Jackson State student serves low-income Hispanic community

Apr 28th, 2017

Jana McFarlin's volunteer work to help low-income members of Jackson's Hispanic community was recognized recently by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. McFarlin, who volunteers with Operation Hope Neighborhood Ministries to provide a weekly meal and distribute food to needy families, received the commission's prestigious Harold Love Outstanding Community Service Award.

One of her teachers at Jackson State Community College, Associate Professor of Spanish and English Mary Wadley, nominated her for the statewide award.

McFarlin enrolled at Jackson State to take Spanish classes to better serve the community she helps week after week. A recently naturalized citizen from Brazil, McFarlin is fluent in her native Portuguese, but she still found the language barrier to be too strong.

Jackson State was more affordable than other universities and had a schedule that allowed her to keep her job at Chick-fil-A, McFarlin said. "I thought it was a good idea, so I started the process."

She took a series of tests to establish that her Brazilian education sufficiently prepared her for college in America and immersed herself in the Spanish program - even studying abroad in Spain last summer. McFarlin will graduate with her associate degree next fall and enroll in a four-year university.

She's happy with her decision to enroll at Jackson State.

"It opened my vision and understanding for art and culture from other countries; it opened my mind. College opens different perspectives and makes you see the world in a different way."

McFarlin has excelled in school and is in the honors program. She said her teachers and advisors have helped her navigate courses and campus and assisted her when she needed it. And, she said she would recommend Jackson State to anyone.

"They have great professors and a friendly environment, and you can get any assistance you need."

Wadley, one of her teachers, noticed her community service and nominated her for a Harold Love Outstanding Community Service Award.

"Every task that she undertakes is completed with diligence, initiative, integrity and humility," Wadley said. "Rain or shine, she is always there; never late and seldom absent. Ready to give her best to any task, even when no one is watching and without expecting any recognition in return, she is the epitome of true servanthood."

The commission was convinced, and McFarlin recently went to Nashville to receive her award and a $1,000 check, which she will spend on her education. "I was thrilled," she said. "I was delighted to be able to represent and be an ambassador for Jackson State."

Her Spanish education is bearing fruit. She serves as a translator on Monday nights at La Mesa, the community-wide meal provided at the Hope Center on Hollywood Drive. She also teaches a small Hispanic group after the meal and spends Wednesday nights distributing food in a local mobile home park with more than 200 low-income Hispanic families.

She's been working with the Hispanic community through her church for almost six years. One day, she wants to put her degrees to work as a translator and teach Spanish at a college level and English-as-a-Second-Language courses. But, she'll still volunteer and continue to help the families she has grown to love.

"I saw the need, and I fell in love with it," she said. "I've started building a relationship with them, and I hope we can meet even 1 percent of the needs that they have."

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