Field Report: Youth Rebuilding New Orleans

This is undoubtedly the most bittersweet of field reports.

As I revealed in May, I’m returning for a second year as YRNO’s Tulane AmeriCorps VISTA, starting today, and that’s tremendous. The summer is when most AmeriCorps terms begin, which means I’m about to make many new friends! But it also means other members are leaving, and while we may keep in touch, the camaraderie will never quite be the same.

No more shooting the breeze with the NCCC-bound Abby in the YRNO office, begging Sara to sing to me, escorting Fernie back to Deming in the wee hours, getting schooled by “Professor” Chen, goofing with the “lovely and talented” Erin or discussing girls (or lack thereof) with my roommate Chao. Others are gone or headed out too. All are destined for greatness, but I’ll miss them. One of the best things about AmeriCorps—one-year commitments—can also be one of the worst. #shipspass

Anyway, that’s enough bitter. Time for some more sweet. I actually spent a big chunk of the past month on vacation in New York. Highlights included hooping it up with my boys in Rye, attending a service at Times Square Church, lunches with friends in Rockefeller Center and at Bourbon Street Bar & Grille, bowling with my sister and nephews, and last but not least, a road trip with my brother and father to Pennsylvania for the Pocono 500. Speaking of which, I’m pretty sure I clinched the craziest selfie contest when I took a picture of myself in the cockpit of an Indy car while my brother snapped a photo of me in the act! Multiple angle cray-cray, right?  Let’s see Erin out-goof that!  Maybe next year when the Indy cars come to New Orleans.

Even with all that Yankee fun, I was definitely jonesing to get back to VISTA life here, and I dove right in upon my return. YRNO was one of the hosts for our monthly VISTA service project, which meant I got to work alongside some of my peers for my own organization, as well as a few CPS staff members and a group of Young African Leaders spending six weeks at Tulane this summer. We painted at Carver Collegiate, but the coolest part was schmoozing (during yet another free lunch), especially with the CPS folks I don’t see that often. Later the same day, there was less chatting when I helped clean out a blighted house in Kenner with nine Tulane football and basketball players. As I mentioned in my last report, I do sneak in a bit of direct service when YRNO has student-athletes volunteering. The next morning, I joined fellow VISTAs Amy, Carol and Chao for my first ever swamp tour in La Place. The guide’s Cajun accent reminded me of my years in Eunice, and when he whipped out a baby alligator, we just had to get our picture taken with it. To close out the week, Fernie hosted a World Cup final party in his room where VISTAs old and new got together for lots of laughter and bonding. We welcomed Krishna, Beau, Griff and Adrian, who I guarantee will love the next 12 months! (And sorry about Argentina, Fernie. We’ll get ‘em next year. Or the year after? Oh, 2018? Ouch. Now I’m super sorry.)

Last Tuesday, YRNO Executive Director Will Stoudt and I had our first meeting with Gretchen Hirt and Veronica Ridgley of Gambel Communications, as we begin to formulate strategies for how best to use the $5,000 public relations contract we won in the Gambel Giveaway contest. The ideas were flying fast and furious, and I think we’re all excited to get started. Then on Friday, I gave my end of term presentation to the whole crowd of incoming and outgoing VISTAs, enjoyed another free lunch, and capped it off with a pool party at Tulane’s Reily Student Recreation Center!

And you know what else? Saints training camp opens in three days.

WHO DAT!

Summer at Eden House!

As my VISTA term nears an end, we at Eden House have had the opportunity to work on some long needed projects. We are now at our peak with 11 incredible interns. Not only is it great to have so many folks learning about the ins and outs of Eden House, but having such a large, committed team has allowed us to tackle several long-term projects. We are hard at work jump-starting plans for our annual November fundraiser. We will also be revealing a tuned-up Eden House image in the coming months. Last but certainly not least, we are giving our website some TLC. We are so lucky to have an intern with some wordpress skills! If you think you might want to intern with us in the fall, please contact me via info@edenhousenola.org. As a part of our internship program, we have started a professional development series. Many of our wonderful community partners have generously spoken to our intern team about their piece of the Eden House puzzle, providing our staff and interns with a nuanced, holistic picture of the Eden House approach. If you are interested in learning more about our interns and/or community partners check out our newsletter and Facebook for bios.

