Office of Education and Schools
Youth service programs at the permanent national Baha’i schools have evolved considerably since they were established in 1984, and additional changes are anticipated in the coming year.
In that light, and considering the current need for more youth volunteers, the Office of Education and Schools took a moment to reflect on how this service experience changes the young people.
We contacted eight former volunteers who served as part of the Baha’i Youth Service Corps between 1999 and 2011, asking how service at the schools influenced their lives.
Bosch Baha’i School, Santa Cruz, California
Laila Murphy of Lake Oswego, Oregon, volunteered in 1999–2000 after completing a university degree in classical flute performance and musical theater. She admits taking a year off for service made her nervous about compromising her classical music career, but she “decided to give it up to Baha’u’llah.”
The results were unexpected. She met incredible musicians while serving and learned to improvise and play her instrument in ways she had never imagined during her college days.
Today as a mother, she feels deep appreciation for this experience. It instilled a spirit of service, which she is passing on to her children.
Murphy and her family return to Bosch twice a year to serve as children’s teachers and to offer their musical gifts for devotions. Locally, she offers weekly children’s classes and junior youth groups with her family, while serving on the Local Spiritual Assembly.
Rachel Jensen of Brookfield, Colorado, who volunteered in 2000–2001, states that her youth experience allowed her to transform work into worship, learn effective consultation, and take time to significantly study Baha’i writings.
As a result, she changed her college plans and attended a university in Wyoming to pioneer on the home front. It also inspired a profession in the nonprofit sector.
“The year grounded me in the knowledge that individual and collective service can make a difference and spurred me to follow my passion for social justice,” she reports.
In her community today, Jensen offers weekly devotionals, participates on a teaching team, and serves on her Local Assembly.
Victoria Talebreza of Salt Lake City, Utah, arrived at Bosch for summer service in 2002 with the mind set that she was a “well-grounded Baha’i,” having been born and raised one. However, by the end of the summer she found she had gained so much knowledge and confidence that she felt proud to claim the Faith as her own. She volunteered again for a full year in 2004.
Her year of service, she says, inspired her personal initiative to participate much more actively as a tutor and children’s class teacher. Today, she is a member of her Local Spiritual Assembly and recently served as a cluster institute coordinator.
She also felt inspired to continue studies in special education after working with junior youths diagnosed with autism, and today is special education director for a junior high school.
Green Acre Baha’i School, Eliot, Maine
Keykhosrow Khodarahmi of Naperville, Illinois, recalls that when he arrived at Green Acre in 2004 he had to adjust to new rules, specifically no TV, no loud music, and no staying up late.
The transition was much easier than he expected, though. In order to get up at 6 a.m., going to bed early was no problem. And the group was so loud laughing and talking about their daily challenges, there was no need for loud music or TV!
Khodarahmi states Green Acre gave him a different vision of service. Since, he has repeatedly found means to serve by assisting at the Persian Culture conference for five years running. He recently accepted a position at the Baha’i National Center in the Information Technology Operations Center.
Debora Dechtiar of Haifa, Israel, reports that serving at Green Acre in 2005 before college shifted her understanding of education: It became less about good grades and having a respectable career, and more about acquiring knowledge to serve humanity. This enhanced understanding eventually led her to change her career plans; she is now seeking to become a nurse-midwife.
Dechtiar also reports that after leaving Green Acre, she was much more committed to completing the Ruhi Institute course sequence, teaching children’s classes, and attending Baha’i community gatherings.
Currently, she serves at the Baha’i World Center in the Office of Social and Economic Development.
Louhelen Baha’i School, Davison, Michigan
Shameem Moshrefzadeh of Oakdale, Minnesota, states that serving at Louhelen in 2009–2010 helped him define his sphere of usefulness to the Cause.
Although he had previously been immersed in local cluster activities, he had not established a personal connection. The same could be said for his studies; although a math major, he felt uncertain about his future. Hence, he opted to take a year off to serve.
During that year, he discovered a great love for serving the Faith administratively. Since, he has been involved in assisting several school committees and the Education Under Fire campaign. At each school break he has returned to offer additional service at Louhelen.
In the fall, Moshrefzadeh will enter law school, having found a better fit for his career goals as well.
Emily Samimi of Findlay, Ohio, volunteered at Louhelen during her summer breaks of 2006–2011, from early in high school until well into college. She feels those experiences allowed her to observe herself in different roles and discover new strengths: “It shaped how I wanted to bring change to the world.”
Although she was one of only two Baha’is on her college campus this past year, she became a driving force in mounting an Education Under Fire campaign, including a presentation at City Council and collaboration with other departments and clubs.
Says Samimi, “Change was not immediate; it was like a seed was planted and grew years later.”
Jenna Cook of Coon Rapids, Minnesota, claims she gained new perspective on life during her service year, 2010–2011. On leaving she felt much more comfortable working in groups and being independent. She established a career choice and is studying business management with an Asian studies minor, in hopes of working in international business or human resources.
“Serving in the office of Louhelen, I learned that I thrive in areas where I get to work with people,” Cook says.
In the short year since, she has assisted Green Acre’s office and serves as registrar on the William Sears Baha’i School Committee.
These stories from across the country, spanning several service years, demonstrate great bounties in serving at our national schools. Benefits are reaped not only by the schools, but by the individual volunteers, their communities and their clusters. Youth are transformed and supported to find their own part to play.
Paid youth mentor positions
A new dimension will be added to service at the permanent Baha’i schools in the coming year, as paid Youth Mentor positions are established.
Young adults interested in mentoring youth volunteers will receive a salary in addition to lodging and meals. If interested, seek additional information through the Office of Human Resources at the Baha’i National Center (HRM@usbnc.org or 847-733-3476).