Jasmyn Mitchell returned to her old preschool last month, holding a violin case and practically skipping down the hall.
A staff member led her to a room where three children were looking at books. Jasmyn connected with the youngsters, chatted with them for a bit, then got out her violin. She played parts of four songs, selected just for them: "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," "We Three Kings," "Ode to Joy" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
Jasmyn, now a freshman at Rosati-Kain High School, had a positive experience at the University City Children's Center (UCCC) that helped set up her success in Catholic schools. So last summer she returned there as a classroom volunteer, sometimes playing the violin and other instruments for the children and accompanying their songs and dances. She was chosen as one of three "ambassadors" of UCCC, appearing in a brochure and video promoting the school's annual tuition-assistance program.
"I've learned to be a leader," she said of the volunteer work she did at the center. The children are all different, especially the various age groups, and she's learned what they're able to do and what they struggle to do.
The family atmosphere at the center is similar to Rosati-Kain, Jasmyn said. Jasmyn is on the junior varsity basketball team in addition to playing the violin in Rosati-Kain's instrumental program.
Jasmyn, who has two older brothers, said she feels a connection with children because she has several nieces and nephews. Five members of her family have attended the children's center, including one who is there now. She has good memories of the center and enjoys seeing some of the same staff members who were there nine years ago when she was a student.
When she was a child, Jasmyn was prone to seizures, what she called "a terrible experience for a toddler, especially one that was away from her mother." The teachers at the center embraced her, kept her safe and were steadfast in their support. "With UCCC's help, these challenging moments made me stronger and reinforced my commitment" to the center, Jasmyn said.
Jasmyn's mom, Rene Johnson, said the children's center is Jasmyn's foundation. Johnson wanted her to have the best education possible, and that's why she attended Christ the King Grade School and Rosati-Kain. The close-knit, family oriented schools "works best for her," Johnson said. "I like the diversity in both environments. And it continues to challenge her, which she needs."
Noting that Jasmyn is on the honor roll at Rosati-Kain, her mom added that "the sacrifice is well worth it."
Educators at Rosati-Kain rave about Jasmyn. Bill Taylor, her homeroom adviser, said "Jasmyn is a real joy to have in class. She has a love of learning that is infectious and continually pushes herself to improve. Her bright smile and friendly demeanor has rubbed off on her classmates as they all share in the joy she brings."
Founded in 1970 by nine synagogues and churches, University City Children's Center reflects the founders' desire to create a safe, nurturing environment where children from different socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds learn and play together in an atmosphere that is respectful of diversity and individuality.
Stephen P. Zwolak, executive director of University City Children's Center, praised Jasmyn and the two other former students who were volunteers and served as campaign chairs. It already raised almost a third more funds than any previous campaign for the center. "There's definitely a higher power at work in all this," Zwolak said.
As a volunteer, he said, Jasmyn "really began to truly understand what children want and need. She was a wonderful playmate for them."