In other news, we are ecstatic to announce that our current Living With a Purpose Fellow, Helen Lindau, will be staying on with the team next year as our next AmeriCorps VISTA member. We cannot wait to continue building on the ideas Helen has brought to Eden House in the past year. We are also excited for the developments in the Tulane AmeriCorps Program as they welcome several new organizations and many new VISTAs!

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Ladies Night Out!!
We are excited to announce “Ladies Helping Ladies” an evening out hosted by Whole Foods Market to benefit Eden House!! The event will be Friday, July 25th from 4:00- 6:00 pm at the Whole Foods Market, Arabella Station at 5600 Magazine Street. Come by for a 8-10 minute chair massage, DIY hand lettering crafts (hosted by resident artist, Aisha), wine tastings, build your own bath salts station, cooking instruction and delicious munchies catered by Whole Foods Market! Entry is $10 and all proceeds will benefit Eden House!

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A huge thank you to Ricardo from New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity for coming and patching a hole in our ceiling that was caused by water damage! We are thrilled to have such amazing and generous community partners!

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Get Involved

  • Are you doing back to school shopping online this year? Use this as an opportunity to also support Eden House!! When you select us as your charity of choice, we will receive 0.5% of your purchase!
  • Eden House has joined Instagram and our name is EdenHouseNola!! Start following us today to stay in the loop!

Eden House is groundbreaking non-profit in New Orleans, Louisiana, offering long term housing and services to survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. We are the first of our kind in the state of Louisiana. Our two-year residential program offers a holistic approach to recovery including outreach, housing, food, mental and physical healthcare, job training, education, and spiritual support. Eden House offers survivors a safe place to dream and overcome their pasts, while developing substantive skills to move forward in their lives and become self-sufficient, flourishing members of society.

My First Essence Festival!

I would have to say that last weekend was probably one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time! I attended my first Essence Festival with two of my sorority sisters who traveled all the way from North Carolina! There was so much to do all weekend, so I was certainly worn out by the end! Of course, I can’t give you the play by play of my entire weekend, but I’ll share some of the highlights!

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It’s me!

My Essence experience began on Thursday night with a concert featuring Jazmine Sullivan, K. Michelle, Trey Songz, and Nas! It was absolutely amazing to be able to see hip hop legend, Nas, perform! After Thursday, we attended seminars and concerts from Friday morning until Sunday night. The seminars and other day activities took place at the Convention Center, while the concerts took place at night at the Superdome! My two favorite seminars were hosted by Steve Harvey, then Melissa Harris-Perry and Alicia Keys. Steve Harvey spoke about success, while Melissa Harris-Perry and Alicia Keys spoke on the issue of HIV/AIDS. Both seminars were very enlightening and inspirational! My favorite concert performers were Prince, Jill Scott, and Mary J. Blige! I’m not a big fan of Prince but he’s an awesome performer! Jill Scott’s vocal range is mind blowing, and I couldn’t stop jamming to all of Mary’s songs! They are all such talented artists, and I’ll always remember it!

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Nas, the legend!

Overall, my first Essence Festival was a success and I can’t wait to come back in the future! I hope the artists are just as great next year! I know that having that experience with my sorority sisters made it that much more fun and meaningful! I’m truly thankful to be able to have experiences such as these because I want to enjoy my life as much as possible!

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My sorority sister, Ashley, and I with Jill Scott’s saxophonist, Mike Phillips! He was amazing!

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Job

The Year of Cognitive Dissonance

or

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Job

As our time draws to a close, I and a few of the other VISTAs in my cohort will be leaving AmeriCorps. While some of us are going back to school or getting jobs elsewhere, a few people are taking positions with other non-profits in New Orleans. After a year of service, I’d like to share some of my thoughts on working in the non-profit community.

Erin Ricketts serves at Kedila Family Learning Services.

Erin Ricketts serves at Kedila Family Learning Services.

Here are a few strategies for dealing with the stress associated with these positions.

1. Be incredibly idealistic. Assume that you are providing an objectively beneficial service. That’s what your supervisor told you, anyway, and she’s got TONS of research to back it up. Never worry about whether or not anything you do is effective, reaching the right people, sustainable, or attainable. Your job is to pass out flyers and get people to recycle their bottle caps, and you’ll be damned if you don’t do your job–your part to save the world.

You might want to use this strategy if you are in love with the overall goal of a non-profit and will do anything necessary to help further it. This strategy is not recommended for anyone who wants to reach a high position in an organization or someone who wants to start and run a nonprofit for any length of time.

