Hands-On Teaching

I spent my mornings this week working with the Ceramics Camp down in our sunlit studio. It was really fun to get to work with the campers and help them with their projects in less hectic setting than that of Camp Creativity. Instead of trying to manage 12 talking preteens between six or seven classes a day, I was able to sit down and work on projects with them side-by-side. This environment made it a lot easier to help them dive deeper into the arts and get to know them better. 

One particular camper had a bit of trouble with problem solving. I could tell that she wasn’t confident in her abilities because she kept asking me how to do things, rather than experimenting and finding out on her own. At one point, she asked me how to cut out a rectangle from her clay. I was at a loss for words. It became a learning process for the both of us. While she was learning how to problem solve and build her finer motor skills with the clay, I was learning an important lesson in teaching: asking the camper questions to guide them helps them more than giving them simpler instructions. For example, when she tried to build a Barbie-sized table, it wouldn’t stand and she asked me how to fix it. So I asked her, “well, do you think it needs to be shorter, or wider, or have thicker legs?” and she was able to answer it on her own. (Spoiler alert: she did end up making a standing table, but then one of the legs fell off…) 

I loved getting to spend time with these young artists and get to know them as we worked on projects side by side. I learned how to problem solve with the students, rather than for them, and I learned how to teach a subject that I know very little about (ceramics). I even got to test out my skills on a pottery wheel for the first time! I made a perfect, ugly little coffee mug. This upcoming week, I’m looking forward to reorganizing the ceramics studio to clean up from camp and spend some quality time with the clear-coat glaze to finish off their projects.  

Ceramics Camp

Ceramics Camp tools laid out nice & neat on the table

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Week 7: The Importance of Storytelling

Throughout my time interviewing Cristo Rey community members for my oral history project, I am reminded of the power of storytelling. These interviews are mainly an hour of teachers, administrators, and board members sharing their authentic stories about Cristo Rey. I have questions prepared in case there is ever a lull or we need to refocus our conversation, but the captivating stories the interviewees share usually end up guiding our entire interview.

During a recent interview with Tom McAuliffe–the first ever Chair of the Board at Cristo Rey–we started talking about how special and powerful storytelling can be. Both of us shared our love for StoryCorps (which is currently stopped in Columbus right now!), and Tom also mentioned growing up with an impactful storytelling radio host named Studs Terkel to finding beauty in the stories told during A Prairie Home Companion. Radio shows like these allow listeners to dive into the lives of everyday people and experience the same joy, grief, pride, or whatever emotion the storyteller expresses. Both the listener and the speaker are able to connect and share a special moment, no matter how different their lives and experiences may be.

Tom’s comments on the power of storytelling were in the back of my mind during every interview this week, especially during two powerful interviews with our first Development Director and a remarkable Board Member who has passionately advocated for Cristo Rey students since our development stage. During these interviews, both participants were moved to tears when sharing their stories about the students at Cristo Rey. It was a captivating moment for me to sit in the room and share their love for Cristo Rey students, and I expect listeners to feel the same way due to the power of storytelling. No matter who the listener is, our oral history project will amplify the mission and vision of Cristo Rey. 

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Week 7: Stay Safe!

This week has been a relatively quiet one at the GIAC! I was here on Sunday working the front desk and welcoming visitors into the center, and I really enjoy these weekend afternoons interacting with community members and families! After my day off on Monday, I was looking forward to helping lead a few programs focused on conservation and invasive species this week, but they were all cancelled or rescheduled due to this nasty heat. This gave me a lot of time to work on other things, such as preparing for other programs and sending emails and making connections to folks who might be able to help us out on our environmental justice project. I also got to release another monarch butterfly, and we found a cute swallowtail caterpillar friend AND a monarch caterpillar egg to put in our enclosure so we can watch them grow! We think the monarch egg is from the butterfly we released last week, so it’s cool to see the circle of life in action.

