During her time at NC State, Jessica Hooks ‘03 volunteered a minimum of 16 hours per month as a crisis hotline operator. This experience afforded her perspective on the range of issues with which individuals from all walks of life must learn to cope, and heightened her interest in community wellness. After earning a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, Hooks went on to complete a master’s in genetic counseling from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro in 2005. She now serves as a genetics and medical educator through her work with Ariosa Diagnostics and Just Focus in Charlotte, N.C.
“At NC State, all you had to do to find out about service opportunities was check your email; there were tons to choose from every weekend,” Hooks recalled. “After graduation, you have to be more proactive in seeking out ways to be involved in the community.”
When she traveled to New Orleans, La. for business last year, Hooks observed that much of the city’s social service infrastructure was just beginning to reinvent itself despite the “dramatic timeframe” of New Orleans’ recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Still in search of avenues for giving back beyond donating money, Hooks decided to harness her passions for New Orleans and community wellness education by developing a series of service projects in the Crescent City.
Hooks approached the store manager of lululemon – a retailer specializing in yoga apparel with a company mission that encourages community involvement – in Charlotte. Through this contact, Hooks connected with lululemon’s New Orleans store and discovered a nonprofit organization called YogaPowerPlay, which is dedicated to “creating leaders of possibility through the empowerment of yoga.” The goal of YogaPowerPlay is to bring yoga – and its physical and emotional benefits – to youth ages 9-13 in schools throughout New Orleans.
Motivated by this concept, Hooks spoke with Park classmate Landra Cunningham ‘03 about her plans to take action. Cunningham, who majored in communication with a concentration in public relations, earned a master’s degree in technical communication from NC State in 2006 and now works as a technical writer for Scott Safety. While much of the community service she did as a student focused on tutoring and mentoring Raleigh-area children, in more recent years Cunningham has served others by applying skills as a technical communicator – preparing documentation and digital media.
“Now I offer what I learned at NC State to do, more than just earn a paycheck,” said Cunningham. “I help people and organizations express their vision and messages in a unified voice.”
Cunningham immediately offered to assist Hooks in her efforts to bring the mission of YogaPowerPlay to a broader audience.
In May 2014, Hooks and Cunningham will travel to New Orleans to participate in a weekend-long initiative called SchoolYogaRocks to benefit YogaPowerPlay. By fundraising, increasing awareness, and actively participating with local children in their yoga practice, the hope is to provide a sustainable foundation for YogaPowerPlay to expand its reach throughout the schools in New Orleans.
Hooks invites those interested in this project to get involved in one or more ways:
1) Consider donating. Hooks and Cunningham designed a fundraising website which highlights the impact of YogaPowerPlay on New Orleans’ youth, and explains how your gift will benefit the organization. Support is necessary to cover up-front expenses, such as the purchase of yoga mats and equipment, as well as ongoing expenses like instructor compensation.
2) Be a source of energetic support by sharing the link to the SchoolYogaRocks site via social media and email with friends, families, and educators.
“We’d love to feel the love back!” said Hooks.
3) If you happen to be in or near New Orleans on May 16-17, Hooks and Cunningham are recruiting volunteers to assist in the weekend’s events.
Hooks hopes promotion of the SchoolYogaRocks project will encourage Park alumni to share service opportunities with one another to increase involvement and awareness.
Cunningham remarked that her fellow Park alumni afford her “a continuous source of motivation and a supportive presence.”
Hooks agreed. “There’s an underlying gestalt – a thread that connects all of us,” said Hooks of the Park Scholarships community. “I feel I was spoiled in college, to be surrounded by animate people who – by nature, not requirement – sought to make a difference. The Park community has helped me define ‘extraordinary’ and know how to identify others who are doing it the Park way.”