Tuesday, May 12, 2015

VISTA 50th Celebration

It is officially warm out and I couldn't be happier about it! I have several fun things to report since my last post. I thought I would start with a picture of some of our very own PACC*VISTAs who represented us at the 50th Anniversary of VISTA event in Philadelphia on April 24th. 

I sat on the planning committee for this along with Evalyn Gleason and Riccardo Purita. I'd like to give them a big shout out here for all of the time and energy they put into what was an incredibly successful event!

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend because of a destination wedding that I was attending in the Dominican Republic. So, while I was very sad to miss the event, I was really happy to be staring at sunsets like this one for a few days.

Thankfully Evalyn stepped up to the task of documenting the event! Please find a great synopsis of the 50th Celebration from her, along with some fun pictures below!

VISTA 50th Celebration:
VISTA turned 50 and PACC VISTA turned out to celebrate the accomplishments that have been made in the fight against poverty. Last Friday, Philadelphia hosted a national solutions summit to celebrate the work that VISTAs have done in the Philadelphia region throughout the history of the organization. Speakers ranged from talking about their work in Urban Gardens and fights food deserts while others discussed the importance of raising college bound children. Over all, it was a wildly successful event that saw a good turn out and a wonderful “meeting of the minds.”

A couple of members from PACC VISTA had a hand in planning the event since October. They worked hard to secure speakers, write articles and fundraise. The Philadelphia Social Innovations journal was a co-sponsor of the event and we had a number of PACC VISTAs featured in the journal with pieces they wrote about their projects.

The reception that followed the summit was a huge hit! It was complete with wine, beer and an extensive cheese platter (always appropriate when Sarah G is involved with an event). Andrew Jackson School in South Philly has a small rock band (think School of Rock) that played at the reception. They did an awesome job and it was adorable to see small middle school-ers playing guitars bigger than them. President Obama taped a piece that thanked AmeriCorp VISTA members for their hard work throughout the years and highlighted the achievements that we were making in the fight against poverty.

It was great to have such great PACC representation both through their work and their presence at the event. It further proves that we are supportive of one another and work to highlight each other’s achievements and that we are all working extremely hard to ensure that our projects are successful.

Happy 50th VISTA!

PACC*VISTAs Getting Published:
Now for a bit of a bragging moment. There are only 21 PACC*VISTAs in our 14-15 cohort but they are a mighty crew. Six of them were just published in the Social Innovations Journal. One-third or 6 of the 18 featured Social Innovations Articles for the Spring 2015 Issue of the Social Innovations Journal were written by PACC*VISTAs!! 

Read all of their extraordinary articles here:
Atlantic Region National Service Conference:
Last week I attended the Atlantic Region National Service Training in Hartford, CT. It was an interesting three days spent with other Program Directors of National/State AmeriCorps programs, SeniorCorps programs, and VISTA programs, along with State Commission and CNCS staff. Many big names appeared at this conference including Wendy Spencer, the CEO for the Corporation for National and Community Service. Wendy came with a couple of big announcements. One of which was that as of  May 3, 2015, the ban on VISTAs holding outside employment had been lifted. I know this is a really big deal for many of our current and future VISTAs and host site institutions and we were excited to find out collectively at this event. I was able to snap a picture of Wendy getting ready to announce the new policy and then the slide with the big news on it. To find out more about this new policy, click this link: New VISTA Outside Employment Policies and Procedures
The girl that happened to be in this picture does not seem to understand the level of excitement that comes with this announcement.
Wilkes' Veterans Career and Education Boot Camp:
Here's a piece from Emily McGaha about what sounds like an incredibly successful event she helped to make a reality:

The Boot Camp went well. I had 20 business/community agencies and 6 local colleges/universities in attendance yesterday. I was able to reach out to veterans, employers, and spouses and inform them of benefits and services that are available to them. One veteran was very excited to attend. They learned a lot from the agencies that were in attendance and was willing to relocate for any hiring position. Overall I feel all who were in attendance to yesterday's Boot Camp walked away with new information and networking connections. I met with an individual from a local college and we plan on meeting over the summer to discuss what I have done for INVEST. She feels that after further discussion she can take some of my ideas and find ways to apply them to fit her schools needs.  

