Often times we find ourselves taking unpredicted and different paths that we did not plan and it feels like a setback. In my experiences, I use these different and unpredictable paths as a learning experience. I am an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at New York cares as a Student Academic Success Associate. Although, I do not have a background in education, I choose to serve because I sincerely enjoy helping people reach their potential. In fact, one of my long term goals is going to medical school to become a doctor after my year of service. Prior to joining New York Cares I was a New York Civic Corps member working at a charter school called Achievement First whose sole mission is to provide an alternative process for education to close the achievement gap in low-income communities. The knowledge and experience that I’ve gained working at the charter school equipped me well enough to be a Student Academic Associate at New York Cares. New York Cares is the premier volunteer management organization in New York City, which uses a team-based volunteering model to help meet the pressing needs of the city through partnerships with profit and non-profit organizations and agencies.
This past year, I was able to start three new programs outlined in our VISTA Assignment Description (VAD) in the schools that was selected in New York Cares School Success Initiative. The School Success Initiative is an intensive partnership with schools in low-income communities that allows us to develop and implement programs that specifically meet the needs of the school and community. For example, I started an ESL project at one of partnered elementary school PS 20 Q, whose student body comprised of Mandarin speaking families, for students aimed to, enhanced their English proficiency and improved their self-confidence. In fact, I was able to recruit a team leader for this project who used to be an ESL student and wanted to support this program. Secondly, I started two new programs at PS 196 K aimed to support elementary students in understanding and producing quality homework. All of these programs are free of charge to the schools and this aspect enables the school to improve student academic performance without worrying about funding. Lastly, teachers and students truly enjoy these programs, especially the students who enjoy the one on one attention that they receive from our volunteers.
Honestly, I did not plan to become a New York Civic Corp nor an AmeriCorps VISTA member. However, I realize that no matter the profession that we choose to do, we always will be working with or for other people. I often forget the importance of people around me. I firmly believe that if we all work towards improving the lives of others we will be able to create better opportunities and a thriving society that works for the benefit of all people and not for some people. In this process, I believe that you become someone beyond the scope of your own imaginations and limitations. Education does not only reside in the classroom, people are not one dimensional and helping people is a multi-dimensional process that is not fixated on one profession or capabilities. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work with New York Cares to build upon and validate that level of thinking. A Day in the Life of being an AmeriCorps VISTA!
New York Cares
Hello my name is April Terrell from the bluff city known as Memphis, Tennessee and I am a DOJ VISTA serving with the Urban Youth Initiative under HandsOn Schools, and my area of service is the Frayser Youth Council and the Mayor’s Youth Social Media Team under Memphis Gun Down.
Boy, Boy, Boy does time go by fast. It feels just like yesterday that I met a special group of about fifteen 8th-12th graders in the Frayser community looking at me with wondering eyes as to what I could bring to the table. Since then we have grown into the Frayser Youth Council with 22 student volunteers servicing the under-served Frayser community youth through service learning projects, outreach, and community forums.
Who would have thought just 9 months ago that being a VISTA would be so rewarding. Earning the right to be heard by youth is not an easy task because there is an element of trust that has to be built. However, once that trust has been earned and you have their attention it’s up to you to be a beacon of light to them and make them feel that their voice is important as well.
Since I’ve earned the right to be heard we have led projects that provided in-need families with food and supplies, participated in GenerationOn’ s What Will You Bring to the Table? service project with the Frayser Youth Council’s “Packs with Snacks”, participated in youth panel discussions, and we have members that serve with the Mayor’s Youth Social Media team under the Memphis Gun Down initiative that aims at reducing youth gun violence. The social media team is special because young people are reaching other young people through social media outlets by promoting positive messages and letting them know to “put the gun down.”
I have seen so much growth in these young people in that they know their voice and their opinions matter and there are those that want to hear from them, because if you really want to know how to reduce youth violence, then talk to the youth. They are at a place now where they want more for themselves and their community, and this would not have been possible without the help and support from an excellent group of adults ranging from community residents, community organizations, and government officials that have made an effort to make these young people know that they’re important.
And that is why being a VISTA is so rewarding because those group of young people known as the Frayser Youth Council know that they have a voice and a place in this world. This is only the beginning!!!!
Urban Youth Initiative
U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customer, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.
