By Sarah Meike, Special Projects Coordinator

One of Joi’s most memorable experiences was going to farm camp as an elementary school participant with R.O.C.K. The contrast between the endless concrete of Visitacion Valley and the vast space, pastures, and animals on the farm was incredible to Joi. On the farm she got to milk goats, sleep in tents and feed horses.  She was exposed to a whole new world view that she could have never imagined growing up in Visitacion Valley.

Now in her third year at Sonoma state, Joi is majoring in Criminal Justice and Ethnic Studies. Similar to her experience at the farm with R.O.C.K., she is researching how interactions with farm animals affect children who have experienced trauma. Joi hopes that by tending to animals such as cows, goats, and horses, the children will experience the same joy in nurturing others as she did.

Joi recognizes R.O.C.K. as the support system that got her through her childhood. She describes her experience in R.O.C.K. as, “a home away from home.” Today, Joi continues to extend that support system to others at Sonoma State. She is part of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) that provides a group of peers and advisors for low income and 1st generation youth attending college. Joi attributes her success in college to this program. With most students at Sonoma State coming from affluent backgrounds, it was really difficult to relate to other students on campus, having grown up in Visitacion Valley. The EOP program surrounded her with people that faced the same struggles as she did.

This has inspired her to serve as a leader and peer mentor to freshman in the dorms. Her job today is to serve as a student’s safety net when they are overwhelmed by the transition of college life. She goes into classrooms to educate freshman on subjects like alcohol safety and sexual assault. In an effort to make herself as accessible as possible to students, she holds open office hours where students can come talk to her about any issues they are facing. She even astounded me by telling me she gives students her phone number so that they can call her at any time if they’re experiencing difficulty. I was shocked and amazed by the level of commitment, responsibility, and compassion she feels toward these students.

Although R.O.C.K. was not the only support system that got Joi to where she is now, it was an important stepping stone to building trust in community and teaching her it’s ok to reach out to others for help. Now, Joi is breaking ground for new safe places for others in her community. We couldn’t be more honored to count her as one of our alumni, and raise up her successes.