Hello all! My name is Ashlyn Dotson and I serve with the University of Michigan-Flint Outreach Department here in Flint, MI. My primary role is to build connections between the University and our Flint Community Education Initiative, which runs in all 11 Flint Community Schools.
The Community Education Initiative brings many community partners together to offer a variety of support for Flint families and youth. The main goal of this initiative aims to make Flint schools the hub of the neighborhood. What many people may not know is that Flint was the first city to implement the Community Education Initiative back in 1935. Flint was the model for community education until the 1970s when the drop in student numbers and program funding removed the program. Although the program was eliminated in the 1970s, many cities, non-profits, and school districts across the country continue to build on Flint’s community education model.
Thanks to a partnership between the Crim Fitness Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and various other partners, the community education model has been revamped and now runs in all 11 Flint Schools. The resurgence of the program began in 2013 with 2 AmeriCorps VISTAs (one of which was in my current position). It has now expanded to over 50 Flint Community School AmeriCorps Members and 11 Community School Directors in total.
Being a 2nd year VISTA, I’ve been able to truly watch how this program has grown, and it’s been so worthwhile to be a part of this growth in my capacity at UM-Flint. Last year, I served as the Community Partner Liaison at one of four community education sites: Eisenhower Elementary. I was able to form so many community relationships, and I grew tremendously as a leader and as a professional. I’ve learned how to quickly adapt to change, handle difficult situations, and juggle a million things at one time. When I served at Eisenhower last year, the water crisis media had just begun, and we were getting a ton of publicity. It was during this time that I had started to become protective over our Flint youth, our families, and our city; that’s when I knew that Flint had become MY city. With all of the bad media attention that swirled around us, I desired for people to know about the wonderful aspects of our Flint Community; I still desire this. I also desired to serve my community on a larger scale. My position this year at UM-Flint has given me these opportunities by allowing me to further my work here in Flint, while also allowing me to broaden the scope to which I can develop relationships and build connections for the families and youth in our Flint Community.
As I round the corner of my 2nd VISTA year, I not only feel grateful for this opportunity, but I feel hopeful for the future of Flint, and what’s to come. Thus far, I’ve been able to work with so many UM-Flint entities, and I look forward to the next 6 months. Although we’re no longer a “hot news topic”, the water crisis is not over, our families are still being affected by this disaster, and our youth are still disadvantaged because of this disaster. My goals for the next 6 months are to continue to spread awareness on the water crisis, build more sustainable partnerships between the University and the Flint Community Education Initiative, and to continue to grow as both an activist and a professional. What are your 2017 VISTA goals?
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!