Sometimes the greatest good is happening right in your own neighborhood and you don’t even know it. We found ourselves in those shoes when we read the Let’s Make Good nomination for Jordan Chaplik, the program manager for Communities in Schools (CIS) at Zavala Elementary.
CiS is a national dropout prevention organization that works toward creating a safe, inclusive and supportive school environment for at-risk students. Right around the corner from our flagship cafe, Jordan works tirelessly to advocate and care for her 80 students at Zavala Elementary.
Originally from Chicago, Jordan served as an AmeriCorps member with CiS during her undergraduate studies at University of Texas. Those transformative years with students at Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy inspired her to pursue her Masters in Social Work at the University of Chicago. Two long and challenging years later, Jordan found herself back in Austin to head up the program at Zavala.
Jordan and her colleague Ida Marie focus on individual and group counseling, connecting students with mentors, and establishing after-school programs, among other things. However when the pandemic hit in March, Jordan and Ida found themselves in total reaction mode.
The majority of their time was focused on making sure the students had access to technology as classes quickly transitioned online, Jordan said.
“It was hard moving to Zoom because they didn’t really have a routine anymore,” she said. “The work was more do what you can.”
Things have settled a little bit since then and schools across the state are gradually reopening this month. The challenges, however, haven’t disappeared completely. Many of the families at Zavala are still struggling with rent and utilities assistance.
That’s why porch visits have become such a crucial element to Jordan’s work. Over the last few months, socially distant check-ins and food drop-offs were the only way she could connect with her kids face to face, she said.
Many children in her community are inundated with uncertainty. Some parents have lost their jobs and incomes, while others have had to continue to work without options for childcare. There are a lot of hard days and even more heartbreaking stories, but Jordan tries to continuously tap into gratitude, she said.
“It’s like, wow, you trust me enough to share this with me,” she said “and I don’t take that lightly. I take that seriously.”
Amidst the difficult times and countless long days, what really sets Jordan apart is her commitment to self-love and acceptance. In order to better help her kids, self-care is a must, she said.
Spending time in nature, plenty of movement, and listening to music are some ways she stays positive and focused. She’s even shared one technique with her students: going outside and literally burying her bare feet into the earth.
Even still, there are some days when she just has to go home and cry, she said.
“I have to remember that I can’t save everybody,” she said. “But I’m going to fight.”
Earlier this year, she had the privilege of watching her former Gus Garcia students graduate high school. Although it was a strange ceremony (it was back in May, afterall, at the height of the pandemic), it was moving nevertheless, she said.
“It was just a reminder of like, this is why I do what I do,” she said.