‘Treating everyone more equally’: Jan Jourdain’s advocacy for Belchertown’s veterans
From a profile series of Amherst College staff and their community engagement.
It has been fourteen years since Jan Jourdain first accepted a position in the Robert Frost library at Amherst College, but she’ll tell you that no two days have ever been quite the same. “I don’t think there is a typical day here,” she says. As the Head of Library Information Technology, Jourdain is responsible for both the “macro and micro” of all things technology in the library: public and staff computers, the computer lab, software, printers— pretty much everything “except the microfilm machines,” she explains. While there may not be a typical day in the library, there is a clear theme to Jourdain’s daily work. “Every day, what all of us in the library work on is making things easier for students and faculty to do their jobs by doing our jobs well.” Working closely with faculty, students, and other staff is by far the best part of her job. “They’re just interesting people— interested people.”
Jourdain began working in libraries long before she was a professional librarian. “My first library job was in junior high school,” she says. “I was in the library homeroom, and we were responsible for maintaining the library.” As an undergraduate at Siena College, she took a paid student position in the library, although it wasn’t yet clear to Jourdain that this would one day become her career. As she was leaving active duty from the Army, she began to consider graduate school— and realized there were graduate programs in library science. “I wanted to stay in the area I was living in. I was looking at graduate programs at the University of Arizona. You can get a library degree? Cool. I enjoy it. It’s worked out well.”
Working with people every day is not just part of Jourdain’s life at Amherst College— it has also defined her community engagement efforts in her local community of Belchertown. Jourdain has lived in Belchertown since she first moved to the Pioneer Valley, and she’s devoted countless hours of her time to working with, and advocating for, the people in her community. Most notably, Jourdain has taken on issues pertaining to the town’s veteran population.
According to Jourdain, Belchertown has around 1,500-2,000 veterans, which is a fairly high number for a town of approximately 15,000 residents. She deeply cares about serving this population “partially because I am a veteran. And partially because…I’m of the Vietnam generation. I think Vietnam veterans were very, very overlooked. I’ve been trying to treat everyone a little more equally and somehow to make up to my generation for the lack of respect they received.”
Jourdain is committed to helping preserve the history and sacrifices of servicemen and women from Belchertown. For almost ten years, Jourdain has served on the Belchertown Memorial Committee, and she’s currently in her third year as the chair. Under her leadership, the committee spent several years working to properly document and centralize information about each of the town’s memorials. “For a long, long time, these memorials were not documented well. If someone wanted to know, okay, who funded this memorial, who is responsible for repair to it, if need be, there was no documentation on that.” The committee compiled information on each memorial from a number of sources, and translated this into a book that is now available at the Belchertown public library and the town clerk’s office. The timing of the project was critical, because it was largely the elderly community who held the most knowledge of Belchertown’s memorials. Jourdain knew that this history would have been lost forever if it had not been recently documented. In addition to three memorials on the town common, Jourdain explains that some of Belchertown’s memorials are actually streets. “They were named after soldiers [from Belchertown] who were killed in World War I.” In the time she has served on the committee, the town has also gained another memorial— one for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “We don’t want to have to any more memorials like that,” she says.
Jourdain has also served on Belchertown’s Veterans Services Advisory Board for almost six years. The board is led by Belchertown’s full-time veterans’ agent, a position that Jourdain helped establish years ago. She argued, successfully, that other towns in Massachusetts with much smaller veteran populations had full-time veterans’ agents— and that Belchertown needed one for its large population of mostly World War II veterans. “We meet every month. What we do is offer the [veterans’ agent] a sounding board for issues that come up to him that he may have to deal with.” Jourdain explains that the most pressing issue facing today’s veterans is health care. The veterans’ agent “helps veterans to process the paperwork to receive the benefits they need and the benefits they’ve earned. The paperwork is a pretty tough gauntlet, especially for older veterans.” Jourdain values the support that the committee is able to offer the agent so that he can, in turn, offer support to the veterans of Belchertown. Also important to Jourdain is her visibility as a female veteran on the committee. “People talk about veterans, but they forget that women are veterans too. My being there is a reminder.”
It’s not just these two committees that keep Jourdain busy in Belchertown. She’s helped to hire a director of the Clapp Memorial Library, the town’s public library, and she’s also volunteered to lend a hand during the annual Belchertown Fair. “I've never lived in a community as small as Belchertown before, so it's been fun to be involved with town activities,” she notes. “As a veteran and a librarian, I feel like I'm contributing my unique experiences and interests toward keeping Belchertown a nice place to live.”
Jenny Morgan is a staff writer for the Center for Community Engagement. She welcomes any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.