As I sit here safe in my office with the A/C on, this heat wave is bringing deadly temperatures to people, communities, and wildlife all over the country this weekend. I can’t help but be reminded of the role privilege plays when we discuss climate change adaptation. I took a class on Environmental Citizenship last fall, and we talked about how the wealthy and privileged–who are responsible for the climate change that’s already taking place–will be able to run from the deadly disasters that the warming of our planet will bring. But in the attempt to adapt to climate change, more and more without such wealth and resources are being left behind. And the longer we wait to address that climate change is happening NOW, the more and more people will struggle with losing their homes, their resources, and their livelihoods. Not everyone has the privilege to say that climate change is something we’ll still be able to “reverse” within the next ten or twenty years–the loss of entire communities, species, and ways of life that has already happened can never be reversed.

So with that in mind, please stay safe–don’t exert yourself and take breaks if you have to be outside, drink plenty of water and electrolytes, and reach out to people who might need extra care this weekend!

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Much Ado About Case Managers

I have spent a majority of my time this week and last week drafting the findings from our phone interviews with Siemer-funded partners across the US. First off, the case workers and financial coaches on the ground are truly amazing people. They work tirelessly to help adults and children both inside and outside of their program. Without a formal background in working in social services or financial education, I assumed a lot of the work revolved around meeting with families and connecting them to local services. However, our phone calls and a short service we created showed us that case workers and financial coaches do so much more.

While the yellow bar in the graph above clear shows that direct service providers spend most of their time meeting one-on-one with families, they also spend a tone of time doing paper work, taking notes on families, and collecting data on their progress; recruiting new families and community outreach; screening and assessing new families; searching for services; managing and making service referrals for families; and referring community services to families that are not a good fit for Siemer’s programs. Their jobs require A LOT.

The exciting take away from these findings is that it gives the Siemer Institute valuable insight into what is a reasonable caseload per region. By understanding their weekly duties, the Siemer Institute can work within its network to meet the needs of their 50 partners. Simply put, the staff have a lot on their plate; they work hard to serve as many families as possible. The familiarity with the staff’s actual day-to-day realities gives Siemer the power to pinpoint opportunities for improvement and collaboration.

As for me, I have gained a deep appreciation for the work these service providers do. They are inspiring and I have received so much enjoyment in speaking with them. Case manager and coaches give me hope that helping individual families can enact wider-spread change.

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It was another week full of many different opportunities! As always, a lot of my time is spent on outreach; feeling myself become more confident in my abilities to get our information across to different groups is an exciting thing. I have discovered that being flexible in how we run outreach visits is essential to making sure the groups are really understanding what we are saying. When we work with larger groups, it is easy to set up stations and have the kids go where they want. However, many of the sites we visit like to split the kids up by age – this can be really helpful to us because we are able to change how we approach our presentation to ensure all of the kids can understand. We also visit summer lunch programs, which has never been the same! This week, I interacted with maybe 3 of the 15 children that decided to get lunch that day. When this happens, I still try to make sure that everyone gets a goody bag even if they do not want to play my games. I figure that at least getting our information to them, as well as giving them a new toothbrush, is better than nothing!

I also had a very interesting conversation with my supervisor about the growing number of Amish patients we are seeing; many Amish people have dentures at a very young age, and the lack of dental care can stem from cultural differences or lack of knowledge. While some areas with a high Amish population have safety net dental clinics, many do not; it will be interesting to see where our brainstorming takes us. Even visiting some sites that are far away once a year may be helpful for the dental health of people in need.

Yesterday, I got to be involved in a lunch about an upcoming Team Smiles lunch with a possible donor. Team Smiles is an organization that partners with professional sports teams, and since the Columbus Blue Jackets are already heavily involved with us, we are looking to be involved in the event in September. It was a great opportunity to be involved in the conversation about pros and cons of the event and funding the event. It also showed me that different perspectives are important, and we gained a lot of information we had not thought about before.

In the upcoming weeks, I am looking forward to continuing with marketing and social media, and looking into trying to contact Central Ohio School Nurses to get our information into schools. I am excited to keep getting our name out there so more kids can benefit from our services. I am also excited to continue looking into grant opportunities; researching this is helping me understand the grant process more.

