Hi, my name is Rick Gould and I'm a first- year VISTA serving with The ROCK Center for Youth Development in Midland, MI . My year at The ROCK Center for Youth Development has been a unique opportunity to learn about a community that was completely new to me.
The ROCK has completed their 17th year and the programs that they offer and the number of students served have grown impressively. Next up, the ROCK is expanding into the Saginaw and Bay counties this fall. Their mission is to positively impact teens to succeed and thrive, by offering a variety of character-building and life skills programs.
I work with the ROCK’s after school program, Grounded, held at three different sites, at Midland’s Community Center, and Jefferson and Northeast Middle Schools. The program that I’ve been responsible for is ROCKit, our STEM series. It was started by last year’s VISTA and my main responsibility as this year’s VISTA was to help sustain the program. First, it was my job to promote the STEM program to kids, family, and the community. But it’s just as important is to find STEM professionals and volunteers who will come to our sites to lead and assist in STEM demonstrations. This search helped establish strong connections with volunteer organizations, schools, and STEM demo volunteers.
The first six-week run of ROCKit demos, held three times a week, once at each ROCK location, began the last week of October. The projects ranged from making slime to balloon towers to visiting guests bringing STEM kits like Dow’s DNA beads to MDOT’s driving distraction simulators. In early December, I completed the first six-week cycle. ROCKit hosted 17 STEM demos at the 3 ROCK sites, with a total of 383 student sign-ins for the activities. I also worked with 2 regular volunteers and 12 guest volunteers for a total of 45 hours.
At the end of January, I fired up ROCKit’s winter STEM cycle. During this quarter, I oversaw 246 student sign-ins, 23 volunteers who donated 70 hours of their time. I invited and coordinated the visits of winter STEM guests: American Foundry Society, American Chemical Society, Captured Studios, First Inspire Robotics, and Little Forks Land Conservancy. The ROCKit demos were performed by STEM guests, with VISTA Gould and volunteers assisting. During this quarter, five STEM events were performed 14 times. I have booked a number of fun STEM Events for The ROCK’s summer camp sessions. The events range from SVSU and Delta’s STEM mobiles to visiting Little Forks Conservancy at their Averill Preserve, where camp kids will help create a rain garden, as well as painting signage and rocks. Also, The American Foundry Society (AFS) Saginaw Valley Chapter (SVC) will bring “Foundry in a Box” to the ROCK. Camp kids will make metal castings and keep the results. And finally, during Culinary Creations Week, the American Chemical Society (ACS) Midland Chapter will present ‘The Science of Food,’ a STEM demo incorporating various foods.
While I have managed to find great STEM guests, finding volunteers has remained a challenge. But I learned a few important things along the way. There is a huge need for volunteerism. I’ve promoted volunteerism for ROCKit and had conversations with more specific volunteer coordinators from United Way Midland. Adrianne Cole and Riley Hupfer from SVSU regarding student volunteers.
I’ve also been in contact with Katherine E. Ellison, Ph.D., who is director, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Saginaw Valley State University. OLLI members volunteer at a lot of different things and take life-long learning classes at SVSU. VISTA Gould got an invitation for The ROCK to setup a table at their Fall Kickoff meeting on September 12 to network and collect names.
I’ve reached out to six student organizations at three high schools that participate in The ROCK’s after school program, Grounded: Dow, Midland, and Bullock Creek High. The response has been immediate and positive to these student organizations, where volunteerism is a component. I’ve provided an introduction, and the next STEM leader will meet with them in September with specific volunteer requests.
One of my biggest challenges was my MNA Initiative Project, for The ROCK. I have been impressed with the forward thinking and proactive approach of The ROCK’s programs, which teach social and life skills to Midland area teenagers. During the fall, I saw and heard many great stories about The ROCK. This gave me the idea to document these stories about for my project. I asked if they might be used for The ROCK’s annual dinner, their biggest fundraiser.
So, I came up with a proposal to document three aspects of The ROCK: one video was for the kids to talk about The ROCK; the second would be about the diverse ROCK programs; and the third would be about the ROCK staff, who make it all happen.
This would be a challenge, as I am a writer, not a film maker. But I knew somebody who was, so his help was enlisted. For me, a former newspaper person and public relations man, I got to use my interviewing and organizational skills. I didn’t think the video project would be easy, but there were unexpected pitfalls, plus the usual challenges when you need to work with people as a group. I’ll spare you the gory details. I started researching the stories, winnowing them down to those that told The ROCK’s story.
I especially enjoyed interviewing the ROCK kids, who were not shy. There were some interviewees who required special consideration, such as a mother talking about her son’s participation in The ROCK’s alternative suspension program, PASS. Or a mother and daughter talking about the girl’s brain surgery, and her return to school. For me, these were the most rewarding interviews.
I conducted 32 interviews and filmed B-roll footage at The ROCK’s three locations. Though I didn’t do the actual editing, I watched—and re-watched—the footage for selecting the most appropriate sound bites. While whittling the cuts down to three 3 minute videos was time consuming, the results came together rather easily.
I learned so much from making these videos that he wishes I could actually do it over, for even better results. Still, I’m satisfied with the final videos. They convey The ROCK’s message and each offers a personal story that shows the impact of The ROCK on their participants’ lives. As for the remainder of my time at The ROCK, I will keep working with current and potential partners as STEM guests and volunteers for this fall. And I will be documenting The ROCK’s summer camp, with a focus on education and kids from economically challenged families. I have learned a lot about non-profit partnerships in Midland and how much work goes into a successful non-profit like The ROCK.