As an Immigration Services Officer, you will support the adjudication process by adjudicating cases, conducting security checks, managing correspondence, providing internal and external customer support, conducting interviews, and ensuring program quality assurance. Your duties will include:
• Independently researching, interpreting and analyzing an extensive spectrum of sources including pertinent sections of the law and regulations, operating instructions, references and guidance contained in legislative history, precedent decisions, state and local laws, international treaties and other legal references to embrace the correct course of action.
• Granting or denying applications and petitions for immigration benefits based on electronic or paper applications/petitions.
• Processing applications and petitions using available electronic systems through verification of any number of established data points to make adjudicative decisions and/or determine appropriate level of adjudicative review, and update databases with appropriate information and decisions.
• Conducting security checks in accordance with all applicable DHS/USCIS laws and policies.
• Providing direct and continuing assistance to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel and officials of other Federal agencies in identifying individuals who pose a threat to national/public security.
• Interviewing applicants and petitioners to elicit statements and assess credibility, and analyze information gained to identify facts and considerations that form the basis for the determination as to the applicant’s eligibility for specific benefits sought.
To apply, please submit the following information:
Resume, cover letter, Academic Transcript and Description, and certification of noncompetitive status to: Lisa Stone, Lisa.Stone@dhs.gov / 802-527-4823
Position Opens: Monday, June 10, 2013 ; Closes: Friday, June 21, 2013
U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services is hiring this position for different levels (GS-5/7/9). The positions would be located in Vermont at either of the two facilities: St. Albans or Essex Junction, Vermont
GS-5: You qualify at the GS-5 level if you possess three years of progressively responsible experience, one year of which was equivalent to the GS-4 level or above. This experience must demonstrate that you have the ability to:
• Analyze problems to identify significant factors, gather pertinent data, and recognize solutions; plan and organize work; communicate effectively orally and in writing; and deal effectively with others in person-to-person situations. Such experience may have been gained in administrative, professional, technical, investigative, or other responsible work.
• Experience in substantive and relevant secretarial, clerical, or other responsible work is qualifying if it provided evidence of the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to perform the duties of this position. Experience of a general clerical nature (typing, filing, routine procedural processing, maintaining records, or other non-specialized tasks) is not creditable.
GS-7: You qualify at the GS-7 level if you possess one (1) year of specialized experience, equivalent to at least the GS-5 level in the Federal government, which has equipped you with the skills needed to successfully perform the duties of the position. These include:
• Performing preliminary examinations of applications/petitions for immigration benefits.
• Ensuring required supporting documentation is included.
• Applying immigration laws, policies and procedures.
GS-9: You qualify at the GS-9 level if you possess one year of specialized, equivalent to at least the GS-7 level in the Federal government, which has equipped you with the skills needed to perform successfully the duties of the position. These include:
• Interviewing individuals applying for immigration benefits that include examining and analyzing documents received for authenticity.
• Researching and analyzing appropriate information.
• Interpreting and applying immigration laws, policies and procedures.
GS-5: You may substitute successful completion of a Bachelor’s degree or a full 4-year course of study in any field leading to a Bachelor’s degree for the experience required at the GS-5 grade level. This education must have been obtained from an accredited college or university. One year of full-time undergraduate study is defined as 30 semester or 45 quarter hours.
GS-7: You may substitute successful completion of one year of fulltime graduate education for the experience required at the GS-7 level. This education must have been obtained from an accredited college or university and demonstrate the skills necessary to do the work of the position. A course of study in the natural or social sciences, engineering, or military science is qualifying. Check with your school to determine how many credit hours comprise a year of graduate education. If that information is not available, use 18 semester or 27 quarter hours.
You may also substitute superior academic achievement for the experience required at the GS-7 level. You must have completed the requirements for a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale, class standing in the upper third of a graduating class or major subdivision, or membership in a national scholastic honor society.
GS-9: You may substitute a Master’s degree or 2 full years of graduate education leading to such a degree in any field or a J.D. or L.L.B. degree for experience required at the GS-9 grade level. Such education must have been obtained in an accredited college or university and demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to do the work of this position. Check with your school to determine how many credit hours comprise two years of graduate education. If that information is not available, use 36 semester or 54 quarter hours.
