Once a week, Beyond Boulders runs a five-question interview with either a first-year Schweitzer Fellow or a Schweitzer Fellow for Life (ie, a Fellow whose initial year with ASF has been completed, but whose commitment to lifelong service continues).
Today, we talk with 2008-09 New Hampshire-Vermont Schweitzer Fellow Brian Jones — who worked as a corrections officer, a community police officer, and a police detective (and earned associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and a master’s in administration) before enrolling at Vermont Law School.
Jones had always sought to better local communities, but the reactive nature of his experiences in law enforcement left him feeling powerless — and catalyzed a desire to bring about big-picture change that led him to the Schweitzer Fellowship. For more on Jones — who traveled across New Hampshire delivering talks aimed at empowering senior citizens with the tools to combat elder abuse and financial scams — read on, and check out Vermont Law School’s feature, too.
Why did you develop your particular project?
I spent several years as a criminal investigator for a municipality before coming to law school. While I never believed that I would be able to change the world as a police officer, I had hoped to better my local community.
After seven years, I doubted that I was accomplishing anything. My work was solely reactive, whereas I believe that true change can only be realized through proactive efforts. I viewed law school as an opportunity to contribute to society in meaningful ways.
As I embarked on my legal studies, I sought to use my law enforcement background to serve in ways that had previously not been possible for me. As a detective, it was apparent that the elderly often fall prey to scams and frauds. Police agencies and social service agencies, often restricted by a lack of financial resources and manpower, are typically situated to deal with problems after they occur, but are unable to engage in preventative efforts.
The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship was an opportunity to engage in proactive crime prevention through community outreach and education. Thus, I developed my project to bridge this divide in hopes that I could reach people in their communities and provide basic information aimed at preventing victimization of the elderly.
What was your lasting impact of your project on the community it served?
Crimes against the elderly are among the most underreported crimes. I believe that my project increased awareness of this issue. Moreover, I was able to offer warning signs of elder abuse and exploitation and encouraged everyone to report crime and offered tangible benefits for doing so.
Hopefully, more people realize the importance of reporting criminal incidents and will not hesitate to do so. This not only protects the individual, but other would-be victims.
What do you think is the most pressing health related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
As a law student, I had to assume a broad definition of health for the Fellowship. Thus, as it relates to my work, I believe that any issue that affects quality and enjoyment of life is paramount. As the nation focuses on the systems and processes that provide healthcare, I hope we do not lose sight of the myriad of factors that contribute to a person’s health.
In my opinion, pathology should embrace the totality of a person’s wellbeing, not solely biological factors. Whether lawyers or physicians, we are in the best position to serve, represent the diverse needs of our neighbors, and advocate for worthy causes that benefit mankind. This is not a passive charge, but one that requires passion and determination.
What the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow?
While one of the stated goals of the Fellowship was to develop leadership ability, it was surprising to me that this occurs through the execution of the project without an explicit mechanism for achievement. The mentors are certainly helpful, but in the end, the responsibility of achieving a project’s goals rests with the Fellow.
In hindsight, I believe that the obstacles and touch decisions were as valuable for me personally as any direct service that I was able to provide others. The Fellowship not only allowed me to achieve specific goals as it related to my project, but instilled within me the ability to tackle other advocacy objectives throughout life.
What does Albert Schweitzer’s legacy mean to you and how have you carried it with you since your initial year as a Fellow drew to a close?
I believe that Albert Schweitzer’s legacy stresses the importance of service. While many people exhibit potential, few actually have the tools, knowledge, and willingness to engage in meaningful service. Thus, it is incumbent on those who are able and willing to step forward, make sacrifices, and strive to make the world a better place. Personally, I try to remain cognizant of the specific tools that I have and resist utilizing those for self-serving purposes; service begs me to embrace ways that I can use those to help others.