November 5, 2013 (Jupiter, FL) — When Jocelyn Skolnik first arrived at Florida Atlantic University’s Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, she had no idea that her time there would one day lead her to the White House. However, that is exactly what happened. In September of 2013, Skolnik was named a “Champion of Change,” a title the White House bestows on individuals who have worked to promote positive change in their communities. Since her graduation from the Wilkes Honors College in 2007, Skolnik has promoted that kind of change through her tireless efforts to improve the lives of immigrants living in the town of Jupiter.
Skolnik’s undergraduate years at the Honors College were characterized by academic excellence, as well as frequent community involvement. She was quickly drawn to work with the immigrant population of Jupiter, which at the time was composed mainly of people from Guatemala who were struggling to find steady work and become accustomed to American society. An immigrant from Guatemala herself, Skolnik became a passionate advocate for the Guatemalan community, working to help found El Sol, Jupiter’s Neighborhood Resource Center.
El Sol was established in 2006 to combat the day labor problem that was growing within the town of Jupiter. For many members of the immigrant population, the only way to find steady work was to form open-air labor markets on one of Jupiter’s streets and wait to be picked up by contractors, landscapers, or others employers looking for physical laborers. This system resulted in traffic congestion, littering, and numerous violations of the workers’ rights, including the withholding of payment, robbery, and other abuses. El Sol, which took up residence in an abandoned church near the center of Jupiter, developed a day labor program that would allow workers to wait for jobs in a safe, clean environment, and would ensure that employers and workers settled on a fair wage before leaving the center. The program was a great success, but the center was in need of a motivated, passionate director who would maximize El Sol’s potential and maintain its focus on creating a better standard of living for immigrants living in Jupiter. Thankfully, Skolnik was willing and available to step into that role.
Since becoming the Executive Director of El Sol, Skolnik has seen the center expand into a multipurpose clearinghouse for resources, now offering such diverse programs as English classes, sewing instruction, daycare, health programs and screenings, a food pantry, legal services, and psychological counseling. The center is still open as a day labor center seven days a week, and hundreds of volunteers devote their time and efforts to these programs, working with El Sol’s directors to develop new programs and raise awareness in the community. Only three employees are paid, and all of the center’s monetary needs are met through charitable donations and grants. For Skolnik, this means hours of grant writing, meeting with potential donors, and lobbying El Sol’s mission throughout the Jupiter community. For her, the Champions of Change Award was a much-needed reminder that the time she spends at El Sol really does make a difference. “The Champions of Change Award is such an amazing honor,” Skolnik states. “It has energized me to continue working hard for the things I believe in.”
However, Skolnik insists that the award does not just commemorate her work, but also the efforts of the other members of the El Sol family. “I share this award with El Sol's community of volunteers, staff and workers, who day-after-day work towards a better community,” she says. It is Skolnik’s hope that the Champions of Change Award will raise awareness about what El Sol does in Jupiter, and can inspire others to make changes in their communities as well. “This recognition has strengthened El Sol's good name, and I hope it helps bring attention to our story and how we can serve as a model for other communities struggling with similar issues,” Skolnik adds.
As Skolnik continues her work, she hopes that her story will inspire other students and community members to become active in their cities. While El Sol’s staff credits Skolnik’s hard work and determination as the major causes of her success, she insists that none of this would have been possible without her Honors College education. “My formative years at FAU’s Honors College have played big role in my career, especially since it was my advisor, Dr. Timothy Steigenga, who inspired me to become involved in this field,” she says. As new generations of Honors College students become involved in many of El Sol’s efforts, Skolnik is confident that others will follow in her footsteps and become leaders not just for the Jupiter community, but also for the nation.
About Florida Atlantic University: Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of three signature themes – marine and coastal issues, biotechnology and contemporary societal challenges – which provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit www.fau.edu