The Veterans Career and Education Boot Camp was a wonderful opportunity for veterans, community, colleges/universities and local agencies to come together. Everyone in attendance learned a variety of topics to assist the veteran population. I had the opportunity to discuss with everyone their thoughts and how I could approve the Boot Camp for next year. Overall I'm glad for everyone who attended and walked away with new ideas and connections on how we can assist our veterans. I would like to thank Kelly L for helping out with the Boot Camp and the support throughout the planning process. Ashley and Lauren too for their wonderful encouraging support at the Boot Camp. The support was greatly appreciated. Here's to next years Boot Camp. Cheers!

Interesting Articles and Videos to Consider:
Finally for this post, I have included some relevant articles and videos that I've been reading/watching and thinking about a lot over the past few weeks. Find the article, videos, and radio segments below!

West Virginia Public Radio (WV), April 18, 2015
In honor of National Service Week and the 50th Anniversary of VISTA, this week we're looking back to the stories
of some of the first VISTA volunteers who came to West Virginia. And we’ll catch a sneak peek from a new documentary about former U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, who was himself a young volunteer who came to work in West Virginia during the 1960s. “And I kept a diary every day which I didn’t read for 50 years, it was sort of like a sacred document to me. In reading that, I realized how much I grew, how I changed, how much they did, the people of Emmons, to make me who I believe I am.”

Ted Talk: How We're Priming Some Kids for College --and Others for Prison
In the United States, two institutions guide teenagers on the journey to adulthood: college and prison. Sociologist Alice Goffman spent six years in a troubled Philadelphia neighborhood and saw first-hand how teenagers of African-American and Latino backgrounds are funneled down the path to prison — sometimes starting with relatively minor infractions. In an impassioned talk she asks, “Why are we offering only handcuffs and jail time?”

The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever:
NPR hand-picked over 300 addresses going back to 1774. Find all of them here: 300 Best Commencement Speeches

Philly Breakdancing Family Perform on SEPTAA family of breakdancers in Philadelphia that find hope in performing. The father explains that “If you see your child doing something positive...and they love doing it, inspire them to do better.”

Hope you enjoy the rest of your week! 

Friday, April 17, 2015

PACC's Spring Retreat

What better way to start this post off than with a picture from our VISTA Spring Retreat. Quite the Photogenic Group!

I can't believe that the last time I sat down to write a blog entry, the ground was covered in snow. Now, the buds are starting to sprout on the trees and despite all of the pessimism that this unusually cold winter brought out in me, it seems as though Spring might finally be upon us. 

Spring is my favorite time of year, when folks that have been burrowed all winter in their mole holes start to arise in droves. The city is bustling with energy and the colors seem so vibrant after living in a limited pallet of color all winter. An early morning walk can provide the opportunity for a cotton candy sky like this one which occurred on the cusp of winter's transformation into Spring. All in all, it is a time of blossoms and reemerging life, which I find to be invigorating every year.

There are so many things to report on, it is hard to know where to start. I will go ahead and touch on the retreat first and then will go into a couple of impressive VISTA accomplishments.

This retreat was a blast! Despite the very dreary weather, it was foggy and drizzly and we literally did not see any sunshine for three days, the location and the facilities seemed to be a hit overall. This retreat was set at Bryn Mawr Mountain Retreat Center in Honesdale, PA. The location is remote and we were able to book the entire retreat center to ourselves, which gave us tons of space to spread out and explore. Here's an aerial view of the setting:

The weather, the isolated setting, and the amount of woods and space dedicated to our mere group of 22 seemed like the makings of a horror movie that thankfully never came to fruition. Though I hear that there was a pretty elaborate game that the VISTAs came up with about how the horror movie would have played out. Anyway, all in all Bryn Mawr Mountain exceeded my expectations. The VISTAs, per usual, brought their energy, enthusiasm, and investment and helped to make the retreat rejuvenating and successful.

We started with a "Show and Tell" of items VISTAs brought in representing their greatest success or lesson learned this year. VISTAs brought in everything from their work telephones, to business cards, to manuals they had created, to coasters.

Then we did Teach-Ins, which involved each group preparing a 20 minute workshop for the rest of the group. Here are the leaders of each of those groups and what they presented on. I also got a few shots from the presentations:

  • Kelly-Volunteer Mobilization
  • Evalyn- Networking and how to increase visibility & fundraising
  • Riccardo-Group Coordination of an Event
  • Ana- The Science of Learning

In case this isn't clear from the picture, this is your brain!

