A “Service Superstar” Finds Her Calling

When Ashley Tarbet arrived at Emerson College in fall 2005, the fresh-faced 18-year-old from Brockton wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. She flirted with the idea of becoming a lawyer in junior high but realized by the time she got to college that it wasn’t really for her.

Ashley Tarbet at the Cradles to Crayons Giving Factory.

Tarbet picked Emerson because she loved the campus, and it wasn’t too far from her family in Brockton, about 25 miles south of the city. The college also offered a plethora of programs she was interested in, which, Tarbet said, seemed more structured than the programs she investigated at other schools.

“I started as a new media major but was really interested in political communications and also wanted to do some photography and creative writing as well,” Tarbet said.

During her freshman year, Tarbet found herself meandering through a work study fair, looking for a job, when she ran into Jen Greer, then associate director of Emerson’s Office of Service Learning and Community Action (SLCA). Greer told Tarbet about the service work study program.

Ashley Tarbet donned her red Jumpstart colors with other student volunteers at an event in spring 2007.

Ashley Tarbet donned her red Jumpstart colors with other student volunteers at an event in spring 2007.

“You mean I can get paid to do community service?” The now 23-year-old Tarbet recalled her astonished reaction from that first encounter with Greer, who would later become a mentor to Tarbet. Tarbet heard about the Jumpstart program, which fit right in line with her experiences working with children through the key club in high school.

As a Jumpstart corps member her freshman year, Tarbet worked 10 to 15 hours a week at Emanuel House Preschool in Roxbury. She worked one-on-one with her partner child, Glayna, helping her develop the skills necessary to succeed in school. A picture of Glayna still sits proudly on Tarbet’s bookshelf at home.

“That year of service pretty much changed my life,” Tarbet said.

Her positive experience with Jumpstart compelled her to start looking into teaching programs at other schools and thinking about transferring away from Emerson to pursue a career in education. Just as she began to consider shedding her purple Emerson threads, Greer told Tarbet about a new major being offered in the political communications department: leadership, politics and social advocacy. Tarbet said when she heard about the new major, she realized it was more in line with what she wanted to do.

“Other than just helping kids, there were a lot of other social causes I wanted to be a part of,” Tarbet said.

Tarbet traveled to Missippi on an Emerson ASB trip in 2008 to help with hurricane relief efforts.

Tarbet traveled to Missippi on an Emerson ASB trip in 2008 to help with hurricane relief efforts.

Tarbet’s service career at Emerson didn’t stop with Jumpstart. The young “service superstar,” as Jen Greer calls her, participated in countless extracurriculars including Emerson Peace and Social Justice (EPSJ), Alternative Spring Break (ASB), Earth EmersonImagine Students Reaching Out, and the Action for Community Transformation (ACT) Leaders program.

During her last two years of college, Tarbet lived off-campus with her older sister, Amanda, who noticed her little sister often missing from home. If she wasn’t busy doing homework, Tarbet was likely organizing a project or activity for one of the myriad service-oriented groups she immersed herself in during college.

One of Tarbet’s favorite memories from her time at Emerson was filling the multipurpose room in Piano Row with donations of school supplies for Jumpstart kids that she organized around Christmas time one year. Although Jumpstart was only working with 11 kids at the school, Tarbet was proud they collected enough donations for all 60 children attending the school.  Volunteers, including Tarbet’s sister, Amanda, drove to Dorchester on a snowy winter night to deliver the donations.

“It was great seeing her interact with the kids and seeing the effect of her hard work at Jumpstart,” said Amanda Tarbet.

Jen Greer recalled the time Tarbet organized an awareness event about educational resources modeled after the hunger banquet. Some participants were given ample supplies to complete the same project as others who received severely limited supplies.

“She really showed her creativity and made it very engaging for people that went to that event,” Greer said. “People could see, ‘How am I supposed to make this as good as those people when they have all the art supplies, and I just have two crayons?'”

Another Tarbet-organized event Greer admired was a celebration for Dr. Seuss’ birthday where Ashley planned many fun and creative activities for kids, which Greer said were clearly well thought out.

“It was a very rewarding experience for a volunteer, which is why I think she’s so successful as a volunteer coordinator,” Greer said. “She doesn’t just make sure the work gets done. She also makes sure the volunteers have a rewarding experience and want to come back and do it again.”

Tarbet worked with a group of Emerson Jumpstart volunteers during her AmeriCorps VISTA year at Cradles to Crayons in 2010.

Tarbet worked with a group of Emerson Jumpstart volunteers during her AmeriCorps VISTA year at Cradles to Crayons in 2010.

After graduating in 2009, Tarbet landed an AmeriCorps VISTA position as volunteer outreach coordinator with an up and coming non-profit, Cradles to Crayons. Once her VISTA year ended, Cradles was quick to offer Tarbet a full-time position as group volunteer coordinator. Last fall, the organization received a grant to fund the Giving Corps, a new program Ashley is heading up at Cradles with her new title as Giving Corps volunteer manager.

Through the Giving Corps, Tarbet recruits and trains teens, college students and adults to assume leadership roles in the organization, training other volunteers how to perform tasks to help the organization reach its goal of providing basic essentials for children in need throughout Massachusetts.

“She’s so passionate about the work, but she’s also extremely organized,” said Jen Greer. “Some might be organized, but not be as good at inspiring others. Some have the passion but aren’t so organized. Ashley has that great balance.”

Tarbet said the thing she loves most about working at Cradles is getting other people as excited about service as she is. Also, she loves knowing that Cradles partners with some of the same Head Start and early education programs Jumpstart works in, making it easier to help those kids learn because Cradles is providing them with basic essentials like school supplies.

At the new Cradles to Crayons space in Brighton, Tarbet points out one of her favorite quotes by Dr. Seuss posted on the back wall of the office where she works. It reads, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

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