Jimmy Lajoie '06, winner of the first Welles Crowther Service Award: "I think it is so important to give of yourself, especially to those who are less fortunate than you, and also to learn about what shapes their lives. If I had had those experiences in high school, I think I wouldíve been better prepared for college, and the world." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
A Wider Window on the World
Crowther Award winner is ready to share the lessons of service
By By Sean Smith
If Lynch School of Education senior and budding math teacher Jimmy Lajoie '06 has anything to say about it, students at Norwood High School will learn a lot of compelling life lessons.
Lajoie will join the Norwood High faculty this fall, and the Portsmouth, NH, native already plans to teach something he has come to regard as vital for young people: service for others.
"I think it is so important to give of yourself, especially to those who are less fortunate than you, and also to learn about what shapes their lives," said Lajoie. "If I had had those experiences in high school, I think I would've been better prepared for college, and the world."
Whatever his previous lack of service work, Lajoie's propensity to make the most of such opportunities at Boston College recently earned him the inaugural Welles Remy Crowther Service Award. The award, named for the 1999 alumnus who perished after helping co-workers escape from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, honors an undergraduate student who has demonstrated selfless service in a unique way.
Lajoie will receive the prize at a May 2 banquet, where members of the Crowther family are expected to introduce a video about Welles.
In his four years at BC, Lajoie had taken part in five Appalachia Volunteer trips, serving as program director this year and a trip leader the past three years. Through the 4Boston program, he did weekly volunteer stints at West End House, Rosie's Place and the Boston Living Center AIDS shelter. His activities also include service trips to Natchez, Miss., and Mexico.
"It never ceases to amaze me how much Jimmy cares about people," says Abigail Kitzler '06, a friend of Lajoie from the Appalachia Volunteer who nominated him for the Crowther Award. "Whether he talks about the kids he teaches in high school, his past service trips, the people he is closest to in his life, or the people he hopes to someday reach, he absolutely glows with love. He has this spirit that just spreads its arms to everyone in his path. He is one of the most open-minded, accepting people I know."
While Lajoie decided to be a teacher very early on ("I was one of those kids who played 'school' with stuffed animals," he laughs), his service experiences at BC affirmed his belief in the power to help make a difference - even if it's just one person at a time. Trell, a fifth-grader Lajoie met at a Virginia summer camp on an Appalachia Volunteers trip, left a particularly big impression.
"We tried to give the camp a little educational structure," he recalls, "and Trell was the only one of about 60 kids excited to be doing schoolwork in the hot days of August. We would work together all morning, and he got so excited about doing math, one problem after another.
"It was very powerful for me, and a little troubling. My entire educational life has been so blessed, and I've been granted opportunities that I may or may not have deserved. Here's a kid who is so enthusiastic about learning, and yet I knew he would face many more obstacles than me. Why? Why shouldn't he be able to go to college like me?"
Questions of inequity and social justice often loom large in service experiences, and Lajoie says one of the most important qualities for a volunteer program is that it include time for reflection and discussion.
"You have to be able to flush out what you've seen and heard, to at least try and make sense of it," he says. "I know that I never left [the trips] completely satisfied; I wanted to learn more about the kids, what their lives were like."
But it's not only kids who have had an impact on Lajoie. He recounts his friendship with Nye, a resident of the Rosie's Place women's shelter who, at the invitation of Lajoie and another student, came to visit the BC campus.
"We offered to give her a big meal at one of the dining halls, but she said she just wanted to sit and 'soak this all in.' It was as if all these BC students were her nourishment."
Lajoie, who in addition to Norwood has taught at Brighton and Boston College high schools while at LSOE, knows his primary job at Norwood High will be to teach math, although he notes that social issues can be explored there, too - he had his BC High students do a project on income disparity. But he hopes his students can have similarly formative experiences, and the chance to meet fascinating people they might not otherwise, through service.
"Fortunately, the school administration told me in my interview that they're very supportive about the idea of promoting service. The trick is to start small, maybe with a weekend here or there, and not to over-extend. Even a small step carries you a great distance."