DANVERS — Ever since she was a third-grader, Kelly Joy has been telling her parents she planned to enter the Peace Corps. A Smith Elementary School teacher who had served sparked the young girl’s desire to help others.
Joy’s childhood goal became the focus of her teenage and young adult life through various community service work. And in mid-January, she will depart for Thailand on a 27-month odyssey to become an education and community service volunteer in the Southeast Asian nation.
Joy, 21, will join 247 other Bay State residents presently serving in the Peace Corps, according to a press release from the organization’s Northeast Regional Office. She signed up for the program a year ago and went through a rigorous application process. Two weeks ago, she graduated a semester early from Loyola University in Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.
To serve, Joy has given up walking in her college graduation ceremony and set aside job offers to become a teacher, she said. She plans to work in a primary school in a suburb of Bangkok, Thailand’s capital. Her first three months will be spent living with a host family and immersing herself in Thai language and culture. She will then be sworn in and spend two years teaching English, working with local people and creating a community service project.
Joy is the oldest child of Tom and Karen Joy of Danvers. Her younger sister, Jennifer, is a junior at Loyola, and her younger brother, Matthew, attends St. John’s Prep.
The 2009 graduate and honors student at Danvers High “was always doing something,” said Joy’s mother, who described her daughter as someone with a “good heart,” a well of enthusiasm, a desire to make a difference and a willingness to be active since grade school. She was the type of student at Danvers High who joined the math team not because she was a standout, but because she wanted to be on the team, Karen said.
“She always wanted to do this (the Peace Corps) and has been very involved with global community events” while in high school, Karen said. “She always wanted to help people.”
“I’m very motivated,” said Kelly, who traces her desire to join to her third-grade teacher Cynthia Grady, who ignited the student’s desire to help others by talking about her Peace Corps experience in Africa. Since then, Kelly geared what she was doing in school with the goal of being accepted. She helped create a community service garden at the school in the fifth grade. She even visited Grady last year to tell her she was joining.
Another longtime influence is “Mrs. A.,” Kelly said, talking about Assistant Superintendent/Danvers High Principal Sue Ambrozavitch, who served as Kelly’s principal at Smith School, and who has known her and her family since Joy entered kindergarten.
“It is not surprising that Kelly has decided to join the Peace Corps,” Ambrozavitch said in an email. “In speaking with her over the past few years, Kelly has become increasingly committed to making a positive difference in the world and has thought carefully about her many options. She is focused, compassionate and articulate.”
Ambrozavitch said she looks forward to hearing more about Kelly’s adventures in the coming years.
At Danvers High, Kelly compiled a long résumé of activities, including winning the Kiwanis Key Club award for her work with the student organization that promotes community service. She volunteered at Beverly Hospital, took part in Model U.N., and served on the math and science teams, among other things.
After Danvers High, she spent a semester at James Madison University in Virginia as a premed student. She then switched gears and colleges to focus on education. She was influenced, she said, by her time volunteering in the special needs class at Danvers High taught by former special education teacher Emily Boulger, who used art to help students learn. Kelly did her student teaching in special education in Chicago, Karen said.
“She’s done a lot in her short life,” said Karen, including running a marathon and meeting the pope while studying abroad in Rome two years ago. In April, her daughter won the Damen Award at Loyola for her involvement and leadership as an undergraduate.
While at Loyola, a school focused on social justice, Kelly became involved with a group called Invisible Conflicts, which aims to make the Loyola community aware of little-known conflicts around the world. It raises money for the Dwon Madiki Partnership in Gulu, Uganda, providing scholarships for 20 students affected by war. Kelly ran the program, and Invisible Conflicts won the Damen Award the same year as Kelly did. Kelly said the work was stressful because there were 20 lives that depended on the group’s fundraising and other efforts.
While she was at Loyola, Karen said her daughter would call and talk about what she was trying to do, worried how the Ugandan students were faring and how at times she felt the world was indifferent.
“‘Do people understand what is going on in the world?’” Karen said her daughter would ask her, and her mom would give her the advice that sometimes you can only change things “one person at a time.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.