Alumna brings ‘Education and Hope’ to children of Guatemala

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Shelby Jones enrolled as a special education major in Penn State’s College of Education five years ago, she was already planning for her life after graduation.

Jones, a native of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and her family have been involved with the international nonprofit Education and Hope since she was a little girl. Located in Quatzaltenango, Guatemala, the organization provides education to impoverished children in the western highlands of the country where more than 50 percent of the population lives in poverty and the average level of education among adults is 4.1 years. Since its inception 18 years ago, Education and Hope has provided more than 3,000 scholarships to Guatemalan children, many of whom have gone on to graduate high school and attend college.

“Education and Hope has been a part of my family for a very long time,” Jones said. “My mom went to college with Julie Coyne, the woman who started Education and Hope. My parents have always hoped that my siblings and I might one day travel there and volunteer.”

Until now, her family’s involvement with Education and Hope has been through monetary support, she said. However, through their involvement they have had the opportunity to see the effects the organization has on the children it serves.

“We have watched these children grow up to be success stories and that alone has given us the connection and love for Education and Hope,” she said, pointing to the example of a former student who recently graduated medical school and received the Chevening Scholarship to study pediatric public health at Swansea University in London.

“We see, firsthand, the work that goes on and the impact that it has.”

“My education at Penn State has provided me with the confidence to take on a challenge such as this. I am moving to Guatemala with the tools to be successful in so many ways.”

— Shelby Jones, 2016 alumna

A lifelong dream

A graduate of the college’s special education and curriculum and instruction integrated undergraduate-graduate (IUG) program, Jones said she always knew she would be a teacher someday. As a child, she often played “pretend teacher” with her brother and, as a teenager, she tutored adults pursuing their GED certificates at an area soup kitchen, an experience that sparked her interest in special education.

“I began tutoring an individual with a learning disability and I quickly realized how this relationship was more than just the teacher-student roles,” she said. “It was a relationship built upon trust, patience and successful learning. This was the flame that started the fire.”

That flame eventually led her to Penn State, where she said the IUG program was the biggest drawing point for her.

“I knew I was entering a field of study with world-renowned professors and top-quality education focused on special education,” she said.

“My education at Penn State has provided me with the confidence to take on a challenge such as this,” she said. “I am moving to Guatemala with the tools to be successful in so many ways.”

Although Jones’ family has been involved with Education and Hope since it was established in 1998, it wasn’t until she entered her senior year at Penn State that plans started coming together.

“My trip to Guatemala has been in the works since I started college,” Jones said. “But it wasn’t until this past year that the conversation actually started to become a reality.”

She arrived in Guatemala on Sept. 20, and will spend three months teaching English and Spanish to school-age students. She also plans to immerse herself in the local culture and work with all aspects of the organization.

“I believe very strongly in the mission of this organization,” Jones said, explaining the premise behind Education and Hope is not just to educate — it is to break the cycle of poverty.

“Education and Hope, while an educational program, is an all-encompassing program that provides meals, education, community, medical care and much more,” she said.

In addition to free tuition, Guatemalan children who receive scholarships through Education and Hope also receive a backpack filled with school supplies, a school uniform, school shoes and sneakers, and bus fare to travel to and from school. The organization also has a food pantry to help needy families and provides small home-improvement grants to assist families with home maintenance repairs.

“Volunteering (here) is ‘being with’ not ‘doing for,’ and that is what this program believes and promotes,” she said.

Volunteering with Education and Hope is something Jones has been looking forward to her whole life, she said, and believes her time in Guatemala is just the beginning of future opportunities to make a difference.

“I predict that this trip will jumpstart a career path that I did not necessarily see for myself,” she said. “International work and travel is a passion of mine that I hope to continue and grow upon.”

Last Updated October 19, 2016