News Story

How One Woman’s Church Service Became the Gateway Back to University

As a child, Jessica Jahn struggled to stay focused in school. She daydreamed and often felt confused and unable to keep up with her classmates.

“I definitely did not feel very smart,” Jahn remembers. After marrying young, she started her family and dropped out of university, relieved to be done because she “did not feel intelligent enough to continue.”

Yet five children later, at the age of 39, Jahn re-enrolled in university and graduated with distinction and a 4.2 GPA in 2021. A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jahn attributes her motivation to return to university to the confidence she gained through years of volunteer service to the Church.

Climb of Confidence

Jahn’s first memory of such service was as a leader during her Langley, British Columbia, congregation’s pioneer trekan activity in which youth re-enact some of the faith-building experiences of the early Latter-day Saint pioneers who journeyed to the Salt Lake Valley in the mid-1800s.

One of the activities designed to build confidence in young women involved pulling a heavy handcart up a steep, rocky stretch of mountain. “It was crazy,” said Jahn. “I thought, ‘Do they really think we can do this?!’ I’m small and the girls were small, but we were very determined. I kept saying, ‘We can do this!’ It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but we made it to the top and were overjoyed. We found out later that we were the only women to make it. We felt so empowered.”

After the pioneer trek, Jahn was asked to be president of her congregation’s Young Women organization. “Before pioneer trek, I wouldn’t have thought I was capable of leading the Young Women group,” she said. “I was only in my 20s at the time. I discovered the girls liked me, and my confidence grew.”

Surprising New Skills and ADHD

More volunteer service opportunities followed. Jahn organized and promoted a project to make hygiene kits for the Ishtar Women’s Foundation in Langley, a shelter for abused women. The event was covered by the local newspaper.

Jahn began working with her congregation’s youth again, this time teaching Sunday School and early morning scripture study classes. “I grew really close to the youth, and we shared some beautiful moments,” she said. “I helped shy kids come out of their shell. They could relate to me because I was like them. When I taught, I tried to appeal to their different learning styles and focused on activities and discussions instead of lecturing.”

At the end of Jahn’s teaching stint, she received beautiful cards of thanks from some of the students detailing the things they particularly enjoyed. “I was amazed,” she said. “I never knew I could be good at teaching, but I guess I am.”

Around this time, Jahn realized she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — a diagnosis often missed in girls because they can be so well-behaved. Now she understood why she had been unable to focus in school. She learned coping skills and began thinking about returning to university. Her husband, Len, was very supportive.

The Joy of Learning

Jahn began by enrolling in a psychology class during the summer semester at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV). “I loved it so much,” she remembers “I was so excited all the time, and this professor was not even very interesting, except he had good stories.”

In the fall, Jahn took more courses. English literature was a favourite. “The very first essay I wrote, I got an A,” Jahn said. “I asked the professor what I had to do to get an A+. She thought I was a little bit crazy. She said, ‘You’re a very good writer.’ But she gave me some tips on how to improve, and we developed a great relationship.”

From there, Jahn was off and running. “I loved every course and [felt] like I came alive,” she said.

Two years and a semester after she began, Jahn graduated with a 4.2 GPA and an even greater sense of self-worth. “I loved all that learning,” she said. “It enriched my life so much. It made me a more open-minded, intelligent, happier person.”

Her current goal is to teach school. She was accepted into UFV’s education program and has completed her first semester.

Education Is Part of God’s Plan

Jahn attributes her decades of Church service to building her confidence and helping her see she has something to offer.

“I tell my kids that even if your education doesn’t lead to a career, learning is one of the most important things we can do to become more like God and improve every aspect of our lives,” Jahn said.

In a 2010 talk given at Brigham Young University–Idaho, then-apostle Elder Russell M. Nelson declared: “Please be true to yourself. Honor — yes, even demand — highest expectations from yourself. Pursue your education as a priority of the highest order. Gain all the education you can. With us as Latter-day Saints, education is a religious responsibility. ‘The glory of God is intelligence’” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36) (“Education: A Religious Responsibility,” January 26, 2010).

Contributed by Gail Newbold, Canada Communication Council

Read the story in French

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