Katie Howerton knew she wanted to stay in Jackson and get married after graduating, but she didn’t know how she would use her art degree. Like many college seniors, she struggled to see how her passion could translate into a career.
As she contemplated the future, so did Luke Pruett.
Pruett was editor and co-founder of Our Jackson Home—a blog dedicated to encouraging community, camaraderie and spirit. When he accepted a job in Memphis, the publication’s future success was uncertain. Because of the outside responsibilities of its staff, which consisted almost entirely of volunteers, the blog was not sustainable without consistent leadership.
At the time, he was taking a workshop for small startups at theCO, a local workspace where entrepreneurs and artists in Jackson could meet and collaborate.
TheCO noticed that its mission was similar to that of Our Jackson Home: to build and foster a lively, engaged community. It took ownership of the publication and began searching for someone else to lead the budding business.
Howerton got involved in the publication last year when she approached Pruett about turning the blog into a print magazine for her senior art project. The magazine was a success, and she enjoyed the process of creating the publication. But after she graduated last May, she was unsure how her involvement could continue.
“I kept putting it off and trying to get it out of my brain,” Howerton said. “But I’d come to this conclusion that either I’d be a big part and do hardly anything else on the side, or I wouldn’t be able to be a part—probably just for the sake of my own sanity.”
When theCO offered her the position of communications manager, she eagerly accepted. A week after getting married, she began the full-time job of organizing content and managing writers, photographers and publishers.
Howerton credits Our Jackson Home with helping her transition from a college student to an adult actively investing in the community.
“That’s what I hope Our Jackson Home can be for students—a bridge builder,” she said. “When you don’t have the energy or the time to get to know the community well, read the blog. Get to know the community from a distance, and it will make getting to know it in real life much easier.”
Union alumni and students alike have found Our Jackson Home beneficial to their creative, personal and social lives.
Josh Garcia, who graduated from Union in 2012 with a degree in English, has been a part of Our Jackson Home from the beginning. He writes, takes photos and helps put the magazine together. He said the project provides an outlet for creative expression—something that has been limited since graduation.
“We’re still trying to figure out how to best represent our community with different voices, and that’s something really special about it,” he said. “Everyone who’s writing is volunteering, and it gives a lot of people a chance to be heard. Creative people whose jobs aren’t necessarily in a creative field have the chance to practice these sort of things.”
The diversity of the people involved in the publication is one of the reasons that Natalie Pflasterer, freshman TESL major, appreciates Our Jackson Home. She said she loves seeing journalists who communicate facts and tell stories collaborate with artistic, poetic writers to create a unique and compelling magazine.
Pflasterer started working for Our Jackson Home over the summer. She handles most of the social media and occasionally writes stories. Although it is not directly related to her field of study or future career, she enjoys writing about issues she is passionate about, like literacy programs for struggling students.
“It’s given me a reason to be proud of being a Jacksonian—to celebrate that and help others see that it’s a place you can choose to be and not just a place you have to be until you leave,” Pflasterer said.
Howerton echoed the notion that a fair number of students are eager to move to a bigger city after graduation. She said some perceive that as the only way to develop a career in creative fields and make a decent living.
“Our Jackson Home has been a beautiful reminder that there’s a place for this here,” Howerton said. “It’s a way to give to your community, to love them through art and to make something beautiful out of a place that a lot of people have neglected for a long time.”
Not feeling passionate about any one thing in particular was a source of frustration for Howerton throughout college. She never expected Our Jackson Home to reveal an important aspect about herself: her passion was storytelling, community and representing all kinds of people on the same level.
Though she didn’t realize it then, her time at Union ignited that passion. It was through her connection with fellow art students, her church and even her Life Group that she learned the importance of community.
Our Jackson Home has become a form of ministry for Howerton to fellowship with other believers and to serve a community outside her church.
“The coolest community is that which forms out of an unusual thread of commonality,” she said. “That’s why I think the church is this incredible thing, because literally the only thread is Jesus. I get to see how fellow Christians see the community differently, but with the same eyes of Christ; and also get to know people who don’t love Jesus and give them a taste of something that makes them want something more.”
Howerton advises students, especially in their senior year, to delve into projects that they care about and will push them outside their comfort zone. They may be surprised by what they are passionate about, she said.
“By doing that, you’re branching out, you’re going into uncharted territory, but at the same time, you’re trying to see if that thing you thought was your passion project actually is or not,” she said. “You might be like me and find that it’s very different from what you expected, but it fits for who God made you to be.”