COMBINING QUALIFYING EXPERIENCE AND EDUCATION
If you do not qualify based on experience or education alone, you may be able to qualify based on a combination of your experience and education. Follow the directions below in order to convert each to a percentage, and then add the percentages together to see if they total 100 percent. To determine your percentage of qualifying experience, you must divide your total number of months of qualifying experience by the required number of months of experience. The GS-5 level requires 36 months, and the GS-7 level requires 12 months of qualifying experience. To calculate your percentage of undergraduate education, divide your number of undergraduate semester hours by 120 or the number of quarter hours by 180. For GS-7, divide the number of graduate semester hours by 18, graduate quarter hours by 27, or by the school’s definition of one year of graduate study. Finally, add your percentages of education and experience. The two percentages must total at least 100 percent for you to qualify under the combination of experience and education.
Coming into my VISTA year, I wholeheartedly knew that starting a pilot program in a Title I school would be no easy walk on the beach. Prior to becoming a VISTA, I had spent 5 years working in several schools throughout the district, including a few Title I schools. From that experience, I figured that keeping students engaged was a relatively easy task, but that it may have been easier to have lunch with the President than to actually get a majority of parents involved. Now, almost 8 months in, I see that I have been correct in certain aspects, but I have also learned that Albemarle Road (the school we currently work with) is different.
While working in various schools, I learned that family involvement differed according to the socioeconomic background of the families represented at the school. Functions at schools that were mostly comprised of middle class families, 9 times out of 10, they would reach capacity. This was far cry from the turnouts at schools that were mostly made up of families with a lower socioeconomic status; where filling the first two rows of an auditorium would have been a success. Sure, there are many reasons for the disparities, such as work schedules and transportation. However, that does not change the fact that parental involvement in education is equally important for all students
Considering the horribly low outcomes that I’ve witnessed at other Title I schools, our turnout for Family Nights at Albemarle Road Elementary have been rather impressive. We have averaged about 120 family members each night. Though, it is somewhat low compared to the 1200 students they have, it is a success for a first year program. More importantly, there are about 15 families that attend consistently, and seem to be getting a great deal out of the programs offered. This led me to wonder the difference between Albemarle Road and other Title I schools that I have worked with. After further observation, I found the missing link- community.
The 1200 students and families at Albemarle Road are not just numbers in a book, they are part of a school that views them as extended families. Upon entering the school, families are greeted with smiles and staff ready to help direct them. In addition, the school offers many programs, such as Muffins for Mom/Doughnuts with Dad, Y Readers, Coffee with the Principal, & Target Pantry Night (where families receive free groceries), to involve parents and meet their basic needs. Therefore, they feel welcomed and are more inclined to participate in extracurricular school activities.
704.333.7471 Ext. 104
At Pre-Service Orientation, I realized that although I would be focusing on community engagement like many of my VISTA peers, my VISTA assignment was unique in that I would be targeting a very specific group in my outreach: Latino youth. And while I have experience working within the Latino community, my project would require more background knowledge and research to gain a really good understanding of the baseline.
That being said, for the past six months, I have been researching the Latino community in an effort to better understand the engagement and participation of Latinos in the Year Up program. The Year Up program seeks to close the Opportunity Divide by providing young urban adults with the skills, experience and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. .My main goal was to figure out where Latino youth are living in Chicago, what they are doing, and what some barriers might be that could prevent them from applying for or participating in the Year Up program.
Looking back on those six months, I have done a lot of research. I have looked at data, compiled statistics, and observed a number of processes that are already in place at Year Up, including outreach campaigns, admissions interviews, open house events, and more. Needless to say, I have uncovered some very interesting trends and statistics that will inform Year Up practices moving forward.
But beyond the statistics, one of the most important things I have learned throughout my research and my experience at Year Up is the true meaning of cultural competence. I have always been interested in working with diverse populations, especially Latinos, but I always worried that I wouldn’t be as effective at doing the work, since I don’t identify as Latina myself. I worried that taking on the role of an ally would create a barrier between myself and the individuals I was working with.
Now I understand that while it may be easier to find common ground with someone if you share the same background, it is not necessary when creating and maintaining relationships with people. The more important factor is that you are aware of how your own culture, beliefs, and values shape you as an individual, and what biases you may have as a result of those things.
That being said, I feel that my work within the Latino community can dissolve stereotypes that one must be Latino to understand and work effectively with Latinos. Like any racial/ethnic group, the Latino culture doesn’t define all Latino individuals. While there are cultural considerations to take into account when working within the Latino community, overall, in any ethnic group, every individual is different, and it is important to remember that.
So remember VISTAs: Be aware, be honest, be authentic, and never be afraid to bring your unique perspective to the table!
