Greetings fellow VISTAs! My name is Ben Martinson and I am serving with The ROCK Center for Youth Development in Midland, MI. The best way to sum up my experience so far, is that I’m taking in everything, and absorbing it like a sponge. I’ve worked in the corporate environment before, but this is my first experience in the non-profit world. And boy, do things happen fast!
The ROCK’s mission is to build hope and resilience in youth. The team I’ve been working with are motivated, passionate, and determined to make sure this mission is accomplished. The organization is in its 15th year, and provides in-school classes to develop character & life skills, an afterschool program (serving 60-100 kids daily), and also youth-based summer & community events.
My first month at The ROCK was spent sitting in on presentations, trainings, reading manuals, and the most fun part, participating at the middle school afterschool program. It’s so rewarding to form a relationship with some of the kids, and know that you’re helping provide a positive and safe environment for them.
There will be two aspects of the afterschool program I will be growing, both related to academics. The first, being the tutoring program (also known as the “homework room”). The homework room is already pretty well established, in which kids can request on-demand help from a tutor, and can also earn “ROCK bucks”, which can be redeemed once a month for snacks, games, and toys. The areas I helped identify that require room to grow include adding more tutors to the staff, measuring success of the tutoring program, working more cohesively (with parents, teachers, and tutors), and also adding coordinated opportunities like group study & scheduled one-on-one tutoring.
The 2nd aspect of the afterschool program will be a STEM program. The past month I’ve been very busy preparing for the launch of the STEM program, scheduled for December. We’ll be starting with “three buckets” of opportunities including weekly curriculum, drop-in “craft-style” activities, and demonstrations from community organizations (like The Dow STEM Ambassadors). I’ve been experiencing first-hand, the effort involved with volunteer mobilization. I understand why AmeriCorps offers a blend course specifically for this topic! After posting volunteer opportunities online, emailing key contacts at community organizations, getting the word out at DOVIA meetings, and spreading handouts & flyers…after several weeks, I’m finally starting to see some volunteer requests trickle in!
In order to help generate buzz about the STEM program, I coordinated a meetup-style scavenger hunt at The Dow STEM Festival (at Delta College). We had about 12-15 kids show up with their parents, roaming around to different demonstrations and finding examples of science, tech, engineering, and math. The top two scavengers received a gift card! Most importantly, I was able to spend time introducing myself to different organizations that were there, and was able to make 5 new contacts that could come to help volunteer or do demonstrations for the STEM program!
I can’t emphasize enough how important it has been to get out into the community and participate in relevant committees, organizations, and events. I’ve found that being a VISTA, you are able to leverage the “status” you have, to make a first impression on people. Use it to your advantage, to help your organization, as you are out representing in the community!
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!