Three individuals from the University of New Mexico were recognized Nov. 20 for their continued commitment to community service through the Sarah Belle Brown Award.
The recipients included two UNM staff members — Kim Kloeppel and Jennifer Moore — and UNM student Jesse Yelvington.
Yelvington, who is part of the UNM Honors College, geared her community service toward advocating for and the education of the LGBTQ community.
“(These) are issues relevant to my life, (and) because I have experience in it I know what needs to be done,” Yelvington said. “A lot of the stuff I’ve done has been around campus educating medical professionals (on) how to treat trans patients.”
Yelvington said that his first experiences with these issues dated back to middle school and his volunteer work at the Gender and Sexuality Alliance at the Santa Fe Mountain Center.
He said he was unsure where his dedication to the community would lead him next, but he remained certain that he would continue to try and benefit his community.
“I think community service is an interesting way of putting what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of think of it as community building and doing the things that need to be done — dedicating yourself to making a difference. I think it’s important to try make an impact on people and try to make a difference.”
Yelvington also said the day of the Sarah Belle Brown Award ceremony was also national Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience, which is meant to honor the over 300 transgender individuals who were murdered within the last year while providing support and awareness for those in our community.
As part of the award, Yelvington was given a $1,500 scholarship. He plans on donating this funding to several organizations, such as the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico and the TGI Justice Project.
He encouraged others to research these organizations and donate to them if possible.
Kloeppel similarly began community service early in life and found herself passionate about making a difference.
“Many years ago, I decided I wanted to start trying to volunteer, and I ended up starting out when I was in my 20s at my church over at the Newman Center here on campus,” she said. “I did bookkeeping and event planning, and that sparked an interest for me. I ended up working over at Student Health and Counseling. I started here 22 years ago, and there was an employee there that instilled in me this new initiative called Random Acts of Kindness Week.”
When Kloeppel transferred from the SHAC to accept the position of chief operations officer of UNM Student Affairs she prioritized this kindness initiative. She expanded the event across campus, calling it the BeKind initiative.
“We do all kinds of things — we collect toys and stuffed animals and distribute them to different places. Now we connect with (the Albuquerque Police Department) and give them a lot of the stuffed animals to use when they have a violent or traumatic situation (involving) a child,” she said.
Kloeppel has been pleased with the BeKind movement, as it is now beginning to spread into the outlying Albuquerque communities.
“I love doing (community service),” Kloeppel said. “It’s a passion of mine, I really feel good about it. For me doing the random acts of kindness combats some of the random acts of violence that are out there. Whenever you see these awful things happening, and you feel kind of helpless, you ask, ‘What can I do?’ For me it’s being kind, and hopefully that will spread out.”
Kloeppel will also be teaching a class at UNM in the spring semester, titled Student Transition and Engagement Program. The course will help students who are interested in becoming involved with community service find a way they can begin.
Austin Tyra is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AustinATyra.