Year Up – Chicago
Jamie is currently serving at United Way Lake County Reading Success in Gurnee, Illinois. Jamie is currently pursuing a graduate degree in social work from the University of Southern California and someday hopes to continue her work in helping children and families in impoverished communities.
I have read so many profound blogs about the various projects my fellow VISTA’s are working on that I wanted to also touch on a subject that was equally as important. “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself” Tolstoy. At PSO Atlanta, I considered myself to have a pretty decent understanding of poverty however it wasn’t until I began my work with HandsOn Academic Success at United Way of Lake County’s Reading Success program, that I was able to take a more in depth look at the issues surrounding poverty and education.
A little over two years ago, I switched majors and focused my undergrad degree on social work. At the time, I felt subject to typical stereotypes and generalizations of those in need. “If they would only work harder, or everyone has the same opportunities in life” little did I know in a few years how completely different my outlook would change. I am writing this out of fear that I will come across as selfish since I am spending more time talking about myself than the program that I am associated with. I believe all of us feel we are making a difference in our communities, which is amazing but I wanted to touch on something more meaningful and share the impact this year has made on me and most importantly my family.
I have had writers block these past few weeks and have struggled with the “meat” of what to write about. Typically we are taught to write what we know about, what I know about is the military lifestyle. Although, I am the only one in my family to vow a year of service within my community to combat literacy and poverty, my family has served right along with me. Being a VISTA at United Way in Waukegan, has allowed me and my family to experience a new culture. As part of the military, our family doesn’t typically become stakeholders outside of the gates in which we live because our stay is only temporary. However, in just that past few months my families has spent more time in the area of which I serve, then we ever have at any of the places we have been stationed. Being affiliated with AmeriCorps and United Way has done more for mine and my families life than I could have ever imagined and I am forever in service to both organizations.
United Way of Lake County | Gurnee, IL
Direct: 847.775.1013 | Main: 847.775.1000
Bio: My name is Emily Phillips and I am an AmeriCorps VISTA for HandsOn and Repair the World in Detroit, Michigan. I recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelors of Science. I love working with kids and I am interested in education reform.
After a robust democratic voting process, the Bagley Book Brigade decided on “Cougar’s Corner” (the cougar being their school mascot) for the name of their student school newspaper. Over the past six months of being an AmeriCorps VISTA I have had the opportunity to work in a multitude of schools in the Detroit area. Bagley Elementary is a Detroit Public school located in Northwest Detroit in the old Jewish neighborhood. Although the school is one of the most organized schools in Detroit I have had the opportunity to work in, the staff inquired about the possibility of enrichment programs to give students a challenge after the school day.
How perfect would it be if the fourth and fifth graders could be the leaders of their school and write articles about what they were passionate about for the school to see? So that is what happened. Throughout this year of service my VISTA colleague and I have teamed up with the administration at Bagley Elementary and partners in the community to create a curriculum for an Elementary School newspaper. One of the most rewarding aspects of the program is listening to the ideas generated in the classroom for the articles during after school hours. Even after a long day at school the students have so much to say and are so excited about getting their voice out to their school community. With one edition of the “Cougar’s Corner” completed the students are itching to write articles about summer reading, gender roles in the kitchen, dance and art opportunities in the city and much more.
The process of building capacity for the program and finding a volunteer base willing to commit to coming to Bagley twice a week for four hours a week has been a struggle. We have luckily recruited volunteers from the Wayne State Community, the Metro Detroit community and a few siblings of our newspaper club students that are interested in the afterschool program to help run the enrichment program. It is also difficult to think about the sustainability of the program, as I would only hope that the success of this program would continue after I leave my role as an AmeriCorps VISTA.
Beyond building the curriculum for this particular program I have had the opportunity to experience the educational landscape in Detroit in various schools in the city. I have seen the good, the ugly, and the frustrating. I am currently working in schools that are under the Education Achievement System (EAA) for being the lowest five percent of performing schools in the city. The EAA schools are under the control of the emergency manager and the topic of education is continuously debated. I have witnessed decisions that have negatively affected the students. I have specifically seen a school rearrange the classroom by levels in the middle of the school year multiple times as teachers have been assigned different classrooms upwards of four times between when the students arrive in September and the middle of the year. I have always been invested in making sure youth are getting the proper education. As an AmeriCorps VISTA I am continuing to delve deeper into the educational landscape in Detroit to gain a more truthful and holistic understanding of the system. As I give my time to working on literacy programs in the city, I am fortunate to also receive an education on the school systems in the city of Detroit.
Repair the World