best. I see my role as a partnership, where my knowledge, resources, and ideas are available to the local volunteers and youth members who are implementing the program. I just became full time at the start of January, so now I have more time to get to know people and get a sense of the landscapes where they are working. This helps me identify resources and help connect ideas to the people who are making the difference in their communities.”
Since community cultural ties and relationships are also important to me, I wanted to know what the most satisfying part of this work is for her. She told me that 4-H is proven to make a difference in the lives of young people. She goes on to tell me that this program is 100 years old just in California, and is backed by the research power of the University of California. She explains “in everything we do, we strive to implement and evaluate what we do based on the latest research in youth development, education, and science. The traditions that have defined this organization are very important. I find it extremely admirable that many of the young people in 4-H raise market animals from babies, with the knowledge that the animals will be sold and slaughtered. In a world where many people have never seen a chicken or touched a lamb, these kids face the truth of livestock industry and are actively participating in the circle of life.”
As someone who was raised in the city, the ideals of farming and agriculture are fairly foreign to me. I’ve always been interested in food ways and sustainable agriculture, but my experience has been solely as a consumer- not as someone who is actually involved in food production. She goes on further to tell me that “while 4-H is connecting these children to their food, many kids choose not to raise animals. By default, they learn about animals and agriculture, however they stick with 4-H for other reasons. 4-H is committed to providing young people with opportunities to hone their presentation, leadership, and service learning skills. 4-Hers participate in leadership projects and conferences, which teach them strategies for leading groups, conflict management, and self-reflection – all of which are critical to being a successful leader. At every opportunity, 4-Hers are encouraged to speak in front of groups, which builds self confidence in public speaking.”
Jessica continued on to tell me that 4-Hers work on numerous service learning projects through out the year. She explained that service learning is different than volunteerism, in that service learning takes extra thought, research, and collaboration. She states “a 4-Her may see that there is a hunger issue in their community. Rather than donating canned food to a food bank, that 4-Her is challenged to look at the deeper issues of food insecurity and poverty. What are some strategies or projects that could end food insecurity in the community, rather than doing a standard food drive?
These things are what satisfy me. I know that this program works and instills valuable life skills in young people. There are so many important details that make up this program, all towards the mission of creating competent, confident, compassionate citizens. Being a part of that even in the small role I play is very inspiring.”
People who do this type of work not only inspire me, but also give me personal hope that my children may just inherit a world where passion and dedication drive innovation and successful strong community collaboration. When I ask what her greatest contribution to the community through her current position is (what motivates her to keep doing this type of work), she tells me that she feels like she is helping and that her ideas are useful. She states that “I have been trying to support my volunteers and youth members by creating practical tools that will help them be successful. I have a very logical brain, so I try to create efficiency and streamline processes in the work I do. These volunteers and kids are crazy devoted; I’ve never experienced volunteerism like this. People spend hours a week, for years on end, improving the lives of kids in their communities. My motivation is helping them to make the job easier. We have a lot of technology available to do this, we just have to identify what is needed.”Photo above: #felfie (farmer selfie) photo taken by Jessica to add to 4-H social media pages.
She goes on to say that “also, I am very devoted to the service learning piece of 4-H. I’m on the statewide Citizenship and Service Learning Advisory Committee, which is helping to drive 4-H policy that supports service learning opportunities and citizenship. It can be tough to work with some of these volunteerism mindsets that are used to a certain routine and way of doing things. However, I feel strongly that this mindset shift is necessary. It acknowledges that each community is unique and works towards service learning that is based in partnership and understanding from the ground up, rather than top down solutions that often times have little regard for the community. These are theories of change that I believe work and are areas that I have been trained in through my Masters in Cultural Sustainability.”
Finally, I asked Jessica a little bit about what her goals are and she replied that for the short term she is looking to stabilize the 4-H program through new support networks for volunteers and focus on implementing new outreach strategies to grow the program. This includes diversifying the volunteer base and creating new programs for reaching more diverse audiences. Long term, she explained to me that she is hoping to continue learning about food policy and production. This includes participating in research and development of the sustainable agriculture movement and the impacts of climate change on our food systems. She stated that “wherever this journey takes me, I hope to continue to learn new things everyday and expand my knowledge base and understanding of communities so that I can be a resource for anyone needing a partner.”Of course I couldn’t conclude the interview without asking Jessica a few personal questions. Wanting to share a little bit more information with our HaveHeart readers, I asked her “What are the things you love (outside of work)?” This was her response…
• Traveling as often as possible
• Baking and Cooking
• Antiques Roadshow and Parks and Recreation
• Spending as much time as I can with my family and friends who I love deeply
• Running, hiking, biking, exercise.
• The Mountains (Sierras to be exact)
• Developing my wellness of mind, body, and spirit.
• Oh, and Harry Potter, of course.
I loved having the opportunity to interview Jessica and write something meaningful to me this month. I wanted to share with our HaveHeart readers not only a program that is personally sacred to me, but also a fellow colleague who stands as an archetype for women everywhere. Her spirit and vision are extraordinary, and I am excited to see where her passions take her in the future. Jessica is truly more than just someone I went to college with- she continuously shows me that each one of us has the potential to be amazing, and that our dreams are truly tangible if we believe in our abilities and potential. While it is obvious that her work is not only making a difference in California, her confidence and desire to make an impact has far-reaching benefits; not only the 4-H program itself, but also in larger studies of food production and sustainable agriculture. If anyone is HaveHeart material, and represents a real woman- comfortable in her own skin and on a mission to kick serious ass in this world, it’s Jessica!