ANYTOWN Stories

Northwest Senior: How I Came to Care About Inclusion
Mark Janke says NCCJ program opened his eyes to realities in Guilford County

Mark Janke was skeptical about attending ANYTOWN, the summer institute for Guilford County high school students offered by NCCJ of the Piedmont Triad. His mother told him that the program would give him more perspective on the world. Even better, she told him it would look good on his college applications.

“When you’re about to start your junior year in high school, that’s what you’re really worried about,” laughs Janke, who graduates next month from Northwest High School.

His week in the mountains in 2011 with 60-plus peers representing diverse schools, races, ethnicities and religions was nothing short of “life-changing,” says Janke (pictured above, center). Learning about the bullying and discrimination that people experience here in Guilford County — not in some foreign country — hit him powerfully.

“At ANYTOWN, you really get to know your own story and to understand yourself, but you also get to know everyone else’s story. As a white male, I don’t really experience much racism or sexism. So it opened my eyes to how things are here for other people.”

He came home wanting to make a difference. Over the last two years he has volunteered with NCCJ, his church, and at his school. For NCCJ he has spoken to groups large and small, peers and adults, about his ANYTOWN experience. At his church, St. Paul’s, he has taught middle-school students as a youth minister. At Northwest High, he has worked with fellow ANYTOWN alumni to talk to their peers about bias and bullying.

“Mark was already a leader, but his skills have grown considerably with NCCJ,” says his mother, Pat Janke. “He is comfortable now speaking to people from all walks of life. ANYTOWN really builds the kids’ confidence, so they’re better equipped to deal with adversity and to help others.”

Pat Janke was so impressed by the changes she saw in her son that she agreed to serve on NCCJ’s Board of Directors. “I really believe in NCCJ’s mission of fighting bias and bigotry. I’m a human resources professional, so fighting discrimination is part of who I am and what I do. But I joined the board to honor Mark and his work with NCCJ. I felt it was the least I could do.”

Mark Janke will enter Appalachian State University’s honors program in the fall. Before then, he’ll work as a counselor at ANYTOWN. And he hopes to convince a few more friends to attend the program this summer.

“Last summer I sent one of my friends to ANYTOWN,” he says. It was hard to explain why his friend should go much beyond his mother’s line about how it would be good for his college resume. When his friend came back just as transformed by the experience as Mark had been, “I just told him, ‘Now you know.’”