To celebrate Black History Month Highfields invites speakers to campus to motivate the residential students. One speaker in particular was Eric Jones, World Champion Powerlifter and former Highfields employee.
Highfields’ Communication and Marketing Specialist, Laura Jurasek, had the privilege of sitting down with Eric and learned about his many passions – his family, his career, and most of all, helping underprivileged youth.
Laura Jurasek: Hi Eric! Thank you for taking time to speak with me. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Eric Jones: I grew up in Lansing, Michigan and currently reside in Dutch Township, right outside of Lansing. I have a son. I have been married for 21 years. My wife is a nurse and my son is currently enrolled in college.
I’ve started numerous projects for kids in the Lansing area. My last one was the Work Development and GED Program which was funded by Michigan Works. We took students at a 4th grade reading level and helped them get their GEDs. I think out of all my accomplishments that’s my biggest one, because of the fact that high schools around the area take kids with at least a 6th or 8th grade reading level. To take kids from a 4th grade level and have 100% pass and get their GEDs…that right there is my greatest fulfillment for the community. I have a passion for working for young people. I worked here too!
LJ: That’s right! How long did you work at Highfields? What was your position?
EJ: I was in Dault house. I was a Residential Counselor for 6 years at Highfields. And I loved it. One of the best jobs I ever had.
LJ: What did you like most about it?
EJ: The thing I liked most about it is that to me, you took something that was rough around the edges, and you had a hand in shaping and molding it to be something smooth or something that was placed back in the community that could thrive in a positive way.
Also, I liked the relationships that I built. He doesn’t work here anymore, but Mr. Abdula used to be my boss here. He got a hold of me 7 years ago, and I had been gone almost 20 years at that time. He said there was a student that was looking for me. And I told him he could give him my number. We talked and I got teary eyed because he said: ‘Man I just wanted to thank you. When I got married, you were the first person I was trying to get a hold of. I wanted you to be at my wedding, I wanted you to see I got a family, I work construction, and I have my life together.’ I had asked him about his dad because I knew him and his family from home visits, and he said: ‘You were more of a dad to me than my own dad was.’
Working with young people, even though you try to, it’s not like working at a desk where you can turn off your computer, and leave and go do something else. With kids, it’s something that’s attached to your heart. Every day when you leave, it’s still on your mind.
You deal with difficult stuff working here; kids that didn’t have anywhere to go, kids that have terrible situations at home. You know, dealing with that is hard but you’re also able to help mold and shape them.
I take being a role model very, very seriously. That’s part of the reason I do what I do as far as powerlifting. It’s not so much for me. If you didn’t know me, you’d never know what I do. It’s to inspire young people to achieve and for them to realize that they can do things that I can do. If I can do it, they can do it. We came from the same streets, same circumstances.
LJ: Great answer! Tell me about the speech you’re giving to the students today.
EJ: You can’t get up unless you’re knocked down. I look at being here as being knocked down. But this isn’t the end all; the story hasn’t been written yet, it isn’t complete yet. This is just a chapter in your book of life.
LJ: What do you hope the students will gain from your speech?
EJ: I hope to reach just one or two kids at least because you know you can’t reach everyone… that would be great, that’s the goal! But if I just got one or two who leave today and still talk about what I discussed or can relate or can inspire them to do something different, that’s what I hope for.
The only thing I don’t like about traveling across the country and speaking is that, to me, you go impart knowledge, and wisdom, and inspire, and the kids are motivated, and then you’re gone. There’s nothing to carry that on. I want to come back to Highfields every now and then because I like to stay in touch with kids. I think that makes more of an impact. Coming one time gets them motivated, but then you disappear and never see them again. To me that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Hopefully I can establish a relationship with some of these kids – come out here and sit in on cabin meetings, and talk to them.
LJ: Why did you want to come back to Highfields to speak to the students?
EJ: Because I love kids and I have a passion for helping the underserved. And I don’t think I’ve ever turned them down (laughs). I always take an opportunity because there were always people when I was growing up that reached out to help me.
LJ: What is your hope for students who leave Highfields’ residential program when they go back into the community?
EJ: I hope that they’re able to implement the life skills they learn here, and they’re able to avoid the obstacles that they’ll be faced with once they go back into the community. And ultimately, that they don’t come to reside with me in Michigan Department of Corrections (laughs).
LJ: Is there anything else you’d like to say about your speech or coming back to Highfields?
EJ: Just that I’m excited to be here. This was like home for me. There are a lot memories that popped in my head the whole ride out here. It’s like a homecoming.
Eric Jones is a Lieutenant for the Michigan Department of Corrections, a motivational speaker, and the number one Powerlifter in the world for last 5 years. Eric has won 26 consecutive meets and has been published in powerlifting magazines.