Hey everyone! My name is Zekiye Salman and I am a first-year VISTA serving at Delta College in University Center, MI with my fellow VISTA’s Andy Straub and Destyn Graves! A large portion of my VAD so far has been helping Andy with Race to College, an event where we bring 5th graders from two local schools to Delta College to learn about health and wellness and college access. Since he talked a little about that in his blog post, I won’t go into too much detail, but currently I am working on launching a spring version of the program with three new schools—one from each of the surrounding counties. Since we are trying to bring three schools instead of two and will be held entirely indoors (we ALL know how unpredictable Michigan weather is in the spring!), this comes with figuring out how to tweak logistics from the program already established, still stay true to the mission, and still remain effective in the work that is being done.
In addition to expanding Race to College, I am in the process of establishing a few other programs. First, as part of my VISTA year initiative, I have been trying to provide free and accessible menstrual products to people with periods. I have secured some donations from a local non-profit (that wishes to remain anonymous) and corporations (such as DivaCup and I Heart Guts), have had marketing drawn up, and am currently waiting on final approval from administration to begin distribution and education beginning in January. This will entail setting up information tables with trivia and monthly raffles for anyone who donates products or money.
Second, I am in the beginning stages of developing a Philosophy for Children program to help teach kids critical thinking skills. Research I have come across has mentioned that talking about philosophy and holding philosophical discussions at an early age can help increase performance in math, reading, and writing, especially for kids who are on free or reduced lunch. Programs like these also help kids learn how to support their arguments, disagree with opinions and still participate in dialogue, encourage kids to participate and ask more questions in the classroom, and become more at ease with not knowing all the answers. I am currently looking at different places to partner with to actualize this program, but I have a few options in mind both on and off Delta’s campus.
Since starting my service I have also been helping to develop a Volunteer Center and a Volunteer Incentive Program with a tracking system that compiles data based on when, where, and why Delta students are volunteering. The hope is that this data will eventually convince the Office of Information Technology to create our own database when we demonstrate the need for such programming. Andy and I have also started a volunteer club at Delta to get students more involved on campus and in their communities. These responsibilities are in the process of being passed off onto our newest VISTA, Destyn Graves, and I am sure she will do wonderful things with (to) them as they are all very skeletal at the moment.
All in all, I’m really excited about the work that I have been doing since I’ve become a VISTA and am even more excited (and hopeful) to see these programs implemented!
My name is Emily Swearinger and I am a VISTA serving with the Michigan Nonprofit Association in Lansing Michigan. Currently, I am working directly under the Michigan Chapter President of the National Association of Social Workers to run a program in Lansing called Communities In Schools.
Communities In Schools is the nation's leading drop out prevention program and is located in 26 States across the country; working in schools with students from all grade levels. In a nutshell, CIS has a designated "site coordinator" that works in each school, who looks at any and all factors that might prevent a child from being successful in school - whether it be housing, food, clothing, tutoring, mentoring, after school programs, etc. Then determines the needs of the students in the building and goes into the community to bring these resources into the schools by partnering with local organizations, businesses, volunteers, and Non-profits
Last year, Lansing was chosen to start a pilot program due to the rising homeless population that has swept the city - which affects a lot of school aged students. Starting with two schools, CIS has now expanded into a third and soon to be a fourth school! This is great news for the community! I am currently serving in Willow Elementary, North Elementary, and Attwood Middle School, which all have their own unique qualities to enjoy and obstacles to overcome. My role is to be an extension of the three Site Coordinators that work in each of the schools.
Willow Elementary holds grades kindergarten through third grade and has a homeless population of about 23%. To aid in this I organize donation intake and output, run the clothing closet two days per week and serve fresh food donations to students in need twice per week. Attwood Middle School on the other hand, which serves grades forth through sixth just became a CIS school and is in need of a "starting from the ground up" approach to get programs up and running, which I will be assisting with at the start of December! And then there is North Elementary that has really taken my heart. This school serves students preschool through sixth grade and is especially unique because of the large refugee population. Right now there are roughly 585 students in attendance from 34 different countries around the world, and there are 62 languages spoken among them. Most of these students are coming from camps as refugees from various parts of the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Southeast Asia; which are known to be war torn and unsafe due to current events.
Every two weeks more of these children are sent to North, and a vast majority of this population is homeless. Although the circumstances that brought many of these children I work with to the U.S. are haunting reminders of the evil there is in this world, I am forever grateful to have the opportunity to work with them and be an advocating positive influence to bring progressive changes into their lives. To work toward these goals I give out "weekend survival kits" to every student in need every other week, as well as run a clothing closet free of charge to all students which serves anywhere between 15 - 60 student's per week. I also track data for various after school programs and mentoring programs for the students.
Working with this organization and with these students has been the most rewarding experience I've ever had. I feel that I am able to bring real positive changes into the lives of kids who need it the most, and what could be more important than that?