Here's Grant explaining how understanding your brain impacts understanding how you learn
Time to mobilize some volunteers!
We played a game that was like networking Clue
Then it was on to Professional Competencies. For homework, prior to the retreat, the VISTAs had to consider how they demonstrate each of the competencies below and how they would like to develop each of these competences. Here's a list of the ones they had to consider: Accountability, Adaptability, Clear Communication, Initiative, Managing Resources, Organization/Project Management, Problem Solving, Service Orientation, Technology/Specialized Knowledge, Valuing Diversity, Working Collaboratively

There was also a great deal consuming tasty food. I've included some of the menu as a nice way to remember the deliciousness of the retreat feast:

Thursday was packed with productive, reflective activities that were aimed to consider where VISTAs are at now, what they need to accomplish in the final 3 months of their service term, and finally what they'd like to do during "Life After VISTA." Here are some of the things we touched on:

Below is a picture of our VISTAs practicing their elevator speeches to each other. I think "elevator speech" is an exceedingly strange term. I get it, an elevator gives you a finite amount of time, confined with a group of people, but, for me an elevator is far from the ideal setting to hear about someone's life, goals, passions, etc. What is the likelihood of meeting your ideal employer on an elevator? Have you camped out on said elevator in their designated office building in order to create a chance meeting? Have you brought snacks? Do you stand the whole time? Do people start to get suspicious? So many unanswered questions, but I do know it's important to be able to pitch yourself quickly.

Then, VISTAs got into inner and outer circles and had to answer question they were asked about their VISTA experiences to the person standing across from them. The outer circle rotated. The room buzzed with talking but, as I said at the retreat, the noisiness of it all seemed appropriate. It's hard to focus in or make sense of your VISTA year within all of the commotion of the present.

In the evening we did a Clearness Committee, which is basically a Quaker Communal Approach To Discernment. It challenges a lot of things that seem intuitive to many of us: asking questions because we're curious, giving advice, filling silences with noise, being on a tight schedule, and allowing space for uncertainty. I have found it to be an incredibly therapeutic and meaningful process in my life and was very happy to bring it to this group of VISTAs who are already so introspective, collaborative, and willing to question and learn.

Then on Friday, the VISTAs filmed some pretty stellar videos that we'll be turning into movies and showing at the Summer Retreat and PSO. As well as for PACC promotional purposes. Here's just a bit of a preview to get you excited for more to come!

All in all it was a great retreat. It did not turn into a scary movie, everyone left well-fed, we got some time in Honesdale, and most importantly, everyone had some quality time with each other.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Conferences, Trainings, and Lots of Snow!

It's officially March, though you wouldn't know it from the bunches of snow that fell yesterday and left my balcony looking like this:

My snow day took an unexpected turn when on my stroll back from a local sandwich shop, I realized that my keys were no longer in my pocket and I was locked out of my house. A coffee shop day full of cards ensued and while it was certainly not the productive day of work and snow gazing that I anticipated, it turned out to be an unexpected silly day of simple pleasures that reminded me of this Agatha Christie quote: "I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing."

If we've learned anything from trending events this week, it is that the unexpected or impossible can happen. Badgers can experience joyrides on the backs of woodpeckers and Spring will eventually be coming again.

This week, I wanted to highlight a couple of the exciting things that have happened both with PACC and with our VISTAs. One of our VISTAs attended a great conference in California and another put together a really successful event with several community partners.

PACC's Supervisor Orientation:
Last Thursday, PACC hosted our 15-16 Supervisors' Orientation. It was great to put faces to all of the names of our new host sites and to see all of our returning supervisors. We had 27 supervisors and 8 campus/community partners in attendance representing our 27 host sites for next year. Having read through all of the applications thoroughly, I have to say that I am just so impressed and excited by the scope of focus areas for these projects and the potential impact that VISTAs will make at each of them. Below you can see the breakdown of Focus Areas for next year and a map of where our 15-16 Host Sites will be located.

