Jason Willis, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in education and psychology, has been named an outstanding Washington, D.C., volunteer for the month of June by District Mayor Anthony Williams.
Jason Willis, left, participates in Habitat for Humanity.
The former president of CUA’s student chapter of Habitat for Humanity was informed on July 1 that he will receive the Mayor’s Community Service Award, given to one adult (over the age of 24) and one youth (under 24) each month by the D.C. Commission on National and Community Service in recognition of service that has had a significant impact in meeting the needs of local communities. Candidates are nominated by their peers; winners are selected from a panel consisting of a representative from each of the District’s eight wards as well as two from the community service commission.
“We normally look for people who go above and beyond the call of duty in their service,” says Kimberly Flowers, outreach coordinator for the commission. “Jason has been so outstanding in his work that it’s no surprise he won.”
Willis was nominated for his work as program coordinator with the D.C. Community Research and Learning Network, an organization that partners community groups with university faculty and students to conduct collaborative research that is useful to the community organizations.
“I’m honored and humbled to have been nominated for this award,” says Willis, who this summer will receive a certificate and award from Mayor Williams. “Without my experience at Catholic University, I don’t think this would have happened. CUA provided me with my first volunteer service in Washington, D.C., and the conversations I had with professors and other students helped me decide that community service should be a vital part of my life.”
Helping others is second nature for the CUA graduate, who spent his college career as Habitat president, traveling to various states and helping to build homes for impoverished families. He brings the same passion to CoRAL, often serving as a liaison between community activists and scholars.
For example, one recent project involved a community group that helps individuals locate residences that accept housing vouchers. The group worked with CoRAL and Georgetown University to find students interested in the issue of housing in the District. The group and researchers then contacted local housing complexes, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other area resources. Some of the students worked on the project as an extracurricular project while others fulfilled requirements for a course dealing with homelessness.
“It’s an ideal blend,” says Deanna Cooke, who nominated Willis for the award and who works at Georgetown University’s Center for Social Justice, Research, Teaching and Service, which houses CoRAL. “Communities have many social needs that need to be addressed, faculty are looking for research projects and students often want to better understand their course work as it relates to the world outside the classroom. By bringing these three elements together, everyone wins.”
A key ingredient in that ideal blend, she says, is Willis, who is a bedrock of stability and energy. “He’s consistent, follows through with each project and you can tell he really cares and wants to help people,” Cooke says.
Willis, who has worked for CoRAL part time during the school year and full time during the summer for over two years, also directs its REFLEX program, which affords college students (specifically those from CUA) in the D.C. Reads program the chance to reflect upon their work and come up with ways to boost child literacy.
“Jason is a wonderful example of how university students can make a huge impact on their campuses and local communities,” Flowers says. “It’s obvious that he’s had strong guidance from his peers at Catholic University.”
This fall Willis plans to attend graduate school in New York City at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, where he will study education policy and resume his involvement with Habitat for Humanity.
— 30 —