Hello my fellow VISTAS! I am Kyra Smith, I am serving in Battle Creek, Michigan at the Battle Creek College Access Network(BCCAN). My role as a VISTA has been an amazing learning experience thus far. I’ve learned a great deal about myself personally and professionally. I was able to attend NCAN (National College Access Network) Conference thanks to my host site. I’ve also gotten involved in community events such as the annual community meeting. Through this experience I am learning to love the city of Battle Creek.
During the last couple of months, I’ve coordinated a peer mentor program for the Legacy Scholars Program which is a promise zone scholarship for students at Battle Creek Central High School, Lakeview High School, and Calhoun Community Schools. The program is set to kick off next week, during the last couple of weeks, I have recruited both mentors and mentees at all of the partnering schools as well as hosted various mentor training sessions. I have done a great deal of work at the Battle Creek Community Foundation (BCCF) which BCCAN is a subgroup of this organization. While at BCCF we not only work in the area of college access but we also work on other initiatives including Regional Health Alliance along and Operation FIT who will be hosting a seminar for the mentees in the Legacy Scholars Program in the coming year.
This week, we will be hosting our annual holiday event for the community, which allows people to participate in holiday pictures in activities for free. Although it feels like this is just the beginning, I am excited to see what else this year has in store for me as a VISTA.
I am Danielle Congleton and I am an AmeriCorps VISTA in my 3rd month serving at Adoption Option Inc in Midland, MI. One of the major goals of being an AmeriCorps VISTA is to understand and help to alleviate poverty. The population I serve is former and current foster care youth as it has been found that youth in the foster system tend to struggle with characteristics that typically plague those who are in poverty; homelessness, lack of quality education, and being in the justice system just to name a few. I am able to serve to alleviate poverty in a multifaceted capacity to my population—student engagement, college access and success, financial literacy, and employability. As you can imagine, I keep myself busy in my efforts to make a difference with these goals!
I work on two programs. One is currently funded through the Department of Health and Human Services, and the other is not. It is my goal to find the funding for the latter program! I have already started the grant application writing process! The program that is currently funded is called Youth in Transition (YIT) and serves youth who are aging out of foster care and aids in offering resources for independent living in several different areas in order to keep them from becoming a statistic.
The second is called L.E.A.P. L.E.A.P. stands for Learn, Evaluate, Achieve, Play. It is a summer overnight program that takes place in August. It is geared toward fostering academic achievement in former and present male youth in the foster care system between the ages of 9-14. The goal of the summer program is to pair a youth with a mentor who has had academic success, generally in a post-secondary educational setting. This year we had activities such as making flub and bottle rockets and listening to speakers who talked about how technology is changing the job market and the importance of a good education to be able to find gainful employment after high school.
Not only is my goal to find funding for this program, but also volunteers to help mentor and tutor these youth. Right now, the program has evolved from 4 days in the summer to monthly, fun educational events. So far, in September, we went rock wall climbing and swimming, and in October we went to the Northwood Auto Show. For the month of November, we are having a "tech" day where we are having a CAD lesson (complete with a 3D printer) and then a representative from the local Greater Michigan Construction Academy presenting some technical job training programs they offer. We will not only have fun with the 3D printer, but also learn about different job salaries and ability to afford the cars they saw at the auto show!
I have been gaining a lot of professional development, learning about the depths of the problems of poverty, and about the population I am serving and how they end up getting swept into the poverty cycle. Reading about the statistics of poverty and writing papers on theories of poverty is completely different than experiencing it both on a capacity building level and a personal level. These experiences are something that I will never forget and will help me in my future professional goals having personal, hands-on experience.
What's up VISTA community? My name is Walker Kelly and I am serving with Alcona Community Schools in Lincoln, MI, which happens to be the high school from which I graduated. I have never held a position like this one before, so the adjustment has been a struggle at times. But, with the help of my supervisor, coworkers, and Maggie, I have really settled into a rhythm recently.
Alcona is a small, class C high school with around 240 students in grades 9-12. We do not receive much funding from the state, so we must use our modest resources in creative and intelligent ways to help students. One of the most successful programs the school offers is a dual enrollment partnership with Alpena Community College (ACC). ACC sends professors to our building so Alcona juniors and seniors can get a head start on pre-requisites while not having to leave the comfort of their own school.
I work with the dual enrollment program to ensure its longevity and improve it in any way possible. This year, we have initiated a community service requirement into the program. Dual enrolled students must complete 10 hours of service per semester. Some students may not have the ability to travel around the county to complete these service hours, so my VISTA Year Initiative (VYI) is creating a program where dual enrolled students tutor their struggling peers. The dual enrolled kids complete their service hours while they're at school and the kids who are struggling get the help they need from a more familiar perspective. This ensures the longevity of the already existing tutoring program and creates a win-win situation for all students.
I want to wish all my fellow VISTAs the utmost success in their endeavors during their service. Being a VISTA can be difficult, but it is a rewarding position that is absolutely worth the hard work.
All the best,
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!