Quote you might hear from someone using this strategy: Have you heard our mission statement? The mission is to cure poverty! How awesome is that?

2. Don’t care about others, at least, not too much. Yes, of course, you would give an apple to a starving child, but not if you were also starving yourself. You won’t do any good sacrificing your wellbeing for someone else’s. Understand that there is corruption built into the system, and that this can be used to your advantage. Sometimes, that’s just how things go. At the end of the day, this is just a job that happens to produce a better world. Probably. It might just provide you with a living and decent benefits. That counts, right? You accept that maybe this isn’t a perfect system, but you can make it three times more efficient! Will that provide any measurable difference to your constituents? Possibly not, but the boss will love you! You can write grants like a pro. What are the grants for? Doesn’t matter! You got 4,000 dollars! You’ll be high on that accomplished feeling all week. You can throw enough buzzwords into conversation to completely hide the fact that the program you’re describing isn’t really supporting your mission, and you’re okay with that, because the organization needs to have a record of programming in order to receive support for other programs.

You might want to use this strategy if you are familiar with, and a fan of, politics and political moves, or if you need something to do for a while that will look good on a resume. This strategy is great for anyone interested in running non-profits. It is not so good for someone who wants to make a big impact on the world in a short-term job.

Quote you might hear from someone using this strategy: Sketchy spending practices? Yeah, that’s really common in non-profits. I wouldn’t worry about it.

Of course, some successful non-profit workers will utilize both strategies, at least superficially. They have the ability to inspire others to pass out flyers on bottle-cap recycling, while simultaneously understanding that this campaign may not, in fact, do anything to “cure poverty”. They will use the language of idealism and personal duty to describe a field that sometimes functions more like a sketchy lobbying campaign than a humanitarian effort.

There is, luckily, a third option:

3. Work at a really great non-profit. You know–not assume, not hope, know–that you are doing something beneficial. If you have an established program to increase literacy, you have data showing that students in that program read better than they do without the program. If you have a new or pilot program, you are satisfied that you are collecting and utilizing program evaluations to determine whether the program is successful and what needs to be changed. There are checks and balances throughout the organization, making sure plans are in keeping with the mission, the board members are active and up to date on operations, and that all of these things are regularly checked and adjusted. There are enough regular and qualified staff to meet the needs of the organization (or you’re in the process of hiring more). Employees don’t quit every few weeks or months. Staff and board members are invested in the mission, and receptive to utilizing good operational practices to complete it.

Kedila's summer camp

Kedila’s summer camp is currently in full swing!

Use this strategy whenever possible! It will be the best possible choice. This is the only way to guarantee a positive overall job experience. Strong, sustainable non-profits work in this manner, and you want to work in a place that will be around for a while! If you come home every day questioning whether your work is helping anyone, you’re working in the wrong place. To use this strategy, find a new non-profit!

A quote you might hear from someone using this strategy: We’re having a debriefing after camp to go over what we can do better next year; we don’t want to make the same mistakes again!

Happy July Everyone!

Erin Ricketts
VISTA with Kedila Family Learning Services

 

Field Report: A’s & Aces

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The month of June for A’s & Aces signifies the beginning of our 7 week long summer camp. With over 160 campers at over 3 camps around the city, my weeks in June were never empty. From Monday through Wednesday, I go to each of our camps for the day and help monitor and support our staff. On Mondays, I go to Dillard University. There we have a maximum of 66 campers, but the average attendance tends to be around 55-60 on any given day. At Dillard, we have some of our oldest participating members of A’s & Aces working with Xavier’s head tennis coach, Alan Green. Needless to say, there are some amazing tennis matches happening. We also have a junior camp counselor working with us, Andre, who has been with A’s & Aces for several years. We are starting to see some sustainability on that front. We really do like to see our participants come back and serve with us to help younger kids in the program. Andre helps with the tennis staff on the court, teaching the younger group with the basics: forehand swings, ground strokes, etc.

Overall the camp is doing great. We did, however, have some trouble with planning weekly swimming trips to the local pool at St. Bernard Center. For the first 3 weeks, there has been constant rain on Tuesdays, which is the designated day for our swimming field trips. With the pool being outdoors, we cannot swim if the lifeguards cannot see the bottom of the pool during rain. Also, NORDC has a rule regarding not having more than 40 kids in the pool at one time. So, we had to split our swim trip into 2 days so that everyone can go to the pool. Things started to work out by the end of the month.

