August 7, 2020 : By Ryan Klinker - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
During the summer months, when her schedule as an associate professor for Liberty University’s Department of Social Work allows her to spend more time outside of the classroom, J.J. Cole has seized the opportunity to volunteer locally and build connections to further serve the community and her students.
While she has volunteered at the Salvation Army of Greater Lynchburg for the last few years, Cole has spent the most time there this summer, beginning by helping with a clothing closet project that gathers donations and organizes them for later distribution. When the project was consolidated to another Salvation Army location in North Carolina, Cole moved on to help with a program that receives food donations and makes meals to deliver.
Through the local Salvation Army, she has also helped contribute to Parkview Community Missions’ Food For Thought backpack program, which gives out backpacks filled with food to children when school lunches are not available.
As a volunteer, Cole said she wants to help those in need and also build relationships with the organizations.
“I really wanted to make sure I was volunteering throughout the summer because it brings me joy, but also it’s so good to make connections because as I meet people, I get to talk about what (Liberty) has to offer and share with our community,” Cole said. “When I volunteer in the community, I try to go to places that provide internships for our students because that’s a way for them to see that Liberty wants to leave a footprint on the ministry they have.”
“The School of Behavioral Sciences is proud of the way Professor J.J. Cole models servant leadership for her students by serving with our local Salvation Army,” said Dean Dr. Kenyon Knapp. “Cole consistently demonstrates Christian love for her neighbors by serving with the Salvation Army and by encouraging her Social Work students to serve with her.”
Social work students are required to complete 400 hours of experience as a senior and 100 hours as a junior.
One of Cole’s students will be fulfilling an internship this fall with the Lynchburg Salvation Army’s social services program, helping those in need find jobs, food, and housing, and working at the Salvation Army’s homeless shelters for families, single women, and single men.
“My students have gone to volunteer, they meet people, and then they find ways to apply for and get jobs,” Cole explained. “With our students in their senior year internship, when they do 400 hours at an agency, at least half of them get hired from the agency or sister agency. There are a lot of great places to volunteer in Lynchburg, and Liberty has a nice, big group of volunteers.”
The Lynchburg Salvation Army is currently offering a cooling center space, which allows for those on the street in the summer heat to come indoors to air conditioning, rest, and cool water. In the winter months, this service is turned into a winter shelter with heating and donated winter clothes.
In talking to her students about their future in social work, Cole reminds them of the possible obstacles that may arise, and she believes that the experience and knowledge gained through internships such as this will help better prepare them for their careers.
“I tell the students that someday they may be working somewhere that doesn’t have as much money, and so we talk to them about raising money and making connections in the community,” Cole said. “The Lord can change the face of the social work world that has become super secular. I love how, when we might have someone who doesn’t like Liberty but we meet them and spend the day serving them, they see that we’re just normal people who want to help.”