My name is Schwartzen Jarmond, a first-year AmeriCorps VISTA member serving at Schools-To-Career Progressions located in Grand Rapids, MI. This is my first year out of college and I got involved with AmeriCorps through my college adviser Cindy Cowell, who suggested I do a year of service post graduation. I chose to serve in Grand Rapids, MI instead of my home city, Staten Island, NY, due to my adaptation to Michigan's culture during my college years in the Upper Peninsula. My experience thus far has been very challenging yet rewarding at the same time.
Schools-To-Career Progressions is a non-profit organization that has been serving youth within Kent County for the past 17 years. When I joined the team, they were just rebranding their name from "Schools-To-Career Progressions" to "Ingenium" because Ingenium is Latin for "character building." The organization wanted their name to fit what services they provided to the community, which align's with their services in helping youth build character using the "Strong Character" curriculum backed by leading research. Ingenium's mission is to prepare students for school, the workforce, and the community. When I saw that their mission was all about helping the youth, I knew I was going to serve there because one of my core values is based on helping the next generation of students succeed in life.
A lot of people ask, why Grand Rapids out of all places? Well, when I was looking for which service site I'll go to after college, I had a lot to consider, which included where will I live, who will I meet, and where will it be? Being 22, there were so many questions going through my mind so I decided to take a trip to Grand Rapids to check the service site out. When I arrived, the supervisor, Michael Daniels, was very hospitable, welcoming, took me out to eat, and told me the history of the city. Now, where I'm from in New York, people aren't that friendly to you when you first meet them, they are usually hesitant to welcome others because they may have ulterior motives, but spending four and a half years in the Upper Peninsula with people who were very warm and genuine broke down those "New York Culture" walls within me. But Grand Rapids wasn't the Upper Peninsula so I thought to myself, it would be more like New York where people might not be friendly. I was wrong, Grand Rapids turned out to be a good fit for me. I found a place to live, a church to connect with, even a semi-professional basketball team to play for during this year. I thought to myself, that's God way of telling me that He wants me here.
As the technology and outreach coordinator, my position in the organization has a lot to do with reaching into the community in order to let others know about the programs we offer. I am responsible for letting schools and youth serving organizations know why our curriculum would benefit their staff and students. Because of my position I can really exercise my gifting of public speaking. I enjoy going into the community and letting people know about an organization that helps empower youth. I spread Ingenium's "Strong Character" Curriculum with pride because I understand the value of having character, especially during the early teen and teenage years. I take personal pleasure in letting others know that we have a curriculum that will change a child's life for the better. The challenging part about it all is sometimes I over commit myself to many organizations about letting them know about our services, yet not all of them are readily available.
For my VISTA Year Initiative I decided to actively become part of the direct service for the non-profit that I serve at. I wanted this to be my VISTA Year Initiative to enhance my interpersonal skills with students from various different levels of education. I thought to myself, "how can I serve a population in a community without actually getting to know it's members on an intimate level?" So I decide to actually teach the curriculum so I can grasp a better understanding on the products Schools-To-Career Progressions is actually producing. It could also be challenging to explain the curriculum to youth serving organizations when I only have 3 months of product knowledge. Because Ingenium also has an after school diversion program, I took the initiative of actually teaching out of the book to students who are a little older in age.
The curriculum seems pretty simple to me, but it may not be as simple to other youth serving staff who aren't familiar with the research behind the curriculum. It can also be challenging when I teach students who are much younger, such as 4th graders. I may not use the most suitable language for that age group because I'm a recent college graduate so my vocabulary words can sometimes be too sophisticated for them. I do like that I have moments where I feel like their age when I talk about non-cognitive skills such as emotional control and stopping and thinking before reacting. This VISTA Year Initiative is challenging me to expand my horizon of teaching methods and how I enjoy sharing my experiences of when I was younger because maybe it could cause one student to learn from my mistakes as a child.
The most rewarding aspect of being a success coach (since technically I'm not a teacher) is building healthy relationships with students that remind me of myself when I was younger. The Strong Character Curriculum allows me to coach character skills through the use of relationship building in order for students to reach their goals. Because I serve students who are a low-income area, I can reach students who may face barriers that prevent them from excelling like myself I was when I was younger.
There was one student who resembled me the most. This student was a high school athlete, had good grades, a good head on his shoulder, enjoyed learning, but could sometimes make bad decisions. This was the first student I began to mentor at the diversion program. Over the months, I supported him in ways that I wish I had support from when I was younger. I went to his high school basketbal tryout, I took him to the gym to show him basketball techniques, I enjoyed having conversations with him about his future goals. It was rewarding because I knew I had an impact on him when he continued to visit me after he graduated from the program. It always made my day when he came to the office and just to stop by and say hello. He is the only student I gave my personal basketball to and gave the first basketball I ever signed to. Students like that is why I knew I wanted to join a youth serving organization in the first place. You can't put a price on friendship, impact and overall genuine relationship to someone who considers you their "role model."
Image of Isaiah and myself after I signed the basketball with my name on it