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Social Justice with a Kick

Jennifer Padilla. Photo credit Phil Channing.
Jennifer Padilla. Photo credit Phil Channing.
Jennifer Padilla

Major: African American Studies

Activities: Junior Auxiliary Volunteer Captain, Good Samaritan Hospital; Coach, Girls on the Run (Silicon Valley); Student Advisory Council Member, Rep. Mike Honda (D-California); Youth Advisory Council Member, The Health Trust (Silicon Valley); Associated Student Body President

Twenty-three years old, homeless and raising her two young children alone in a Silicon Valley Motel 6, Erin seeks help.

Jennifer Padilla, an intern with Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose, Calif., meets with Erin regularly. At first, Erin looks tired and strained. She’s given the basics: food and clothing. After Jennifer connects her with agencies providing free child care and vocational training, Erin is energized. Even her two daughters are in higher spirits, seeing the shift in their lives.

Eventually, Erin finds a better-paying job and safe child care for her daughters.

“I’m not completely on my feet yet, but I’m getting there,” she tells Jennifer.

“That’s what I love about service,” says Jennifer. “It’s getting to work with people one on one and hearing their stories and where they come from. Why should Erin, a kind and hardworking woman, be forced to explain to her children that there won’t be any dinner or a warm place to stay that night? That personal experience motivates me and helps me grasp the bigger picture of why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Jennifer is committed to working toward social justice and sees her future in community service as a fusion of administrative and hands-on work.

“I’m really inspired by the people I’ve worked with at Sacred Heart,” she says. “They’ve devoted their lives completely to serving the common good and selflessly giving themselves to help others. That’s the kind of life I want to live.”

Jennifer’s inner strength and focus in large part stems from her dedication to martial arts. She’s currently in the dojo training for her third-degree black belt in karate. For the past four years, Jennifer has honed her skills in martial arts and social justice — two activities she sees as interconnected.

“Karate keeps me grounded,” says Jennifer, who has studied the art for more than a decade. “I’ve gained focus and self-discipline from it; and it’s where I get my power, drive and motivation.”


Read more articles from USC College Magazine's Fall 2010/Winter 2011 issue