2011 University of Cincinnati Ohio Campus Compact VISTA Report
Impact Report Fran Larkin University of Cincinnati Center for Community Engagement This past year has been my second term of service through an AmeriCorps program, last year I served in an underperforming school in Columbus, and this experience gave me a good foundation for the work I’ve been charged with as a VISTA. By spending a year in an underserved school, I learned first hand how much of an impact a positive role model can have on a child who is struggling. More importantly I learned how intense of an impact simply spending time in an underserved urban school, or with a child living in poverty can have on a volunteer To give context to this discussion, I want to make clear what I mean when I say I’m the Ohio Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA serving through the Center for Community Engagement. In1963, President John F. Kennedy envisioned a national service corps “to help provide urgently needed services in urban and rural poverty areas.” Less than two years later, Lyndon Johnson realized Kennedys dream by launching the “War on Poverty.” Johnson welcomed the first group of 20 VISTA volunteers saying, “Your pay will be low; the conditions of your labor often will be difficult. But you will have the satisfaction of leading a great national effort and you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their fellow man.” With the signing of the National Community Service Trust Act in 1993, Bill Clinton expanded national service to create AmeriCorps. The programs merged to create AmeriCorps VISTA. Throughout the decades, VISTA evolved to respond to local problems and the changing face of poverty. Today, under Obama, VISTA is larger, stronger, and more vital than it has ever been. Its 6,500 members—who serve at 1,200 projects nationwide—continue to address the root causes of poverty. They are developing new programs, raising funds, helping manage projects, and otherwise building the capacity of nonprofit organizations to become sustainable and helping families to break the cycle of poverty. Ohio Campus Compact, or OCC, is a statewide non-‐profit coalition of 47 college and university presidents and their campuses working to promote and develop the civic purposes of higher education. OCC believes Ohio colleges and universities to be centers of civic engagement and renewal where all learning, teaching, and scholarship advance the public good and prepare students for active citizenship and democratic participation. OCC Strives to provide statewide leadership in mobilizing resources, services, and partnerships that strengthen Ohio colleges and universities’ capacity
to educate students for civic and social responsibility and to improve community life. The Center for Community Engagement, or CCE, strives to connect campus and the community through service. The CCE makes an impact by empowering students to create positive change in their community now, and develop a sense of civic duty that will last a lifetime. As a VISTA, I am charged with alleviating poverty. As an agent of the CCE, my work has focused on three specific social and cultural dynamics that directly affect the lives of those in poverty: Education, College Access, Homelessness The work I am able to do is magnified only through strong partnerships with community advocates like yourselves, and local non-‐profit collaborators. Coming into the CCE, I was blessed with established partnerships and collaborations, so my goal was not only to sustain those partner relationships, but the strengthen them. As I mentioned earlier, before I began as a VISTA I spent a year working in a poor, marginalized community in a neighborhood school in Columbus. I was always aware that poverty existed in our local communities but I didn’t have any idea what it looked like. Drawing from my own experience, I am convinced that if a volunteer who does not have a first hand experience of our neighbors living in poverty is exposed to the state of education, and the social and cultural dynamics surrounding young people living in poverty—they will be intensely impacted. That is why one of the keys to my approach of fighting poverty is exposing young people, at a critical stage in their own development, to the realities of poverty that surround them. My goal is that this exposure inspires volunteers to further action, and a lifetime of fighting poverty. This is not to say I think every student that volunteers through the CCE should become a social worker, or give up their career path to fight poverty (although I do think they should all be a a VISTA for a year!), but I believe that their first hand knowledge of poverty will inspire them, no matter what field they are in, to do their part to create change. The capacity of the CCE is something you’ll hear me mention throughout my report. The CCE is a small, but mighty. While we leverage collaboration and partnership to make the most of our resources, the reality is that there are two staff people charged with Community Engagement for this entire University. This is a monumental task, and as a VISTA I am proud to lend a hand and increase the number of students the CCE can serve. The ultimate goal of collaboration, exposure,
and capacity building is to change outcomes. To change outcomes for the UC students involved in community engagement: to instill a sense of civic duty in them, and open their eyes to the value of volunteer service. To change the outcomes for community members living in poverty: to lift them up, and empower them to lift those around them up as well. Major Projects: 1. Community Service Fair, 2. Alternative Spring Break, 3. Zoo-‐Mates, 4. Bearcat Buddies. 