Hi, my name is Neil Anderson. I am one of the VISTAs serving at the Char-Em United Way in Petoskey. We just finished our Day of Action Event. For this event we had 35 volunteers read to nearly 300 children in Charlevoix and Emmet counties at 13 different daycares, libraries, books stores and preschools. I personally read to a group of kids up in Pellston at a day care there.
We also had our Celebration Breakfast event for our donors, volunteers, and funded partners. It was quite a bit of fun and went well. The event was held in the Odawa Casino’s Ovation Hall and the Casino was incredibly helpful with getting set up and tearing down, though they have some pretty strict security rules.
Outside of our big events I have been working on improving the efficiency of my host organization by combing through the reports of our grant recipients. I will be looking for inaccuracies and reporting to my supervisor with recommendations on what we track from those organizations. This is in an effort to have a better understanding of what our grants are going to change.
I am also in the middle of making my legacy binder and getting ready for the next VISTA to come in at the end of my service year, only a few months away. It is a bit more involved than I expected when I started working on the binder, but I’m sure I’ll get it done on time.
I am also doing research on what are indicators of success in Elementary, Middle, and High School for a collection of people who are interested in decreasing poverty in our area, through our Poverty Reduction Initiative. I specifically provide data analysis for the group.
This year has been a whirlwind of activity and a wellspring for growth for me and for my service site. Most of my service projects were completed at Grand Rapids Montessori in all the grade levels – elementary, middle, and high school. My biggest accomplishment is tracing the growth of my relationship with this school. The various service projects that I completed were on a large scale, often including more than one classroom or over several weeks. I believe this strategy has had a great impact on this school. The most difficult challenge this year has been gaining an understanding of what my role truly is. As an additional aid to the community I struggled with being a burden rather than an asset. But throughout the year I asserted myself in different ways and have learned how to approach others as a resource. I joined AmeriCorps because I wanted to connect my community to each other and to opportunities. One shining example of my impact happened at my host site on Earth Day when a parent came up to me and told me a story: “So earlier, I asked a 6th grade student who that girl over by the rain cloud is, do you want to know what she said?” she asked. “Well, sure,” I said with a smile. “She said to me, ‘Oh, that’s Miss Megan, she brings us opportunities.’” This was one of those small moments that mean everything.
I am excited to announce that I will be continuing my service in my existing role as Service Learning Coordinator! Now that I know what service learning is and how to accomplish a successful project, I plan on focusing my efforts on capacity and partnership building. As one person, it is impossible for me to work with all 35 of the Grand Rapids Public Schools. So I would like to focus my efforts on identifying the community needs of the nonprofits in the area and work with them to create “service learning packages” that we can connect teachers to. In these packages, I will identify what the organizations daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly needs are and in what capacity can K-12 students fill this need. Jordyn Appel, the last Grand Rapids VISTA created a service learning website for the West Michigan area, which I plan to revisit and deepen its informational impact. To accomplish this, I plan on tapping into the resources and connections of the United Way – my new office space! Perhaps we could even combine our efforts and offer these packages through their resources as well. To get these service learning packages into the school, professional development sessions will need to be held at all the schools. Now whether this will happen this year or the following year, I would like to determine alongside Nellie, the LEAGUE program director, through strategic planning.
Filling out all of these exit surveys has offered me time to provide written reflection of my experiences this year and I am very thankful for my AmeriCorps journey. I am proud to be serving alongside all the MNA VISTAs and programs. I hope to see many of you at the Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service and maybe see some of you in my panel presentation entitled “How to Make a Service Year Buzzworthy: The AmeriCorps Collaborative”. In these times of service, I consistently reflect on a quote I heard during my Pre-Service Orientation as it is encouraging and meaningful: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has”.
Bridging the Generation Gap through Reading is a project that Rebecca Elliot developed and implemented in hopes to improve the reading skills of the students at Calhoun Community High. Once a month, for two and a half hours, Rebecca Elliott takes a group of students from Calhoun Community High School to Marian E. Burch Adult Daycare to read and mingle with the residents at the facility. Her project aimed to help increase reading skills of the students and bridge the generation gap. Students are able to eliminate the stigma and stereotypes that are viewed with being a senior citizen or a person with physical or mental disabilities. The desired result for the service-learning project is for the students to develop a positive relationship with the residents. Students became more empathic, compassionate and more understanding of the residents at the facility. One student even gave a resident a balloon and a stuffed animal to celebrate their 93rd birthday. Another desired result, is having the students build confidence in their reading ability. Students showed more confidence speaking in front of people they don’t know, as well as increased reading skills due to many residents making sure they read to them while they were there. Rebecca Elliot and her students spent a total of 12 hours with the residents at Marian E. Burch. Next school year Elliot plans on continuing the service learning project focusing on literacy and the social well being of the residents.
Each year for the past 40 years, HandsOn Battle Creek has honored outstanding volunteers with The Community Volunteer Awards. The award ceremony is to thank the most valuable asset to our community - people who help make a difference. I have decided to nominate Rebecca Elliot from Calhoun Community High as Service Learning Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Elliot has showed tremendous effort in making sure that students are learning and developing a relationship with the residents at Marian E. Burch. She also formed a strong relationship with her students to make sure they feel that they are not going to be left behind. I am glad I am able to work with an educator with a kind heart like Mrs. Elliot.
Hello everyone! It’s Kye blogging from Flint. Last time, I wrote about the Water Crisis. Although it’s a super messed up situation, things are starting to turn around. Citizens are starting to learn about capacity-building and how they can have an impact in their city. Also, there is an NCCC team stationed here that works with water distribution. #GetThingsDone
My mind is still pumped from our Russ Mawby project in Flint. I had nothing to do with the planning, but I am very satisfied with our project. Our SSP was hosted at Brownell-Holmes STEM Academies, which is where I spend half of my week. Our SSP was a Community Fun Day that had campus beautification occurring at the same time.
We were broken up into multiple teams. Direct service members handled activity stations with families and community members. We had a group who built benches that will be installed throughout campus. A group did work in our hoop house. There was a group that painted the bollards, and another group that did trash pick-up.
My team did trash pick-up. It was not too exciting. Trash is trash. We collected 40 bags of trash. We learned that the community has been using the school campus as a dumping ground. As we collected trash, we brainstormed ways that we can change the culture of how the neighborhood treats the school grounds. Although we didn’t get every piece of trash, the work that we did still made the campus look better than what it did.
As we were cleaning, families saw us. Many walked across the field just to ask us what we were doing. Many of them thanked us, although no one offered to help. For me, it was rewarding to be thanked. Seldom do I get thanked for my service. Many community members had no clue what AmeriCorps was, so their praise for my service became a platform to explain who we are.
My most memorable conversation was explaining to someone what ‘capacity-building’ means. Mrs. Edwards is a retired teacher from Brownell. She’s the president of the neighborhood block club. She’s pumped about Community Education and spreads our success throughout the neighborhood. She asked so many questions about AmeriCorps. She heard me say “capacity-building” about four times before she stopped me to tell her what I meant. As I began to explain it to her, she gasped and screamed, “So y’all aren’t gonna be here anymore?!?” I shook my head.
In that moment, she began to whine and complain about how nobody is going to do it if we don’t do it. She starting saying how we make the school a better place. I had to stop her. I had to remind her that she started the neighborhood block club last summer and how much impact she’s had since. I had to show her how she builds capacity for her own neighborhood. I had to tell her that it takes people like her to find people like me to make Flint a better place.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!