A call for equality

Published 11:56 am Tuesday, January 22, 2013

From left, Janice Mino and Amy Baskin of the Community Learning Center, Sharry Watkins of St. John's Lutheran Church and Wendy Kusick of Sumner Elementary School speak on the importance of local volunteerism.


Human Rights Commission honors MLK Day

Jennifer Harves makes sure to include a lot of students in her classroom every day.

The early childhood special education teacher epitomizes equality, according to Community Education Director Amy Baskin. That’s why Harves was awarded the Austin Human Rights Commission’s 2012 Human Rights Award Monday night during the HRC’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.

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“I think Martin Luther King was not about just race, he was about equality,” Baskin, who nominated Harves for the award, said. “I just thought about all the things [Harves] does to really make people aware of the abilities of people with disabilities.”

Harves is active in the community, working with people who have Autism Spectrum Disorder since 1999. She serves on the Austin Public Schools ASD team, and her classroom is a pilot site for the National Professional Development Center


on Autism Spectrum Disorders. In addition, she’s volunteered at the Circle of Friends Day Camp since it started, and has worked on various ways to inform the community about residents with autism.

Harves told the audience she gains just as much as she gives when working with residents.

“Children with ASDs have taught me so much,” Harves said.

Jennifer Harves speaks on the importance of including residents with Autism Spectrum Disorders in the community at the Austin Human Rights Commission's Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Monday night. Harves is the 2012 Human Rights Award winner.


Giving back

Harves wasn’t the only one to extol volunteerism at the event, however.

Representatives from the Community Learning Center, St. John’s Lutheran Church, and Sumner Elementary School were on hand to discuss volunteer opportunities and how the CLC and local initiatives like the Backpack Program make a difference in the community.

“We’re increasing what we’re giving out, and the need is definitely there,” said Sharry Watkins, volunteer at St. John’s Lutheran.

Watkins and other volunteers started to give food and supplies to Sumner Elementary students several years ago, in a backpack to take home during the weekends. Watkins and Wendy Kusick, a Sumner teacher, told the audience the amount of students participating in the program has more than tripled since it started three years ago. In addition to Sumner, various churches and groups have banded together to bring the program to Neveln and Banfield Elementary Schools, as well as the Early Childhood and Family Education program.

At the CLC, residents go through Adult Basic Education courses in order to gain valuable skills to use in the community, whether it be remedial academic courses or parenting classes, according to Baskin and Janice Mino, ABE coordinator.

There are many opportunities to volunteer in Austin, according to HRC officials. Baskin and Mino highlighted a need for tutors and classroom assistants at the CLC, in addition to various scholarship funds for residents in need.