By Jaci Wendel
This semester’s Agape Latte program, a nationally syndicated speaker series that invites students to hear the love stories of faculty and staff, appropriately kicked off the day after Valentine’s Day, Feb. 15, with one of DeSales’ most loved staff members, Jaime Gerhart, director of the Center for Service and Social Justice.
Gerhart begun her love story by quoting from the children’s book “The Velveteen Rabbit” in order to illustrate how love can make us “real.” Coming from a small town with not many things to do except go to the library, Gerhart said that her love of books and learning was able to transform her. The book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” especially helped Gerhart “start to become courageous and brave.”
Her love of learning led Gerhart to attend college at Millersville University, where she was able to understand the freedom that comes along with love. She changed her major at least four times and chose diverse areas of study from international business to German to finally settling on political science. Throughout the process of changing majors, her parents’ support for her never flagged. That support continued when she graduated and decided to complete a year of service through City Year, an education focused branch of AmeriCorps that focuses on improving schools in high-poverty, racially diverse areas.
Gerhart attributes her transformation as a person to the people around her willing to say “yes” to her, and she does her best to pay that habit forward with the students of DeSales, saying “yes” to her students as much as possible in order to help them grow.
“If you come into my office, I usually say ‘yes’ to you,” said Gerhart. “The idea of saying ‘yes,’ to me, is one of the greatest love stories we have. Don’t be afraid of saying yes. It’s okay, it will work out. Say yes to people you love and let them be who they are.”
Her gratitude does not end with her parents; during college, Gerhart began to realize the way that the wider, universal community affected her day-today life.
“I was given so much by every single person sitting here… Every single person who’s in America today helped me be the person I am. I went to an amazing public school, I lived in a great town and I went to a great state system university,” said Gerhart. “All of us who are sitting here thinking I’m here because of my mom and dad and that’s it, you’re thinking really small. Start to think a little bit bigger. Every single person affects our lives in our community and you’re part of that community.”
Gerhart also spoke about the nature of servant love, expressing your love for another person or group of people by serving them. One example she gave of this comes from her City Year experience: she and her partner Joe were opposite in personality and work style, which led to a lot of clashing of wills. In the end, however, Gerhart realized that she was acting superior to Joe, which led Joe to avoid going to the school most days. While the kids at the school liked Gerhart, they related to Joe more and were disappointed when he did not come to school.
Even though they were so different, Gerhart and Joe ended up bonding over similar childhood memories like watching cartoons in 1986.
“A lot of outer things that society forces on us and says that we’re different is just kind of a façade, just barriers that we put up in society,” said Gerhart.
After getting to know Joe more, Gerhart let Joe’s personality come through when it came to planning for their team.
“Joe became really empowered by me being less of this that I’m the boss. I loved him and… I let him be who he is and he started to shine every single day he started to come to work… he really started to see how much these kids needed him,” said Gerhart. Today, Gerhart still keeps in touch with Joe, who is the director of recruitment for City Year in Philadelphia.
Gerhart ended her presentation by reminding the audience that love is always a choice that we make every day, and that as one human community, we should extend that choice to as many people around us as possible.
“There’s lots of people in this crowd who can talk about their experiences of travelling on our trips and being able to fall in love with other human beings and for no other reason than that we’re human beings and there’s nothing that we can give one another except the fact that we are here on this planet together,” said Gerhart. “If you’re afraid to do that just remember… you’ll never run out of love. You’ll never love too many people and you’ll never love anyone too much. Remind yourself that we can always love more.”