Fighting Poverty with Passion
A large part of my job in my first two months has been defining my job; identifying the places where my experiences and skill set would serve as an asset to the organization. This was initially difficult for me. It seemed as if when I arrived at Community Works, they too, were not exactly sure what my role was going to be.
This aimlessness, so to speak, was frustrating. I wanted so badly to be helpful, or at the very least, useful. Although it took me a little while to realize, this lack of direction turned out to be an opportunity for me to decide what it is I wanted to accomplish in my year of service. For my first weeks here, I read. I read our values, our grants, our partnership list, and any other document I felt could give me insight as to what Community Works was currently doing and why they were doing it. I went out frequently to visit the many schools we serve and did nothing but observe and take notes.
After compiling all this information, I found that while Community Works successfully provides students with comprehensive enrichment programming, they do not necessarily engage youth voices in the process. After presenting my findings with the administrative staff, incorporating youth in our curriculum, programming, and lesson plan design is now a focus at CWLA.
A few weeks ago, we started a partnership with the Center for Youth Program Quality to specifically assess our ability in including youth voices at all levels of our programming. At the organizational level, we have a coach to guide our progress and we attend regular workshops to find new and innovative ways to include youth in the design process. We have shifted our organization’s values to include a youth voice component and we have adjusted our curriculum planners to make sure our educators are held accountable for including students’ input.
Aside from the changes we have made at the administrative level, we also have implemented on-site suggestion boxes, designed by the students, that are checked regularly so that all of our students always have access in voicing their questions and concerns. While the suggestion boxes are available everyday, we also now have improved surveys that are distributed to students at the end of a session to ensure that they have an opportunity to give improvement feedback for future semesters.
While there are many other roles I have at the office, such as writing grants or completing payroll, I now serve as a “youth advocate,”a position I created. I visit 2-3 sites a week, take pictures, and regularly interview the kids to document their experiences and make sure their voices are being heard– even if most of the time, their only request is for donuts 🙂