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On Tuesdays, I work at Joe Brown Memorial Park with our lead staff, Dominique Stone, in the classroom and our lead tennis staff,  Anthony Davis. Tuesdays are, in my opinion, the hardest day of the week. Not only do we have to program for our 40+ campers, but we also have to provide tennis programming for over 120 other campers from Excite Allstars, another camp that is being held at Joe Brown Park. Although this is a partnership between the two camps, I find it difficult because A’s & Aces does not benefit from this partnership. We have to basically cut our tennis staff and volunteers in half just to provide for the other camp, while receiving nothing in return.

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Our third camp is at Atkinson Stern Tennis Center. This is a more unique camp compared to our two other camps at Dillard and Joe Brown because this camp has many campers that come from middle to upper class families that reside in the Uptown area. They have heard from many of our campers from previous years about our high quality programming. Since our camp is sponsored by NORDC, it is open to the public. So, we operate on a first come first serve basis. We would ideally like to have more campers from families from a lower income bracket because our camps are highly subsidized by the city. We would like to see low income families take advantage of our camps over those that can pay for high quality camps.

Field Report: CBNO – Jack D.

There has been a sense of “almost-ness” threaded through several of my posts during my year of service with CBNO. I’ve repeatedly needed to snake my way through the odd coincidence of a report deadline falling just before the arrival of some project milestone or conclusion. This month, of course, is no different. In this case, the news that’s still three days over the horizon is significant enough to merit a press release.

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I’m giddy.

I’m giddy. Here are the juicy bits:

New Blight-Fighting Tools to be Unveiled at June 28 Zion City Event

Councilmember Cantrell to be featured speaker; new community park also debuting

Despite welcome recent progress, blight remains a substantial problem in New Orleans. Residents, neighborhoods and community groups still struggle to access the resources they need to combat blight. Further, many also find it challenging to navigate the complex processes related to blighted properties.

To enable New Orleanians to be more successful in addressing blight, two free new tools will be unveiled on June 28. The release of these tools will take place at Greater St. James Church, 4225 Erato Street in Zion City. Councilmember LaToya Cantrell will be the featured speaker, along with representatives of the various organizations involved in preparing the new blight-fighting tools. The official program for the event will begin at 11:00 AM, and will be preceded by a community workshop to create attractive park benches out of donated and repurposed materials such as wooden palettes. Music and refreshments will be included. The event will take place rain or shine.

The two new tools are a Blight Resource Guide and a Blight Organizing Toolkit.

Community members, neighborhood leaders and the media are invited to attend the event on June 28. Copies of the Blight Resource Guide will be distributed, as well as information on accessing and using the Blight Organizing Toolkit. Key participants in the event will be available for interviews before and after the official program, and are also available for other media appearances.”

This post also falls right in the middle of the 2014 World Cup. It’d be hard to guess this, but my interest in soccer had a lot to do with my interest in community-building and engagement. In light of that, I’d like wish everybody happy viewing (I know it’s only once every four years for a lot of you) and to end this month’s post with another quote—this from J.B. Priestly’s The Good Companions:

To say that these men paid their shillings to watch twenty-two hirelings kick a ball is merely to say that a violin is wood and catgut, that Hamlet is so much paper and ink. For a shilling the Bruddersford United A.F.C. offered you Conflict and Art; … and what is more, it turned you into a member of a new community, all brothers together for an hour and a half, for not only had you escaped from the clanking machinery of this lesser life, from work, wages, rent, doles, sick pay, insurance cards, nagging wives, ailing children, bad bosses, idle workmen, but you have escaped with most of your mates and your neighbors, with half the town, and there you were, cheering together, thumping one another on the shoulders, swopping judgments like lords of the earth, having pushed your way through a turnstile into another and altogether more splendid kind of life, hurtling with Conflict and yet passionate and beautiful in its Art.