1. The Community Service Fair was my first major project as a VISTA, and it was quite an undertaking. I started my term of service on August 1st, and immediately got to work on the community service fair, which took place September 20. The Community Service Fair is just what you might expect: it’s a chance for non-‐profit partners to set up a table, and recruit interested students to volunteer for their cause. It was held in Tangemen University Center (TUC) on the 3rd and 4th floors. The Community Service Fair is a welcome week event open to all students, but targeted at incoming students with a Cincinnatus scholarship. The Cincinnatus scholarship is an innovative and distinguished award, that among other other things, requires a scholar to complete 30 hours of community service throughout the course of an academic year in order to renew their scholarship for the following year. While the Community Service Fair is a stand alone event open to all, it is built in to the larger “Cincinnatus Kick-‐Off” during which Cincinnatus scholars had the option of attending one of two morning “kick off” sessions where they learned about the requirements of maintaining their scholarship, most importantly the service component. During the kick off these outstanding students were addressed by the Director of the CCE, Kathy Dick, about the resources and opportunities available to them through the CCE. The Cincinnatus students at the kick off also heard from past members of the Zoo-‐Mates mentoring program, and many of the students, many more than the program can accommodate rushed over during the service fair to sign up—illustrating another capacity issue. Over 1,100 students benefitted from the opportunity to meet and network with local non-‐profits, and consider the vast range of different ways they could give back to their community. See the graph at the end of this report. In addition to the Community Partners and student groups listed above, the CCE was well represented
at the fair itself—hosting 3 tables, one to introduce the CCE, and one each for Zoo-‐Mates and Bearcat Buddies. 2. Alternative Spring Breaks are a way for service minded students to make the most of their time out of class, and give back to those in need. I hadn’t anticipated participating in an Alternative Spring Break trip this year, but I’m so glad I did. I as asked by Jessica King from the University Honors program to help facilitate an alternative spring break trip, and I was immediately on board. I wanted to highlight the Alternative Spring Break I took part in, because it is a clear cut case of capacity building. There was more demand from students to serve than Jessica could accommodate alone, and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to make sure that more of the students who wanted to spend their spring break serving those in need had that chance. The reality is that the Honors program had over 20 students signed up to participate in the Alternative Spring Break, and even more who were interested. But they needed another person to facilitate the trip. We worked doing housing rehabilitation and construction. Our home base, simple cabins in the woods constructed by previous volunteers was located in Flat Gap, Eastern Kentucky. The service sites were scattered across the surrounding region of rural Appalachian Kentucky. This Alternative Spring Break was made possible by a partnership with the Christian Appalachian Project, which hosts an annual event known as “WorkFest.” WorkFest is a three week long volunteer surge that spans most college and university spring breaks. We helped during the third week of work fest, and while UC was well represented, there were 6 other colleges and Universities lending a hand as well. This was an eye opening experience for many students who never would have imagined the types of third world conditions which exist in our own country and region. It was a great experience, and I learned a number of construction techniques I hadn’t known before. Housing rehab is great because it’s extremely rewarding to have a physical manifestation of your service. While my service was fun and meaningful, the important outcome for me is that by driving a 15 passenger van full of UC students, I was effectively able to double the number of students involved in the Alternative Spring break, who chose to spend their time in service to those in need. 3. Zoo-‐Mates was en established program years before I ever arrived at the CCE. My challenge was to uphold the level of success for which the program is known. So what is Zoo-‐Mates? Zoo-‐Mates is an innovative mentoring program that pairs 30 UC students with 30 children experiencing homelessness for a year mentoring and fun. The catalyst for its creation was the mere idea that the CCE wanted to tap into one of Cincinnati’s gems—the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. As a result, the CCE reached out to the Zoo, somewhat unsure of what a
meaningful partnership might look like, and what it might entail. After many meetings, brainstorms, and discussion: The Zoo-‐Mates Mentoring program was born. It was almost out of thin air, a little serendipitous, and an organic realization of a missing link between the UC and its neighbor, the Zoo. The initial Zoo-‐Mates partnership was created by the CCE in partnership with the Cincinnati Zoo and soon after a non-‐profit embedded in the Cincinnati Public Schools, Project Connect stepped in. Project Connect serves families experiencing homelessness in the Cincinnati Public School District, and they are the key to the sustained success of the program. Initially the program involved monthly mentoring activities with UC mentors and children experiencing homelessness. UC volunteer-‐student-‐mentors demanded more contact with their students, and Zoo-‐Mates evolved to include mentoring outings every other week. This still wasn’t enough for the passionate UC mentors, and the demanded more. Finally the program took the form it is in now as a weekly engagement between mentors and mentees. Generally speaking, we visit the Zoo, UC, and the children’s school an a rotating basis. The great thing about Zoo-‐Mates is the partnership, it couldn’t happen with all three partners working together effectively and efficiently. So how does Zoo-‐Mates work? The Zoo plans wonderful events whenever we use their space. Project connect coordinates the mentee side of thing: they secure transportation for the students to the Zoo, UC or other sites, and they are charged with the daunting task of dealing with parents, getting waivers signed, providing snacks, etc…UC coordinates the mentor side of things: as the VISTA, I personally recruited, interviewed, selected and trained 30 UC mentors. On a weekly basis, I coordinated the UC volunteers, arranging carpools, disseminating information, and making sure mentors are present and on time. When events are held at UC, the CCE is responsible for planning the programming. So what’s the impact? Students, especially those in underperforming schools with high rates of homelessness (like the schools Zoo-‐Mates serves) need positive role models. They often don’t find them in their everyday lives, so having someone to be a positive influence on them is intrinsically a good thing. In practical terms, one goal of the Zoo-‐Mates program is to ensure students and families know they have the right to remain at ONE school for an entire academic year. As mentioned, on average children experiencing homelessness change schools 7-‐8 times PER YEAR. In the past, Zoo-‐Mates have begged their parents to stay at their school because if they went to another school, they wouldn’t be able to participate in Zoo-‐Mates. Realistically, Zoo-‐Mates is a vehicle through
