By Jourdan Simpson, '16
Jory Fleming is a busy guy. The junior from Sumter, S.C., has a double major in marine science and geography and a minor in geophysics. But no matter how many hours a week he spends studying, it’s just as important to Fleming that he devotes time to community service.
How did you get involved in community service?
I actually saw the Cocky’s Reading Express bus drive around on campus one day, and I was like, ‘What’s that? That’s really cool!’ So I Googled it. I emailed them and got on their email list so that I could go next time. The first time I volunteered with them, I had no idea what was going on. I was a science major, and everyone else was an education major or in library science. So here I was, this science major tagging along for fun.
What’s your biggest inspiration to serve?
I have a tough time answering this. In some ways, it’s just something I’ve done. I do have a couple of different disabilities, which is why I have Daisy [a service dog], and a lot of challenges come with that. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had all sorts of different people support me. I think everyone has challenges in life somewhere or another. In my experiences I couldn’t have overcome some of my challenges without the support of others. So in some way, that makes me want to give back to others and help them with their challenges.
What have you learned from volunteering?
I’ve learned to be cheerful. Working with kids, they feed off of your emotions and how you present things, and so do dogs. The head trainer for PAALS [Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services] says that the leash is your connection to the dog, and they can feel how you feel. So if you’re frustrated with the training, they’re going to be frustrated. I think I’ve learned a lot about how I can make others feel.
What kind of work do you do with PAALS?
They run almost entirely off of volunteers. They have a couple of trainers and volunteer trainers. So, for most of their events, it’s almost always staffed by volunteers. I’ve been really impressed with how involved they are with the community. [The head trainer] doesn’t just want the service dogs to help people, she wants the service dogs to help the community as well. They do a monthly reading with dogs event at the Richland Library. I’ve taken Daisy a couple of times to read with kids, and it overcomes some fears about reading. Daisy is going to be excited whether a kid stumbles over their words or not.
Is there a partner organization at USC?
PAALS has a student org here on campus. It’s Cocky’s Canine PAALS. I was in a group of a couple students that wanted to start that at USC. I was getting signatures from people in Spanish class to start it as a student organization, and our first semester we didn’t have too many members. As it has grown, we actually have had to get bigger and bigger rooms. We’ve had to rent lecture halls before. It’s been neat to see other students get involved with PAALS and volunteer, walk, clean and train dogs. This allows the trainers to focus on the training. It’s been great to see how Daisy and I standing out on Greene Street helps students learn about PAALS. They come to meetings and then go to volunteer. Seeing that whole process is so cool. Daisy has had such an impact on me, so to see people volunteer with PAALS and help make more stories like that is amazing.
You say Daisy has had a big impact on you. How?
I have autism, and the classic hallmark of autism is that social interaction is difficult. One thing that I’ve surprised myself with is that before I came to USC, I would have never thought that I could do something like Cocky’s Reading Express. That whole concept has been foreign to me. As a result, it’s been important for me to grow in that way and to overcome that challenge. Without Daisy, I would have never been able to overcome that step or try something that’s not in my comfort zone.
What’s one of your favorite memories of volunteering?
At the end of Cocky’s Reading Express, they do a thing called ‘Cocky’s Promise,’ where the kids promise Cocky that they’re going to read a book every day. Cocky gets to tell them that they got a book as a result of a program. They have different students lead the chant. I was always observing that, until Ms. Christine asked me to do it one time. I was like, ‘Can I really do this?’ I did it, and it was fine. I didn’t mess up. It meant so much to me that someone put that trust in me to lead that aspect of communication.