Hey there! It’s Marlee – checking in from Ferris State University – Grand Rapids and Project NorthStar. As a November start VISTA, last month I finally reached the halfway point of my service year; at that time, my focus shifted from planning and organizing several Get Real! financial literacy and budgeting activities, to planning programming for the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan’s seven week Summer Learning Academy (SLA), hosted at Ferris State University, to help stop summer learning loss.
This shift in priorities has refreshed my motivation and given me a chance to apply the skills I’ve gained during my time as a VISTA to a completely new task. It’s also given me a chance to work with fresh faces, as I had not had a chance to work with much of the Hispanic Center staff – that was Alyson’s territory! But, now it’s my turn, and I’m having a blast.
My focus for SLA this year has been to implement a financial literacy portion into the programming. Earlier in the year, I re-vamped the NEFE High School Financial Planning Program PowerPoint Series to make it more accessible to high school students, as previously it was extremely long, convoluted, and hard to understand. The SLA staff and I will be presenting my version of the PowerPoint Series to the students so they can learn about things like money management, borrowing money, interest, predatory lending, insurance, and student loans – all things that were previously missing from the curriculum.
In addition, this year I am encouraging the students to start saving some of the money they earn from the work experience portion of SLA for college. This project, called the Summer Savings Plan, is based on research conducted in 2010 that states high school students are 6x more likely to continue their education even if they have just $50 saved specifically for college. Students are encouraged to open a savings account with a local bank, or through www.misaves.com, and save 20-40% of their SLA earnings for college related expenses. As many of these students will return to the program for the rest of their high school career, we will be able to track how much they save and hopefully send them to college with enough money to pay for at least a years worth of textbooks!
Things are winding down for the year, and as November comes quickly I can honestly say that being a VISTA was the best choice I could’ve made this year. Big thanks to Maggie, Shalyn, Jake, and the VISTA program for being great and providing me with all the tools and room to grow! I haven’t yet decided what’s next, but I’m sure I’ve got a little time left to figure it out. ‘Til next time, folks!
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!