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.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!