February 2021: AmeriCorps VISTA Spotlight

February 18, 2021

Meet Jennifer Toyo

Jennifer Toyo serves at Northern Kentucky University as the VISTA Coordinator for NKU R.O.C.K.S. (Responsibility, Opportunity, Community, Knowledge, and Success). NKU R.O.C.K.S. is a retention and mentoring program designed by the NKU African American Student Initiatives (AASI) that helps ease the transition of African American freshmen students from high school to college. The program focuses on connecting students to resources for success and community during their first year by pairing them with mentors and faculty/staff on campus. The program hopes to aid the students and encourage them to finish their degrees.

Each year, NKU R.O.C.K.S. holds a Summer Institute. The Summer Institute includes a few days of activities, workshops, and sessions for the first-year students to prepare for their first semester. Although it was challenging for Toyo to organize the Institute in an all-virtual setting, it was meaningful for her to see how she and her site supervisor collaborated and partnered with campus organizations, faculty, and staff to make the Summer Institute successful.

“I was blown away by the amount of participation, connectedness, and engagement of the students, mentors, and presenters despite the physical separation,” Toyo said. “There were a lot of great conversations, fun, and learning happening during the program.”

Toyo got the chance to watch participants build meaningful relationships through the Summer Institute. She loves to see students appreciate the support they have received throughout their first year. This year, about 90% of NKU R.O.C.K.S. students returned for the Spring 2021 semester due to the support and relationships they were able to make.

Toyo’s key takeaway from this experience was remaining true to herself while serving her community and realizing the value in what she has to give. Toyo has faced many personal challenges since starting her service, hindering her from showing up as she typically would. Toyo has found herself doubting the quality of her work and the impact her service is really making. It has been helpful for her to be okay with expressing her needs while also finding value in what she has to give at the moment, even when it may appear small or insufficient. She has learned to focus on the heart of service and not always performance.

“Someone is impacted by what I do whether I see it or not,” said Toyo.

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