The interim mayor of Braddock clearly remembers her early days at Carlow.

Chardaé Jones ’11 sometimes felt awful as a freshman—partly thrilled, partly filled with self-doubt. This unsettling mix of emotions is common among first-year students. What set Jones apart? She believed she could make it better.

“I realized I could help other people who felt lost,” Jones said.

Jones helped to build up the first-year orientation program in her sophomore year, but she didn’t stop there. She raised awareness of homelessness, ran toy drives and mentored high school students in the Youth Media Advocacy Project. After graduation, she joined AmeriCorps to aid youth in her hometown of Braddock.

Jones was influenced by her advisor, Susan O’Rourke, EDD, professor of education, director of special education, and co-leader of the Carlow Cares Sligo, Ireland and Nicaragua study abroad programs.

O’Rourke said informal surveys of her students have indicated a strong affinity with community and social justice issues. “Carlow students tend to see themselves as an integral part of our society and see that there is a responsibility associated with it,” she said.

Jones is a communicator by profession, but her roles of mentor, committee chair and volunteer carry the same weight on her resume as her job titles of business analyst and freelance writer.

“I wasn’t a volunteerism kind of person before Carlow. Now I consider myself a full-time volunteer and a full-time employee,” she said.

In January, she took on a new role: interim mayor of Braddock, the position vacated by newly elected Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. The borough council voted Jones “the best for the job” from a pool of candidates after Fetterman went to Harrisburg. A few months later, she won the democratic seat in the May 21 primary election.

Fetterman appeared on talk shows and drew media attention to Braddock as the poster child for American towns with unlocked potential. In 2010, Levi’s did a photo shoot with residents in jeans for its “Go Forth: Ready For Work” campaign.

The borough’s struggles are real. A designation as a financially distressed community under Act 47 allows Braddock to receive state aid for economic recovery. There is also a tenuous relationship between residents and police.

Jones’ No. 1 issue as mayor is public safety. Under the Act 47 designation, the borough cannot hire its own full-time police staff. It relies on part-time officers from other areas.

Lifting of the Act 47 designation is another one of her goals.

“It’s time for a change. Sometimes change is something you’re going to fear, but when you come out of this fear, you’re a better person,” Jones said.

Eleven years after a first-year student recognized her personal struggles as common ground from which to help her peers, she is ready to lead her hometown toward economic stability. The job of mayor demands her strong communication skills and her indelible commitment to community service, but her Carlow experiences and its Mercy values are a firm foundation for the ethics-minded leader Jones has become.

By Ann Lyon Ritchie