Her second week on the job, Jasmine Jones, ’14, was interviewing members of Chicago’s homeless population down on a subterranean street best known as makeshift housing for the homeless and a place to film dramatic Hollywood chase scenes.

“My supervisor told me he needed me to come down to Lower Wacker and put on my organizer’s cap and see who we could pull into the coalition,” Jones says. “That was my experience — just trying to figure out not only how to get their things back, but to solve the issue as well.”

City police had been taking and throwing out the property of homeless individuals — including identification and Social Security cards — while away from their encampment. The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless was suing the city on their behalf.

Jones received a Marsh Fellowship, part of the UR Summer Fellowships program, to intern with the coalition. While there, she worked to build the state network of partners and mobilize groups to advocate for homeless rights and greater funding for services at the statehouse in Springfield, Ill. She also had the chance to attend rallies against school closings last summer. The coalition took an active role in school closings because many homeless students were affected by the closures.

Jones grew up just outside of Chicago, but her experience in the city was eye-opening. She’s an American studies major with minors in anthropology and criminal justice. For her, working with the coalition offered the chance to combine academic pursuits with a personal interest in understanding how government, culture, and race play out in society.

“What was most interesting and most fulfilling about was learning what the core issue of homelessness was,” Jones says. “There are different factors that go into making someone homeless. A lot of homeless service providers are veterans associations who target soldiers coming back from Iraq without work and unable to find housing.”

This was the first time Jones had worked with homeless initiatives. At Richmond, she’s continued a long-term commitment to mentoring local students and sharing her own path to college through several programs, whether through one-on-one mentoring as a Build It volunteer at the Delmont Youth Life Center; through theatre professor Chuck Mike’s community-based learning course; or with PACE, a college readiness program for students at John Marshall High School.

“What else would I be doing? When I was in high school I had people mentoring me and I had people helping me apply to college because I am a first-generation college student,” Jones says. “I had help. Everyone needs a little help, which is something I try to emphasize at John Marshall.”

Some of the lessons she’s learned are ones that she’ll take with her into her career:

“Both here in Richmond and in Chicago I had to learn to be resilient and that small changes matter,” Jones says. “Every little bit matters and it’s OK to think about it that way.”