June 15, 2024

Jones Center for Leadership and Service faces pandemic challenges head-on

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Clay and Debbie Jones Center for leadership and Service is overcoming COVID-19 challenges.

Clay and Debbie Jones Center for Leadership and Service plaque reminding Vols to mask-up.

At the entrance to Circle Park in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville stands the Torchbearer statue. Built-in 1968, the Torchbearer statue stands tall just up the hill from Neyland stadium.

The statue features a man bearing a torch that represents lighting the way for others, a sword that represents protection and finally a figure of Nike, the goddess of victory representing overcoming challenges. One of the iconic features of the Torchbearer is that the flame in the torch is forever burning, with very few exceptions.

The Torchbearer creed is the embodiment of the Volunteer Spirit. It reads, “One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others.”

The Volunteer spirit lives in many places. However, it shines in the Clay and Debbie Jones Center for Leadership and Service.

“There’s nothing stronger…”

The Jones Center for Leadership and Service is a service-based organization at UT. They are located in the Student Union and have been serving the community since 2012. Originally the Center for Leadership and Service, in 2019, it was renamed in honor of Clay Jones, former Torchbearer and Almunus, and Debbie Jones, his wife, who donated $5 million to improve the center.

Clay Jones expressed his thoughts on the need for leaders on UT’s campus at the dedication ceremony in 2019.

“Without good leaders, people may find the way to where they need to go. But a leader’s going to coalesce group thought and get people motivated and aligned to go in certain directions,” Jones said.

Mandie Beeler, the Director of the JCLS, expressed why the center is so special.

“The JCLS genuinely believes that all students have the capacity and responsibility to lead and to serve our campus and our broader community. I highly value the way we provide students with numerous opportunities to engage in our programs, explore their leadership capacity, and find ways to connect with meaningful service,” Beeler said.

The volunteer spirit, embodied by the JCLS, can go a long way. This same spirit is in history as well.

Lt. Col. Jimmy Do0little was the commanding officer of The Doolittle Raid in 1942. The raid was in response to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The men who flew the air crafts that carried out the mission were special. Special in the way that they were all men who volunteered for a mission they knew virtually nothing about. Doolittle is credited with a famous quote about these volunteers.

“There’s nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer,” Lt. Col. Doolittle said.

“Meaningful Service”

The JCLS hosts a variety of events, trips and service opportunities that allow Vols to serve their communities.

Open to incoming freshmen every year are the Ignite summer sessions. Normally there are four sessions, Ignite Serves, Ignite Outdoors, Ignite Leadership Summit and Ignite Knox. However, COVID-19 has impacted Ignite and many other aspects of the JCLS.

“Instead of hosting all four Ignite programs (Knox, Serves, Leadership Summit, and Outdoors), we only held Ignite Serves and included components from the other programs to try to give students a holistic experience. We also reduced the capacity from 550 to 256 so we could ensure proper social distancing by creating much smaller teams,” Beeler said.

COVID- 19 has also affected the VOLServe program. Once a month UT students can participate in a service opportunity in a local community. Students work together over the course of a day, helping a community in need as well as creating meaningful dialogues and environments. Participation has been reduced by 50% to ensure CDC recommended guidelines are being followed.

In addition to these programs, the JCLS also has a Sign up to Serve Calendar which features many opportunities to serve in and around the UT community. Due to the pandemic, many normal opportunities are not available or limited. Therefore, the JCLS has provided options to serve virtually.

Beeler mentioned ways that the community can help them with service opportunities.

“If community partner organizations have projects that can be completed virtually or remotely, we would love to know about them so we can add them to our database!” Beeler said.

As part of the Alternative Break Program, the JCLS offers VolBreaks. This involves students signing up to serve in communities over university-sanctioned breaks. Since there is no fall break this year due to COVID-19, the JCLS hosted local service opportunities in place of fall break. These opportunities offered a diverse immersion into local East Tennessee History. These events were both in-person and virtual opportunities.

“At the Forefront”

The JCLS has had its fair share of challenges brought about by the pandemic. However, the organizations’ mission is to “educate and engage all students to lead and serve the global community.”

According to Director Beeler, the process may have changed but the goal stays the same.

“Our goal, as always, is to provide students with high-quality, meaningful experiences to explore their leadership capacity and engage in service experiences that meet community needs. The way we go about it might look different, but the intentionality behind each of our programs remains at the forefront,” Beeler said.

The challenges this virus has brought to UT have been demanding. However, just like the Torchbearer’s fire remains burning bright even in the rain, the Vols are sure to power through this pandemic in a way only a Volunteer could.



Edited by Ryan Sylvia and Maddie Torres

Featured Photo Courtesy of @leadserveutk Instagram

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