Jenna Sears confirms her career goals of starting a nonprofit, children’s choir organization after volunteering through IU’s service learning course with Kids with Absent Parents

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IU sophomore Jenna Sears has always felt called to help people. Studying choral education and vocal performance through the Jacob’s School of Music, Sears enrolled in MUS-E232 Inclusive Participatory Practices, a service learning course, as part of her education major requirements. She said the course is centered around field experience and service learning activities.

“It’s an incredible opportunity and I wish that more IU students knew about it,” Sears said.

Her professor, Dr. Nicholas Roseth, presented students with a list of organizations with weekly volunteer opportunities at the beginning of the semester. Each student is to devote a certain amount of hours to volunteer work in the community.

 “Kids with Absent Parents just kind of clicked with me,” she said.

Kids with Absent Parents (KAP) is a nonprofit organization founded by Mary Goetze in September 2017. It offers programs, such as support groups, designed to support single parents while simultaneously giving their children opportunities to meet other children in a fun, learning environment.

 Sears said KAP meets from 10 AM to 2 PM every other Saturday at the Boys and Girls Club Inc. building located on S Rogers St. and Eighth St.

“We have our lunch start at noon,” Sears said. “The families come in and we eat with the guardian and the child. Then at around 12:45 pm, part of my job is to stay with the children and create a lesson plan or creativity-based thing for about an hour so that the guardians can go have a discussion or support group. It’s just a place to express how their weeks have been and share in a community that understands these situations.”

Sears said she prepares biweekly lesson plans that incorporate a lot of songs into the curriculum.

“We have a crafting station,” she said. “We have board games and puzzles for children who may be feeling a little out of place that day, or a little bit more apprehensive about joining in the communal activity. My job is usually to create musical activities.”

Sears said Roseth’s course is really conducive to student-oriented learning.

“It meets three times a week,” she said. “Mondays are discussion based. Wednesdays are what we call “project-based learning days” and we have certain tasks all throughout the semester that we need to get accomplished. Fridays are all about service learning.”

What resonates with Sears most is the personality of the music/education department at IU, she said.

“They are such a compassionate and selfless group of individuals and that’s really how they try to emulate those characteristics in their curriculum,” Sears said. “Working with Mary and KAP is really just about how we can take our art form and better the community and environment around us. I am all for that.”

Sears also said working with KAP has been one of the most rewarding educational experiences she has ever become involved in.

“These kids come from backgrounds that I can’t even begin to assume or imagine,” she said.” The amount of responsibility, extra weight, and worry that they carry is so heartbreaking to me. To interact in a space where they feel that they can let go of that a little bit and just enjoy the moment, and when I see them engaging, giggling or just being little kids again, that is a feeling I don’t think you can replicate in any other facility other than KAP.”

According to Sears, none of the volunteers that work with KAP are paid and the “service” aspect of the course is truly emphasized.

“Just to see the amount of love and commitment from all of these volunteers, then that is reflected back in the children and the relationships that we get to build with them.”

Sears said working with Goetze and KAP has inspired her to start her own nonprofit children’s choral organization after college. She envisions herself working at a school to become more financially stable before initiating her dreams.

“I work with the IU Children’s Choir right now,” she said. “I teach their kindergarten and first-grade division. I would really like to do something very similar to what Mary has going, some kind of nonprofit.”

For more information on service learning courses offered at IU, please visit https://citl.indiana.edu/programs/service-learning/.