My name is Emily Swearinger and I am a VISTA serving with the Michigan Nonprofit Association in Lansing Michigan. Currently, I am working directly under the Michigan Chapter President of the National Association of Social Workers to run a program in Lansing called Communities In Schools.
Communities In Schools is the nation's leading drop out prevention program and is located in 26 States across the country; working in schools with students from all grade levels. In a nutshell, CIS has a designated "site coordinator" that works in each school, who looks at any and all factors that might prevent a child from being successful in school - whether it be housing, food, clothing, tutoring, mentoring, after school programs, etc. Then determines the needs of the students in the building and goes into the community to bring these resources into the schools by partnering with local organizations, businesses, volunteers, and Non-profits
Last year, Lansing was chosen to start a pilot program due to the rising homeless population that has swept the city - which affects a lot of school aged students. Starting with two schools, CIS has now expanded into a third and soon to be a fourth school! This is great news for the community! I am currently serving in Willow Elementary, North Elementary, and Attwood Middle School, which all have their own unique qualities to enjoy and obstacles to overcome. My role is to be an extension of the three Site Coordinators that work in each of the schools.
Willow Elementary holds grades kindergarten through third grade and has a homeless population of about 23%. To aid in this I organize donation intake and output, run the clothing closet two days per week and serve fresh food donations to students in need twice per week. Attwood Middle School on the other hand, which serves grades forth through sixth just became a CIS school and is in need of a "starting from the ground up" approach to get programs up and running, which I will be assisting with at the start of December! And then there is North Elementary that has really taken my heart. This school serves students preschool through sixth grade and is especially unique because of the large refugee population. Right now there are roughly 585 students in attendance from 34 different countries around the world, and there are 62 languages spoken among them. Most of these students are coming from camps as refugees from various parts of the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Southeast Asia; which are known to be war torn and unsafe due to current events.
Every two weeks more of these children are sent to North, and a vast majority of this population is homeless. Although the circumstances that brought many of these children I work with to the U.S. are haunting reminders of the evil there is in this world, I am forever grateful to have the opportunity to work with them and be an advocating positive influence to bring progressive changes into their lives. To work toward these goals I give out "weekend survival kits" to every student in need every other week, as well as run a clothing closet free of charge to all students which serves anywhere between 15 - 60 student's per week. I also track data for various after school programs and mentoring programs for the students.
Working with this organization and with these students has been the most rewarding experience I've ever had. I feel that I am able to bring real positive changes into the lives of kids who need it the most, and what could be more important than that?
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!