Friday, December 11, 2015

National Child Awareness Month Youth Ambassador Program


Over the summer I was chosen as Rhode Island’s Youth Ambassador for the National Child Awareness Month program and received a $1000 grant.  I represented The Challenge T.E.A.M (Together Everyone Achieves More).  In September, I travelled to Washington, D.C. for a three day training program.  
One ambassador, between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two, was selected from every state, and Washington, D.C.  We spent three days together receiving leadership training and getting tools to bring home to our project.  We heard from many speakers who shared with us ideas on how to best run a year-long project, with a final event planned for April or May of 2016.
The Challenge T.E.A.M. is run by Kimberly and Marc Rose.  Kim is a licensed social worker, and her husband Marc is a former police officer.  They started the program when Kim was working at an organization that served foster children aging out of the system.  They realized that many of these youth had never had anyone in their life help them set and work towards goals.  The team works out together two nights a week at various locations in the Providence area using materials that can be replicated in a small space with little to no money. The idea behind this is to have visible results to show the youth that they can achieve their goals.  Each person on the team also sets other personal goals (job-related, school-related, etc.).  Everyone supports one another on all levels and checks in with each other frequently.
The money received from this grant will allow the Challenge T.E.A.M. to provide binders to each member to keep track of his or her goals.  It will also allow them more flexibility in finding locations for the winter months when they cannot work out outside (they could pay a small fee to reserve an indoor location if necessary).  In April or May the T.E.A.M will work to put on an event that they will discuss over the course of the year.  It may be a fun run 5k similar to one they put on last year.  Currently, the T.E.A.M is trying to recruit more youth in need so that they can help more people achieve their goals.  I look forward to working with the team this year.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Lights On Afterschool! Breakfast of Champions 2015

Earlier in the semester, I had the privilege of attending the Lights On Afterschool! Breakfast of Champions at the Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston.  There was a table reserved for RIC Youth Development.  There were several people that I knew, including Dr. McKamey.  There was also a girl named Jacqueline who was a YDEV alum.  It was nice to get a chance to talk to someone who had graduated from the program and was out in the field trying to start her own non-profit organization.  
The opening remarks were given by two individuals who work for United Way of Rhode Island, who put on the breakfast along with Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance (RIASPA).  United Way works to bring the people of Rhode Island together to create positive change in the state.
The second speaker was Arnell Milhouse, founder of the program IntraCity Geeks.  The mission of this organization, according to their website (, is “to teach everyone in urban environments coding and entrepreneurship.”  He spoke about his childhood, which started out very difficult, but turned around when he moved to Cape Cod.  He excelled in his schooling and decided to start the organization IntraCity Geeks to give youth the same opportunities he was lucky enough to have.  This interview provides a little more background on Mr. Milhouse and his ideas behind the creation of IntraCity Geeks.  This video from their website provides a brief introduction to the organization.  
The keynote speaker was Mr. Jonathan Kozol.  I was very excited to hear him speak, since I read excerpts from his book Amazing Grace in my FNED 346 class last semester.  He was an amazing speaker and brought up several great points regarding our education system.  He also talked about his past and the work he has done throughout his years.  Partway through his talk, he mentioned that one of the students he wrote about years ago in Amazing Grace, who was in first grade at the time, was in the audience today.  I looked around when he asked where Jackie was sitting, and was shocked to find out that it was the YDEV alum Jacqueline that I had met earlier and was sitting across the table from.  I feel so lucky to be a part of a program with individuals who have overcome hardships and continued on to do amazing things with their lives.
I hope that I will get a chance to see Mr. Kozol and Mr. Milhouse speak again sometime, and I would love to attend this event next year if I can!  

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What Youth Work Means to Me

Youth work is about helping better the quality of life of all youth.  It is not the same as education as we typically think of it, where a student goes to school for eight hours a day and comes home to do homework.  It is about what happens outside of school.  The job of youth workers is to support youth in a holistic manner, taking into account their physical, mental, emotional, academic, and social well-being.  

According to “Strengthening the Youth Development/ After-School Workforce Lessons Learned and Implications for Funders,” Yohalem, Pittman and Edwards point out the necessity of youth work due to the “research showing these programs are useful not only for problem prevention, but for growth and development and academic success” (2010).  

I have always known that I wanted to work with youth, and I have been doing it since I was eleven years old.  But what I also know is that I don’t want to be a classroom teacher, particularly in a public school.  I don’t necessarily agree with all of the standards set forth by the federal and state governments that require teachers to teach certain things, while limiting what they can do in other senses.  

In my current position, I teach dance at a YMCA.  I have had the opportunity to develop relationships with all of my students over the years, helping them to be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, academically, and socially.  I focus a lot of my energy on fostering a positive environment and discussion around physical health, which is especially important in the field of dance.  My students are all comfortable talking to me about what is going on in their lives and asking for help or advice when they need it.  I also have spent countless hours helping with various homework assignments and studying for tests.  

Finally, I believe that all youth workers should have a strengths based perspective when working with youth.  Every child should believe that she or he is capable of great things and that we as youth workers will support them in whatever way they need.  

**Side story about strengths based perspective**
I was teaching a class with my favorite little Mariah (the one I wrote about last week who is on the autism spectrum.  We tried the sticker chart again, but she was having a really hard day and it was not as effective as the first time.  While I could have easily become frustrated at her outbursts, I focused my energy instead on being patient and understanding.  In the middle of one of her episodes, I sat down next to her to try and figure out how I could help her best.  I refused to send her out of the classroom.  Through her short, tense breaths she was able to tell me she wished she had her stress ball.  I scanned the room and realized I had nothing that could be used.  So I made my hand into a fist and let her squeeze my hand.  With every squeeze, I could feel her becoming less and less tense.  Her breathing slowed to a normal rate and she was able to join back in class.  At the end of class when it was time for stickers, she came over to me after all the kids had left and said she didn’t think she earned a sticker because she was just a bad kid.  This absolutely broke my heart.  No child should ever feel like she is genuinely “bad.”  I explained to her how upset it made me to hear this and how much I wanted to find a way to help her make it through dance class without that feeling.  We decided together that getting a stress ball to keep in the dance studio was the first thing we should try.  It would be kept on a shelf near the stereo, and she would be allowed to go get it whenever she needed it.  She and I both felt that this will be a good way for her to manage her emotions during class.  I followed up with her mom when she picked her up, and will be bringing a stress ball to work with me tomorrow so that it will be there for her class on Thursday.  As easy as it would have been for me to yell or give up and send Mariah out of the room, I would not have been doing my job as a youth worker.  We play such an important role in the lives of youth, and we must always strive to be our best for them, even when it might not be easy for us.