Fighting Poverty with Passion
It’s only been seven weeks into my term as a Tulane AmeriCorps VISTA and a lot has happened!
I work with YMCA Educational Services (conveniently nicknamed YES!), an adult literacy program through the YMCA of Greater New Orleans. What I learned very quickly is that the “Y” is a lot more than the neighborhood fitness hub or summer camp hotspot for your kids; they are constantly working on various social programs including diabetes prevention, car seat safety, and—of course—adult literacy!
My direct supervisor, Shannan, is the Director of YES! but she’s more like a wizard. I am humbled and excited to be working with someone who possesses such a wealth of knowledge and experience and knows exactly how to use it. I have witnessed her speaking to individuals and audiences about YES! and am always left in awe at how eloquently she creates a story so compelling.
My initial week at YES! consisted of orientation, numerous introductions, and guided tours. I have also been able to meet, talk to, and read the intake statements of current and incoming students. Their stories and circumstances are so profound that I am constantly faced with the reality that these people have been and continue to be under-served in the city of New Orleans. The adults who come to YES! often have the intention of obtaining their high school diploma or want to develop their workplace skills. However, many just want to be able to read to their children, help their children with homework, learn how to use a computer, navigate the food stamp application website (which even I have had trouble using!), or be able to participate more in church and other social activities. However, there is a constant barrage of obstacles that prevent many students from succeeding or even attending class: jobs, housing, childcare, transportation, inclement weather, health issues, and various other things that take priority.
I spent my second week with fellow YES! employees at the 2016 Louisiana Association for Public, Community, and Adult Education (LAPCAE) Conference in Marksville, LA—where I was told the only real industry is prisons (side note: I have a passion for alternatives to incarceration so driving by Louisiana State Penitentiary aka Angola Prison piqued my interest). The conference was an eye-opening opportunity for me to delve directly into the world of adult education. I attended as many seminars relevant to my position as possible and found that the recurring theme was the decline in federal funding for adult education while the demand remains high. This loss and lack of interest makes advocating for adult education an important tool to keeping vital funding intact.
SO WHAT HAVE I ACTUALLY DONE SO FAR?
The past several weeks have been spent preparing for an upcoming 5k that directly benefits YES!. The 36th annual YMCA Corporate Cup: Second Line for Literacy 5k will be held on Saturday, November 12th in City Park, so please sign up! At this point, I have primarily worked on procuring in-kind donations such as food and product samples, gift cards, Gumbo the dog, etc. I was able to make my first sponsorship ask after having cold emailed (like cold calling) a handful of physical therapy clinics. However, I am still awaiting a response, but I am excited and proud to have gotten an initial response of interest!
Aside from Corporate Cup, the real focus has been on the YES! Open House coming up next week. Much of my time has involved designing printed material in preparation for our guests. Here are a couple examples!:
The stressful questions of planning an open house event
when you’re a non-profit:
How much food should we order?
What type of food?
How many parking passes do we need?
Will people figure out how to find our classroom?
Did we invite too many people?
Is anyone going to show up?!
Fingers crossed for at least 37.