Hey there! This is Jordyn, first year VISTA serving with the Michigan Nonprofit Association under the umbrella of The LEAGUE Michigan in the ever-growing Grand Rapids, MI. I serve my community through being a point resource for teachers in Kent County, MI, to aid in the incorporation of service-learning and philanthropic education in their classrooms. If you are sitting there asking yourself, ‘what exactly is service-learning?’ I am here to explain! Service-learning is taking subjects and topics that are being taught in the classroom and applying them to some area of the community, which often leads to these projects being extremely interdisciplinary. Importantly, with the teachers I am working with, however, these projects also align with the common core teaching standards. Because of my position, I have been able to impact students across West Michigan in thinking critically about both their education and their community and to also to act on these thoughts and teachings. I have also been able to secure skills that will benefit my future in serving others both directly and in capacity building.
I have been in this position for six months and am infinitely excited about what I have accomplished thus far and what is to come in the following six months. Let me tell you a little about it!
There are some projects I do that are ongoing throughout the year. One of these is having students create artistic masterpieces on simple brown paper bags for Kids Food Basket’s (KFB) Sack Supper program. Through this program, Kids Food Basket feeds over 6,000 West Michigan students a day by sending home a nutritious sack dinner from school. Teachers have their students take what they are learning in the classroom and interpret that information on the bags. Another on-going project, is having my teachers work with their students to make birthday cards for patrons at Degage Ministries. When a Degage patron has a birthday, they are given a card with a $5 Goodwill Industries gift card. This project is a wonderful way for students to indirectly and positively impact another person’s day, as well as demonstrate and perfect their writing skills. In addition to work on this, they also get to different styles of writing such as poetry.
This past fall I planned a project for 115 freshman students of East Kentwood High School in which the students observed and studied the relationships of education and accessibility to resources and its impact on homelessness. The students were split into four different groups, each going to a different Grand Rapids community organization: Degage Ministries, In the Image, Guiding Light Mission, and God’s Kitchen, to learn about how that organization serves our community, as well as volunteer their time to see the impact their service has. In the classroom, this was supported in a variety of different perspectives such as, giving the students different scenarios to write about, presenting the scenarios before and after the service trip, studying the Great Depression and comparing those effects to our modern recession, and looking at statistical evidence of homelessness, education, and income. Later, students create informational charts & graphs that were put on Kids Food Basket Sack Supper lunch bags, allowing the students to make connections and think critically.
A project that I was also a part of this fall that was particularly exciting was an Empty Bowls event with Heidi Mitchell, the art teacher and heart and soul of service-learning, at Ridgeview Elementary in Sparta. In total, Heidi’s kindergarten, first, and second grade students made about 650 bowls while learning and participating in discussions about food inaccessibility and hunger. Because of past experiences with the event at Ridgeview, we decided to cut out the dinner component of the event and instead, focused on having the parents picking up their student’s bowl at parent teacher conferences, which worked out beautifully for us. For every bowl, we asked for a donation, communicating to Ridgeview parents that $1 is equivalent to one sack supper for Kids Food Basket. Because of this, we raised $1,988.68, all proceeds were donated to Kids Food Basket, feeding a total of 1,988 students!
As the days grow longer, I find myself growing more and more ecstatic about some upcoming projects that will be taking place in the spring. The first of which is through a partnership I have with the student Green Team and Team 21, an afterschool and summer program at Oriole Park Elementary in Wyoming. We will be establishing an outdoor learning space on school grounds with community support from Our Kitchen Table, a food and environmental justice organization in Grand Rapids. This area will be complete with a community garden, composting systems, fruit and nut trees, and picnic tables for outdoor learning. Potentially, we hope to include a rain garden and a rain barrel collection system! This area will be available for teachers in the school to utilize in supporting their lessons in both an interactive and communal way, as well for Team 21 to use to benefit those same students when school is not in session.
I am also in the process of planning a Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) ‘Day of Service’ through a voluntary organization I am a part of, the West Michigan AmeriCorps Collaborative. Alongside fellow GYSD co-chair, Goodwill AmeriCorps service member, Sara O’Toole, and I are planning a day in which teachers and students of Oriole Park Elementary (fingers crossed, we are waiting for final confirmation) participate in three different service sessions, working on three different projects to benefit a local community organization or the community of the school! The excitement does not end there though, all the project sessions will be led by other AmeriCorps service & alumni members! What are examples of some of these projects you ask? Well, we will be allowing the teachers to choose what projects their classroom is participating in and options include KFB bags, Degage birthday cards, building birdhouses, making bird feeders, planting tree saplings and flowers, making dog toys for the Humane Society, making duct tape wallets for patrons of Mel Trotter, and making natural cleaning supplies for patrons of Baxter Community Center.
Right now, I am also working with Crowe Horwath and other LEAGUE VISTAs in organizing, planning, and recruiting schools and organizations to participate in this year’s Read n’ Give book drive. Essentially during March, reading/literacy month, we will be collecting books across the state of Michigan, and distributing the books among schools and organizations that have expressed a need for books. This is the fifth year Read n’ Give has been a statewide event and through it we have been able to create an ongoing cycle of collecting, reading, and giving of books among students and our communities.
This is just some of what I have been able to achieve during the first six month of my service year, I am pretty jazzed to see what I will be able to achieve in the next six months. I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity to work in and help impact a community I feel extremely supported working with.
Kia ora, be well!
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!