Reconnecting “Opportunity Youth”

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I realize there has been an underlying (albeit unintentional) theme to my past few blog posts. That is the unique nature of New Orleans and of its set of problems and proposed solutions. Remember how I mentioned that New Orleans needed some long-term investment after the groundswell that was GiveNOLA Day? My apologies, but I’m not quite done yet. New Orleans is beset with a set of problems that, while fairly common in the majority of American cities, have manifested themselves in particularly stubborn and interconnected ways. There’s that pesky violent crime rate; a decentralized educational system with high teacher turnover and poor school performance; and poor public health scores with high rates of obesity, mental health disorders and diabetes (YouthShift Blueprint, 4). Another issue, the scope of which is garnering increasing attention, is the prevalence of youth disconnection. At this given moment, there are approximately 14,000 young New Orleanians, ages 16-24, who are neither in school nor working (“High School Disconnection,” 3). While there are a variety of reasons for this disconnection, all of these young adults “have the potential to work, learn, and achieve,” and thus, are considered “Opportunity Youth” (OY) (“High School Disconnection,” 3). Not only does New Orleans have the highest concentration of OY in Louisiana, but OY are also “more likely to be unemployed or un- deremployed, to rely on government assistance and health care, and to be the victims or perpetrators of crime” (“High School Disconnection,” 1). See the connection between OY and those pesky problems I mentioned before? Well, PYD envisions a healthier, safer, more prosperous New Orleans; one in which all young adults are included in this outcome.

To this end, PYD has teamed up with fellow TU AmeriCorps VISTA site, Cowen Institute, to spearhead the Employment and Mobility Pathways Linked for Opportunity Youth collaborative (EMPLOY). The EMPLOY collaborative is comprised of youth service providers, members of the funding community and representatives from K-12 and postsecondary education systems. PYD and Cowen Institute lead the charge as these entities design and execute long-term strategies for engaging Opportunity Youth in New Orleans. The EMPLOY collaborative is still in the early stages of refining and executing these engagement strategies. In order to see EMPLOY’s plans for reconnecting Opportunity Youth with education and training pathways in real-time, be sure to connect on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up-to-date on the endeavors of the EMPLOY collaborative to see how you can take part in ensuring that every young adult in New Orleans has access to fulfilling and family-sustaining careers.

PYD-https://www.facebook.com/PYDNOLAhttps://twitter.com/NOLAYouthDev

Cowen Institute-https://www.facebook.com/CowenInstitute, https://twitter.com/CowenInstitute

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In the meantime, get caught up on all things Opportunity Youth.

  1. Cowen Institute recently released a report exploring the causes of high school disconnection and ways to address them. The solutions outlined in this report will likely be the basis of the engagement strategies used by the EMPLOY collaborative. You can download the full reportHigh School Disconnection: Insights from the Inside, including data and map at (look out for mention of another collaborative led by PYD – YouthShift, mentioned on page 5!) Or, you can get the low-down from the Executive Summary written by our very own Carol Chen.

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  1. For another incredible resource, check out a report written by Cowen’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, Amy Barad and Director of Policy and Advocacy, Vincent Rossmeier. Published in The New Orleans Advocate, Amy and Vincent explore what they find troubling about the funding currently available for programs engaging out-of-school young adults.

 

Field Report: Homer A. Plessy Community School

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This month’s blog post will be all about preparation. After the end of the school year, teachers and students alike were given time off to rest after a long school year while administrators and board members of the school got down to the key ingredient for any school: preparation. This may not sound very glamorous but I assure you there is more to the preparation for an upcoming school year than deciding what the classroom looks like. Each of the student and teacher handbooks must be updated and ready to hand out on the first day of school. In addition, professional development for the staff must occur in training sessions for Louisiana A+ standards as well as training on what it means to have a Reggio Emilia inspired curriculum. Last but not least, there must also be a training session on what it means to be an arts integrated school. All of these training sessions are specifically designed for the teachers and administration at Homer A. Plessy Community School and does not begin to touch on the preparation for the community and the student body. As A relatively new school we are still trying to get the word out that Homer A. Plessy Community School is no longer a school in the clouds but has firmly landed on earth. That being said, it is the school’s responsibility to create a space where the community is also welcome. That is why there will be a block party/ barbecue on July 12th in tandem with the 7th Ward Community Center just outside the school from 5:30-7pm where the school staff will meet members of the community and vice versa.

 

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I had the pleasure of meeting with a lovely woman from the 7th Ward Neighborhood Center who took some time out of her day to explain to me that the neighborhood center was actually part of a national coalition called the Fourth World Movement and their specific branch went by the name ATD. If you have the time or the inclination I highly recommend reading up on the subject  as it is fascinating and ties in with the AmeriCorps VISTA goal of eradicating poverty. I was also able to meet some of the volunteers who work there and get a peek at their community garden. They are doing great things at the 7th Ward Neighborhood Center and I hope that we can continue to work with them throughout the school year and beyond. After all, at Homer A. Plessy Community school we are trying to create students who are community minded.

