When I moved to Jackson to attend Union University, I had no connections to the community. I didn’t know anyone who lived here and planned to escape Jackson as soon as I got my degree. A few weeks into my freshman year, one of my professors gave his class two options: we could write a ten-page research paper, or we could volunteer for a couple hours a week throughout the semester at an after-school program called the HUB Club. Like many college freshmen, I would have rather done just about anything than write a research paper, so I signed up to be a mentor, thinking I would volunteer for the semester in order to get an easy A and then be done.
It’s been over four years now, and I have my degree, yet I still haven’t left Jackson or the HUB Club.
The HUB Club is part of the Community + Area Relief Ministries partnership effort toward community mobilization and capacity building in the Hillcrest Circle neighborhood of East Jackson. During the school year, students attend the HUB Club’s after-school program four afternoons a week. While at the HUB, these students have access to homework help and tutoring, as well as opportunities for field trips and Sparks classes. Sparks classes are based on the belief that everyone has some sort of skill or talent that sparks their interest and in which they excel. So far, students have been able to participate in subjects like rap/poetry, baking, performing arts, and photography. Starting this year, we will continue to offer these classes during the HUB’s summer program.
During the summer months, many students lose access to food, educational, and recreational services that are normally provided through their schools. Since 2008, the HUB Club has offered a summer program to help bridge this gap in services. The HUB’s summer program runs four days a week for six weeks and typically serves around forty students. During this time, students are provided with two meals a day and access to educational services, as well as various recreational activities and field trips.
Often finances can be a struggle for some families, so Area Relief Ministries offers this program at a minimal cost. But the HUB Club is only able to offer this low cost through the generous support of the Jackson community. A sponsorship of $250 covers the costs of one student for the entire summer. The HUB Club is also always in need of volunteers to serve in various capacities during the summer and after-school programs.
My initial experience with the HUB Club was as a volunteer mentor once a week. Over time I started increasing the amount of time I spent there, and at the end of the summer of 2014, I was offered a position on staff. The HUB Club has played a huge part in making Jackson feel like home for me. By getting interact daily with the students who we have the privilege of serving, I have come to see just how much potential Jackson has to grow. Working with staff members who are passionate about the future of the children of Jackson, as well as seeing reconciliation and development across our city, has both inspired and challenged me.
Jackson is a city that is often clearly divided in many ways: racially, socio-economically, and educationally, to name a few. In recent days, however, a shift has begun, and these divides are starting to fall. While there is still much to be done and much growth to witness, these changes are encouraging to me, and I have seen firsthand how programs like the HUB Club are an important part of these changes.
Last year, as I was approaching graduation and deciding what to do post-grad, leaving Jackson seemed much harder than it did four years prior. As I weighed my options of the many places I could go, somehow leaving the place that I had grown to love (despite its flaws) seemed like the wrong decision. To me, Jackson is no longer a place to escape from but a place to grow and join the many others working to see this city grow into what we know she can be. The HUB Club has also become a second home, and one that I am not quite ready to walk away from yet.
Just $250 covers the cost of one student for the entire summer. If you would like to donate to the HUB Club or Area Relief Ministries, visit their website or call 731.423.9257.
Originally from the Nashville area, Ariel McGahey moved to Jackson in 2012 to attend Union University where she graduated in 2015 with a Bachelors of Social Work. She now works as the Community Development Coordinator for Area Relief Ministries and lives in the historic LANA neighborhood with her incredibly fluffy (and sometimes temperamental) cat, Addy.
Photography by McKenna Carter.