Carolyn Bogott: Debock uses experience in her job with Austin Aspires

Published 5:42 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Jwokamer Debock’s eyes communicate caring and wisdom.  This wonderfully articulate woman brings her own experience as an immigrant refugee to bear on her work with our immigrant and refugee population.

She and her mom came from Kenya to Mankato when she was eight years old with the help of a sponsorship from her aunt.  Jwokamer was in English language learner classes for four years and then tested out. A move to Austin came in her freshman year of high school.  She graduated from Pacelli in 2015.

Jwokamer attended Augsburg for two years and then transferred to the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities where she majored in Political Science and History, with a concentration in Black Stories. She worked a number of jobs during and immediately after college, including a low-cost housing agency, an internship at Second Harvest, and the Target store that was looted in the aftermath of the George Floyd tragedy.  In evaluating her own strengths gained from all her experiences, she said they are being open to learning, understanding the context of situations, and then having input to effect change.

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For three years Jwokamer has been working for Austin Aspires, a non-profit agency supporting educational opportunities for all students.  She started here during the pandemic as a tech navigator to assist students and their parents with software, devices and internet access during remote and hybrid learning.  Small group presentations as well as home visits were conducted to make sure students were able to access technology to connect with the schools. She estimates she helped 50 plus families during this time.

When schools opened again, Jwokamer relocated to Ellis Middle School, to help with both technology needs and to advocate for students as a navigator by checking in with them about their attendance, grades, and behavior, and arranging support services like tutoring, or any other support needed to insure academic participation and success.

In the 2022-23 school year, Jwokamer worked as a navigator at both Ellis and Austin High School for half her time, and spent the other half as coordinator for all the navigators.  From her navigator role, she has touching stories about students learning to trust their navigator’s advice about staying in school as a better long-term plan for earning as opposed to quitting school and working full time for immediate income.  She also tells of taking students on college visits, helping them to understand what college life will be like.  Navigators try to communicate to students that they are not alone; that there are people invested in helping them succeed.

Jwokamer currently is director  of Student Programs for Austin Aspires.

She oversees the Aspire Tutor program which connects students with tutors after school or in some cases during the school day. She supervises the Aspiring Leaders of tomorrow (ALOT) navigators who support students at Ellis and AHS, and she is responsible for the Boys of Tomorrow (BOT) summer program, a two-month-long program for boys in grades 3-7, building social and leadership skills through a wide variety of activities and field trips.

Having learned the value of helping others and contributing to community-building from her parents, Jwokamer certainly is having an impact on our town, helping our youth work for academic success and learning life skills. She feels she experienced helping hands along the way and gets satisfaction from helping others in turn. “No one should feel alone.”

Kudos,  Jwokamer Debock!

For more information about the Austin Branch of AAUW, contact Sue Grove  or Carolyn Bogott . The American Association of University Women, now AAUW, is open to anyone who has completed a two-year degree or beyond.  AAUW welcomes men who support our objectives and there are student memberships available. AAUW has been empowering women since 1881.  We support equity and education for women.  Scholarships are offered, as well as help in litigation in cases dealing with sex discrimination.  We are the most important and highly respected research and lobbying organization dealing with women’s issues such as equal opportunity and job equality.