which Project Connect can better serve homeless families in the Cincinnati Public School District. The mentors, UC volunteers, see a reality that many of them never knew existed. They use their experience to inform the rest of their lives—no matter what their career path may be, they will graduate with a unique perspective of homelessness. They see first hand some of the symptoms of the cycle of poverty, and having a special relationship with someone whose circumstances are impoverished can inspire them to take action, and seek institutional change in their community. Sometimes, the mentors will choose to continue their mentoring relationship with the students, which can be really powerful and turn into a long-‐term, transformative relationship. While the key to the Success of Zoo-‐Mates are the three major partner, UC, the Zoo and Project Connect, the program is always evolving and adding new layers of partnerships. This year we were blessed with new partnerships, including Prairie Inc., Starfire U., and Fidelity Investments to name a few. Additionally, over $2,700 was raised for Zoo-‐Mates by the Proudly Pennies campaign. Zoo-‐Mates served 1643 hours, and participated in events from October 2010 to May 2011. 4. In the spring of 2010, students from the College of Allied Health Sciences helped get the Bearcat Buddies tutoring program off the ground. A year later Bearcat Buddies is a signature program of the UC Center for Community Engagement, and includes students from all areas of study; from Graphic Design to Biomedical Engineering. In less than a year, the program has grown exponentially thanks to students who are passionate about giving back to their community as academic mentors and role models. Bearcat Buddies works because we make it easy to serve. Through my work as a VISTA, in collaboration with Project GRAD I was able to remove the barriers that typically stand in the way of volunteers enriching the lives of Cincinnati Public School students. This means providing transportation: I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve logged driving a 12 passenger van to and from campus, full of tutors, ready to serve. We bring training to campus, and give practical training on-‐site to all the volunteers, so they are prepare to make a difference. We handle necessary background checks, and provide ongoing support to our tutors. By ongoing support I don’t mean checking in once a quarter, I mean being there for and with the tutors to make sure they are able to make the most of their limited time with the students. The success of Bearcat Buddies is largely due to a collaboration with Project GRAD. Project GRAD is a non-‐profit agency whose mission is to see that all students graduate from high school and are prepared to succeed in college and career. While I coordinated the UC tutors, Project GRAD is there to provide support in the schools.
Academic Mentors do more than just tutoring, the provide a positive role model, are a natural bridge to college access, and take a genuine interest in the academic development of a student.. Most recently, in the spring of 2011, Bearcat Buddies were providing 164 weekly volunteer tutoring sessions for UC students in four of Cincinnati’s lowest performing public schools. Each tutoring session included interaction with multiple students: while most experiences matched one tutor with 2 – 4 students for an hour, many tutors worked with two students individually for a half-‐hour each. One special group of tutors provided whole-‐class support to and entire classroom for an hour per week. During the month of April, a group of dedicated tutors worked with 1 – 3 students from 9:00am – 12:00pm each Saturday to prepare them for the Ohio Achievement Assessment in May. Totals: 215 students were active participants in Bearcat Buddies during the 2010-‐2011 academic year. 4,941 service hours were provided by Bearcat Buddies to Ethel M. Taylor Academy, Hays-‐Porter School, Rees E. Price Academy, and Roll Hill School during the 2010-‐2011 academic year. 1,369 hours of community service were performed in April alone by Bearcat Buddies. Bearcat Buddies have impacted well over 350 Cincinnati Public Schools students who truly need the extra help. Bearcat Buddies work with students in 3rd -‐ 8th grades, during the school day and serve as much needed academic mentors and role models for young people in our community. Bearcat Buddies not only work with their students on reading and math concepts, but they breathe life into the college dream for many young people in Cincinnati, and inspire future Bearcats. Recent cuts within Cincinnati Public Schools have resulted in reductions that include the loss of 158 teaches, 33 central office employees, and 17 additional school-‐based workers. While these reductions are needed to overcome more than $45 million in state and federal funding cuts and a $20 million dollar increase in non-‐discretionary district costs, it is the youth of our community who ultimately suffer. In light of these cuts, UC students have taken it upon themselves to fill the ever-‐increasing need for community support to close the achievement gap for students of our local public schools. Most importantly, the UC students who participate in Bearcat Buddies get a unique opportunity to experience first hand what education in a marginalized community can be; at its best and at its worst. These students use tutoring sessions as a window into the community, and the reality of modern urban education that is overlooked by many. No matter what career path they pursue after graduation Bearcat Buddies will use their time spent in struggling schools and communities to inform their perspective.
The Schools: between 86% and 96% of the the students at Bearcat Buddies schools live at or below the poverty level, each school is within 3.5 miles from UC Bearcat Buddies illustrates the overwhelming interest students have for engaging their community through University supported programming. The exponential growth of Bearcat Buddies is a model that can be used to articulate that the CCE’s capacity is the limiting factor in the growth of programming—not student interest. The program grew from 66 tutors in the Spring of 2010 to 160 tutors in the Spring of 2011.