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My First BLT

Yesterday, I was able to go to my first BLT training, which is BBBS code for “Big-Little Training”. If you are not familiar with the work of BBBS, they focus on one-to-one mentoring pairing caring adults with children in our community facing a variety of challenging life experiences. The “Bigs” and “Littles” are required to attend one of our monthly BLTs to focus on relationship building, but also to have the opportunity to talk to our staff one-on-one about any concerns or areas of growth present in the relationship. The hands-on experience and SEEING the relationships I’ve been helping recruit for throughout the past seven (or eight?) weeks was exactly what I needed this week.

When the matches were separated into the respective Big and Little rooms, the kids were a little bit on the shy side. They were uninterested in the planned activities, they were giggling while our staff was speaking, and they refused to participate. One child in particular had several outbursts and said several rude remarks to a member of our staff. My initial reaction was shock, and I was very taken aback by the comments from this young child. Overthinking the situation led me to wonder if a youth non-profit would be for me, is this something I would be able to handle?

Coming into work today, there was a debrief about the BLT. The behavior of this child was mentioned, as the staff all felt similarly shocked by his behavior. One of my colleagues explained that after talking to his Big one-on-one, she learned his parents are going through a divorce, with the only working parent losing their job, and their housing situation is extremely unstable and volatile.

Hearing this confirmed this was where I want to be, and this experience was much-needed for my personal mindset-check. The reason I want to be in this space is to defend the children that other people put down. To understand an outburst may be because that is the only way that child is seen at home, or he/she is experiencing a trauma with which they have no coping mechanisms to handle. Many teachers, friends, and community members in their life point to and pick out their poor manners, behavioral issues, and sudden outbursts, but no one tells or SHOWS them a better way. It is easy to look at a child acting out in a quiet room and label him/her as a “bad kid”. But in the words of Dumbledore himself, “Soon we must all face the choice between what is right, and what is easy.” We have to start viewing our kids holistically and asking ourselves not “How can we punish this behavior?” but “What is the source of this outburst and how can we help the child overcome this?”

BBBS works with kids like this every day to defend their potential. I truly believe that it only takes one caring adult to show a child their value and for them to believe it.

I don’t have photo releases for the kiddos I took pictures of at the BLT so enjoy this HP gif!

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Lessons on Fundraising

Yesterday was the day we’ve all been waiting and preparing for: the annual fundraising event. This year, SON Ministries took a risk and completely changed the format of the event. In previous years, the “Open Your Heart” fundraiser has been held at a golf club, where people came for a nice evening and dinner. This year, for the first time ever, SON Ministries decided to reconnect the fundraising to the goal by turning it into a larger version of the weekly children’s restaurants. From my perspective, this was a much more successful fundraiser, regardless of how much was raised.

At our last Columbus Foundation Fellows meeting, we talked about the methods of effective fundraising. Fundraising in non-profit work is essential and it must be done in a way that is effective, yet authentic. Personally, I never want to donate to anything unless I really know where it’s going and that it’s for a mission I truly support; I think it is the same for many people. Ruth Lomax, who spoke to my fellows cohort, said something that stuck with me: “you never have to actually ask for money if you just tell your story.” The more I thought about this, the more it became the most profound statement about fundraising I’ve ever heard. It also seemed much more realistic for me when thinking about my future career. Contrary to what my parents may believe, I hate asking for money. When Ruth said you never have to actually ask people for money, I breathed a huge internal sign of relief knowing that, if I ever was in a fundraising role, I may not have to outright ask for money (or not do so as much). The more you can tell your true and authentic story, the more people will connect to your mission. Their newfound passion for a cause will drive them to give more of their gifts, whether it be time or money, than if you try to simply impress people then ask for these gifts.

I believe this year’s fundraiser at SON Ministries was successful because it was modeled in a way that simply told the story of SON Ministries. By including children, the event guests got a taste of what camp is about and why SON Ministries’ mission is meaningful. The children blew everyone away with how well they handled a restaurant with over 200 customers and brought smiles to everyone’s faces. Through this fundraising event, people who maybe have never seen what SON Ministries does were able to take a peek into a day at summer camp and connect to a new mission.

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