Cahoon Wins Brown Service Leadership Award

One question changed Arkansas Tech University student Jenna Cahoon’s perspective on college and life.

Cahoon took it to heart when, during a sociology class, Dr. Sean Huss asked, “Why, as college students, aren’t you doing more to help others?”

Without a good answer, Cahoon set about serving as a change agent. She is a founding member and has served as chairperson of Because We Can, a registered student organization that has one purpose: to help others through service.

“It clicked in my head,” said Cahoon. “Why am I waiting? Why do students have this idea that we come to college to get a degree, and then we can make a difference later? There are so many opportunities in the here and now to help others. If you have the means to help someone, there’s no reason that person shouldn’t be helped.”

That spirit of selfless volunteer service to others earned Cahoon the 2016 Jill Lestage Brown Service Leadership Award. She was announced as the recipient during a reception at Lake Point Conference Center in Russellville on Tuesday, April 26.

Cahoon, who is from Yellville, will receive the award during Arkansas Tech spring commencement ceremonies at Tucker Coliseum on Saturday, May 7.

That fateful question might have awakened the desire to serve others in Cahoon, but the seed was planted in her mind much earlier.

“Initially it came from my parents,” said Cahoon. “My mom always taught us that if you have more than you need, give back and pay it forward. Her and my dad are big believers in that. Then I had professors who instilled that in students, and to me it was rare to hear that. They told us to make a difference now. You don’t have to wait until after you graduate. I also had high school teachers who did that, so I was fortunate to hear that message in every person that I looked up to.”

Since Because We Can started in December 2014, it has coordinated a toy drive for foster children in Pope and Yell counties and coordinated multiple food drives to benefit River Valley Food 4 Kids.

It all started with a shared vision between Cahoon, fellow students Kendall Tubb and Matthew Freeman and faculty members Huss and Dr. James Stobaugh.

“I never thought I would be a part of creating a student organization,” said Cahoon. “I wasn’t really involved until that moment. Then, all of a sudden, I was. Kendall, Matt and I all had the same idea at once, and we had each other for support. Because We Can has turned into something amazing, I feel. It is an organization based solely upon providing service to others. I’m so proud of it…we started with three members and now we have more than 100.

“I really couldn’t have done this without Kendall and Matt,” continued Cahoon. “Matt was a go-getter. Kendall has been with me every step of the way this year. She used to be so introverted, but she found this character that she gets into that she uses to inspire and empower others. She is genius smart. I want to get to know people and hear their story. Kendall is more functional in terms of how we can be most efficient. We balance each other really well, and we’re best friends. Without one or the other, it would not have been possible.”

Because We Can also brought The Campus Kitchens Project to Arkansas Tech. In association with university food service provider Chartwells, Because We Can members recover food from Chambers Cafeteria and deliver it to local service organizations. Because We Can has provided more than 5,000 pounds of food to those in need in the Arkansas River Valley during the spring 2016 semester.

The power of what Because We Can was doing hit home for Cahoon when she had an opportunity to serve some of the food to her neighbors in need.

“Plenty of them were hugging us when we were leaving,” said Cahoon. “They asked if the food was from us and if they could hug us, and of course they could. Nothing is separating me from them. No one wants to be in poverty and food insecure. We have to stop looking at it from the perspective of what they did to end up in that situation. Instead, we should look at it as how we can help. That takes away the barrier between the people I am helping and me. They are me. They just need a hand up in this instance.”

Cahoon has a 3.75 grade point average as a psychology and sociology major. She will graduate from Arkansas Tech on Saturday, May 7. Her future plans include attending graduate school to become a licensed social worker. She hopes to engage in community relations work and wants to assist juvenile offenders.

“If anything, I hope this award shows others that she did that and so can I,” said Cahoon. “I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to help people, and I think that’s amazing. I want other people to have that feeling, too.”