The first part of the day was just for new supervisors. We have 12 "Year 1" projects beginning in July 2015. We wanted to ensure that these supervisors had some time to learn about the Foundations and expectations of PACC and CNCS, along with the roles of PACC, Host Site Supervisors, and VISTAs. Some parts were a little dry but we really tried to cover as much information as we could on the dedication, commitment, and energy it takes to be a PACC*VISTA Host Site and how it's totally worth it! Once the returning supervisors arrived, the real fun began! We talked more about terms, conditions, and benefits of VISTAs as well as the next steps in making their VISTA project a reality, including recruiting and hiring a VISTA. And between slides, there were several opportunities to binge eat cinnamon rolls and drink copious amounts of coffee.
Next up for host sites...Recruitment!
This slide helps to really lay out the PACC*VISTA recruitment process
The "Personal Effectiveness Competencies" were intended to assist supervisors in considering what competencies or skill-sets will be important for the VISTA as they consider candidates 
All of the methods host sites can use to recruit candidates to serve as PACC*VISTAs
VISTA Panel:
A panel of current PACC*VISTAs did a stellar job sharing their experiences with regard to balancing supervisor and community partner expectations, understanding what it is like to be in a new role and sometimes new community, wanting opportunities for formal and informal professional development, and navigating life on an AmeriCorps*VISTA living allowance. Each of these VISTAs brought a unique perspective from their experience and the ways in which they are supported at their host sites. This session allowed for supervisors to gain a better grasp of the variety of ways in which they can most effectively host an AmeriCorps*VISTA and make their experience unique, impactful, and well-supported. 

The panel wasn't quite as intense as this
Their answers were more carefully considered , complicated, and eloquent than straight 10's
And they refrained from singing...
But, they did a wonderful job and really gave our supervisors some helpful insight into how to make the VISTA experience a positive one. 

Polarity Management:
The Polarity Management Training was the training activity that I was most excited to try. While we did it after lunch, when there was a bit of an afternoon "I just ate a lot" lull in the room, I think overall, it went really well and is definitely something we'll use at trainings in the future.

Here are some of the polarities supervisors tried to work through in their groups

Impact Conference:

What is the IMPACT Conference?
According to their website, "The IMPACT Conference is historically the largest annual conference focused on the civic engagement of college students in community service, service-learning, community-based research, advocacy and other forms of social action. Building on the rich 28-year tradition of the COOL Conference and the Idealist Campus Conference, IMPACT is the one time during the year when students, administrators, faculty, AmeriCorps members and VISTAs, and nonprofit professionals gather together to learn and share effective practices, improve personal skills and organizational strategies, discover opportunities and resources, exchange stories, be inspired and challenged to sustain our efforts."

Here's a piece that Tyreek Renwick from Philadelphia University wrote about the event:
        So, where do I begin with my experience with the IMPACT Conference? First, it was great to get away from the frigid cold of Philadelphia and into the mild weather of LA where IMPACT was hosted this year. Seeing Loyola Marymount, who hosted IMPACT, and its sprawling campus full of palm trees and open land was an amazing sight to behold. Secondly, seeing other like-minded individuals who all share the same common goal of community service is quite inspiring. Lastly, seeing all the other student leaders from different universities around the US was awesome!
        I got a chance to sit in on a few student led workshops and most, if not all, of the presentations were so well done and informative even from an administrator viewpoint. During every workshop everyone is collaborating and trying to share with each other to better their programs while assisting with others’ programs as well. I have yet to see such a grand scale of collaboration in my years working in Community Service. With that being said I personally enjoyed the small moments I shared with other Campus Compact VISTAs and other students. One moment in particular stood out to me after the conference:
       So, on the flight back to Philadelphia (which was awful by the way) I sat next to a student who was from UPenn and I remembered him because we attended the same workshop that Saturday. I can’t remember his name but I blame that on my awful memory but I digress. We shared a very small connection on the flight back. We talked about both of our programs the struggles, accomplishments, and the overall joys of being in this field of work. We also went over different after college options (which I have some knowledge of) and what he may be interesting in doing. When the flight was over we bid our farewells and went along our different paths. It may have been a small connection but it was meaningful one nonetheless.

       Overall, the IMPACT showed me a lot of different people, ideas, and viewpoints that I can use to further myself and only solidified my passion for the work that I do and hope to continue doing in my future.

13th and Union Community Fair 
Jasmine Clarke at Albright University explained: "I planned and organized the 13th and Union Community Fair this past Wednesday and was able to get 5 in-kind donations. There were 23 organizations in total that attended. There also was coverage on it in the Reading Eagle this Friday." It sounds like it was a really successful day for Jasmine, Albright University, and the community partners who attended!
PACC*VISTA, Jasmine Clarke, who planned and organized the event
Here's an newspaper article written about the event!
And last but not least, pizza! I posted this video on Facebook, but I think it deserves another shout-out on the blog. Rosa's is a pizza place in Philadelphia that has really embraced the idea of "Paying It Forward," an idea that is integral to our mission and the work we do.

“Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition“Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition.” 
-President Barack Obama

-President Barack Obama