Hi everyone! My name is Emma Gregory and I am a first year VISTA serving with Communities In Schools of Michigan. I graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor’s in Music Performance this past May. I was very unsure of what I wanted to do next so I decided to take a gap year and do AmeriCorps. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made. Working with CIS of Michigan has been an amazing experience for me thus far and I am so excited to see what opportunities this year will bring.
CIS of Michigan is a nonprofit that works directly inside public schools, helping vulnerable students and those at greatest risk of dropping out. Our mission statement is “to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.” I believe that the word “empower” is really the essence of what we do. The students we serve often come from situations of poverty and see barriers that work against their success. We work to provide our students with the individual tools and support they need to overcome these barriers.
I am based in Sexton High School in the Lansing School District. Because we are new at Sexton, our year started out with a month long needs assessment. Before we could start building programs for our students, we needed to identify the specific needs of the school. We put out surveys, polls, and talked with students, teachers, and administration to figure out what are the biggest resources needed for students at Sexton.
One thing we discovered through our needs assessment is that many of our students lack access to basic needs, such as food, water, clothing, and hygiene products. Providing this resource has been the focus of my projects. For example, I am working with NorthWest Initiatives to give our students Weekend Survival Kits, packs of food students can take home to their families over the weekend. I have also solicited food, water, and hygiene donations from various companies in the Lansing area. Having these items available in our office not only gives students access to these resources, but encourages students to come to our room. We are currently working on setting up a large clothing closet that will provide students with the opportunity to choose and try on items they are in need of. Our goal is to make this a safe and fun environment where students are not afraid or ashamed of coming to ask for items.
Later this year, we are planning to build programs around careers. Because of our large absenteeism rate, we want our students to see the importance of going to class and doing well in high school. We are also planning to put on a Mental Health Week which give students tools to cope with difficult circumstances and break the stigma associated with mental health in our community. This week will involve modes of expression (arts, exercise, etc.), info on mental health resources in the area, and info on mental health careers.
I am really looking forward to these upcoming projects and getting to know the students at Sexton. I have had the opportunity to work with some of our students through volunteering with the Refugee Development Center and running clarinet sectionals for the marching band. This has been a great way build relationships with our students and learn more from the community I am involved in.