What's important about mercy is that there is a role that everyone can play. People just have to know what that role is.
—Kayla Bowyer, '11
Each September, hundreds of Carlow University students, faculty, and staff participate in Mercy Service Day, which connects community organizations around southwestern Pennsylvania to the Carlow community for a special day of service.
Kayla Bowyer, a 2011 Communications graduate, fondly recalls Mercy Service Day. Today, as Amachi ambassadors coordinator for Amachi Pittsburgh, she still takes service seriously. Her values—strengthened at Carlow—fuel her life’s pursuits.
Amachi Pittsburgh provides encouragement, guidance, and support to children of incarcerated parents and their families.
Carlow talked with Bowyer about her amazing job and the interesting work she does every day. Here are a few excerpts from our conversation:
What do you do for Amachi Pittsburgh?
My goal is to help young people discover their greatness and help them discover they have power in telling their stories, which could compel people to make a change or make a positive impact, not just in their lives, but in children who endure the loss of a parent through incarceration.
What are some of the problems faced by children of incarcerated parents?
There are lots of issues that are connected to incarceration, in some way or another: poverty, crime, low educational attainment, homelessness, and hunger. They're not grieving the loss of a parent because that person is still alive, but they can't get to them—especially a child whose parent is serving a life sentence. How do you tell a child that their parent is never coming home?
In society, we tend to lose compassion for people once they've broken the law. But children still need to have support, and children should not be held accountable to the crime that their parent has committed. It's like the children are serving the sentence alongside their parent.
How do you handle having to hear about the stress and hardship of others?
I don't pretend that I know everything a person is going through. Obviously, everyone's story is different.
I have compassion—and, I also have a lot of chocolate to get me through the day! I love chocolate. That's how I deal with hardship and stress [laughs].
What do you want others to know about your job?
We need to let people know that children of incarcerated parents make up a population that people probably don't think of often—an overlooked population. They are children who may live in poverty, who may already be struggling in school, who may already live in an unsafe environment that doesn't have access to resources that people typically need to thrive, such as health care, a grocery store, or a well-performing school.
When you look at all the things a child would need to grow, despite the deficits, there is a lot that people—people who have a calling for justice—can do that might make them wrap their arms around those children and their families and provide the care that they need.
What does mercy mean to you?
To me, mercy is the ability to feel an obligation to help someone, even though you're not sure what to do. You don't have to have the same experiences in order to feel mercy. What's important about mercy is that there is a role that everyone can play. People just have to know what that role is. You have to be able to understand.
If you're a person who says, 'I don't have any authority, I can't change laws,'—there are things you can do, such as tutoring and mentoring.
Just one person can do a lot, but sometimes people think that issues seem so large. For larger issues, you can connect with others. When you're connected to a larger organization you can really make an impact.
This year, Carlow University celebrates Mercy Service Day on September 23.
Learn more about the programs in Carlow's Communications Department.