Hello fellow VISTAs! I’m Marlee Schilbe, a first year VISTA serving with Ferris State University—Grand Rapids in partnership with the Kent Intermediate School District program Project Northstar. Our goal in this partnership is to increase financial literacy and college access within the community, and within the schools Project Northstar serves.
After graduating from Alma College with a degree in Anthropology and Sociology, I moved to Lansing, MI to try and find my first ‘big kid job.’ Things didn’t quite work out as planned, and I ended up spending 6 unhappy months in The Retail Inferno™ just going through the motions of daily life. I wanted to do something different – something with meaning – and work in a place that would help me develop both personally and professionally. After reading about different VISTA programs, I decided it was exactly what I needed to do; I felt drawn to the AmeriCorps mission and wanted to participate in a year of service. I applied for a few positions in the Grand Rapids and Lansing area, and less than a week later found myself committing to move to Grand Rapids just two weeks after accepting the position. It’s been a bit of a wild ride so far, but I’ve adjusted to Grand Rapids fairly quickly and love living here!
Now about the work: since starting this position mid-November, I’ve been working closely with Ferris State and Kent ISD’s Project Northstar to promote financial literacy and college access to kids who attend partnering schools in the community. So far I’ve been involved in planning and organizing Get Real! Financial Literacy Fair events as well as FAFSA/Financial Aid Workshop Presentations. I’m looking forward to taking the lead on planning at least four similar events with partnering schools, like the Lighthouse Academy, Kent Innovation High School, and others during the remainder of my year of service.
Get Real! is an event that gives students an idea of the costs of being a self sufficient adult. The students are assigned a career, salary, marital status, and number of children; next, they visit a series of expense-based booths to see how much things like housing, insurance, and childcare will cost based on their situation. Having been involved in the planning and execution of the event, I’ve been able to see first had the positive effect it has on participating students. We’ve found that it really wakes them up to the realities of dealing with income and expenses.
This experience has already helped me develop professionally; being in charge of planning events and presentations has given me a chance to work on project proposals, volunteer recruiting, general organizing, and getting to know my community. We’re still in the planning phase of the first Get Real! Event I’m planning through Project Northstar at Lighthouse Academy, but seeing the students get excited about the upcoming event is making all the effort worth it. I can’t wait to see what other exciting and fulfilling activities and programs I’ll be able to put together for the kids in our community.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!