Field Update – The Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights

There’s big news soon to come out of our office, but for now I’m to remain tight-lipped. As far as blogging about work goes, this is unfortunate as nearly all of my time is dedicated to developing strategy around said news.

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So, I’ll continue with other updates. We’re hiring a director of development! This is huge. Aside from the executive director, I’ve spent over a year as the only staff member working in fundraising and communications. This had its perks, of course. I learned that when charged with a project of which I know nothing about, when it’s either “sink or swim,” I generally stay afloat. As a recent college graduate in my first professional position, it’s a relief to know that when faced with a challenge, I’m not a total flop. Having to navigate the scope of responsibilities with little supervision, I’ve learned a lot about the “real world” and myself. It’s true that figuring out how things work is intimidating, and depressing. But once you have the “aha!” moment, and it makes sense and fits together, it’s wonderfully liberating. I won’t often admit it, but I have truly enjoyed the outrageous levels of anxiety caused by working independently—(and inexperienced).

But, there’s always another side to the coin. With a new boss who’s entirely focused on development, I’m excited to see how a person in that position functions. Somewhere down the line it’s a title I might reach for, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to observe and work alongside a colleague in that role. But mostly, I’m counting down until I can have partner in the work. Everything is more interesting, lively, and engaging when you can collaborate as opposed to getting things done alone… Boring!

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We’re also hiring an investigator. Shaena, our current staff investigator, is leaving. She’s extraordinary, and while we’re all excited for her next step, it will be a great loss. Sighh. Do any readers out there have great candidates in mind for a director of development or an investigator? Please send any leads along, I’m all ears. Posting in forum after forum online can be tiresome, especially after reading through piles of resumes from which only one or two qualified applicants surface. And it’s only made worse by the fact that I’ll very much miss the woman whose position I’m tasked to fill!

Anyway, there’s a lot going on around LCCR, and running parallel to that is preparing for the soon-to-be significantly changed staff (our administrative assistant is leaving too, to begin law school at Loyola). My second VISTA year is sure shaping up to be interesting!

“We Can Do It!” – Hearing from New Voices

For the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the National WWII Museum in New Orleans had some fun activities, and a special guest of Carol the Riveter.

For the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the National WWII Museum in New Orleans had some fun activities, and a special guest of Carol the Riveter.

I am extremely fortunate to have a VISTA placement at the Cowen Institute because I am constantly learning new things about education reform and its impact on New Orleans.

For example, we recently released a study on the causes of high school disconnection. I even wrote the executive summary! We interviewed school leaders and non-profit service providers and found that there could be more integration between the two approaches as they work towards student success. There were debates on school discipline policies, widespread acknowledgement of the need for more mental health services, and concern about the consequences of students dropping out of school.

Exec Summary

 

It was fascinating to hear directly from youth themselves about what kept them engaged and what drove them away from school. There was some harrowing testimony:

Another youth recounted her mother waking her up at night, saying her father was going to kill them. “I’m bleeding,” her mother would say, “please come on downstairs. He gonna kill us.”

With this background research on what leads youth to become opportunity youth (who are ages 16-24 and not connected to education or work), we are preparing to launch an Earn and Learn program. This will take 15 youth enrolled at Delgado Community College and provide them with paid internships in preparation for sustainable careers, wraparound social services, and career counseling.

In other news, we have a crop of new interns and fellows that started in June! There are even a couple who are teachers using their summer off to learn about education research!

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I’m especially excited to work with our three Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Fellows! The White House is sponsoring 500 African leaders to stay in New Orleans for six weeks this summer to learn about American civic engagement, entrepreneurship, and non-profit leadership. Tulane is hosting 25 of these Fellows and 3 are placed at the Cowen Institute, from Togo, South Africa, and Nigeria.

Our policy director, Jonah, and I got to meet them this week. Over conversations about education policy and civic leadership, I was able to learn so much!

They spoke of how difficult it is to fundraise in their countries when there is not the same philanthropic tradition as there is in New Orleans – and indeed, a distrust of people who so improbably “work for no benefit to themselves.” One spoke of the importance of inculcating civic culture among youth – everything from obeying traffic signals to encouraging them to participate in government. Another was fascinated with New Orleans’ lack of a strong teacher’s union when the South African and Nigerian teacher unions are so strong that they can dictate to the government their demands or shut down universities for eight months.

We are so happy to have these three Fellows with us this summer and for Tulane Center for Public Service for giving us the opportunity to learn from them!