Monday, August 31, 2009

New VISTA Training: Day One

In June, we featured a story by Cyndel Taylor, an AmeriCorps*VISTA member traveling from Indiana to complete a year of service with GHCC's Adult Literacy & ESOL Program. Today marked the first day of training for GHCC's new VISTA team, and we caught up with Cyndel again to see how she felt about her arrival:

When I wrote for this blog a few months ago, I was only imagining what life as a VISTA at GHCC would bring as I moved from Indiana to begin a new life in Maryland. Now that I've been through four days of a pre-service orientation (PSO) and one day of on-the-job training, I'm beginning to get a grasp on what working here will be like.

It all began in Philadelphia last week when I met the other GHCC VISTAs. They were all nice, and we bonded over the PSO week of rigorous trainings and conversations about poverty and service. Though I was able to meet VISTAs from all over the country, I was most excited on the day we talked about our own job descriptions and projects. I started to realize even more how excited I was to work with adults in the literacy program.

Yesterday, the VISTAs met again to begin training for our actual jobs. The staff began with a welcome breakfast and it seems like everyone is very nice and will be available if we have any problems during the next few weeks. Nonetheless, I am still most excited about the job I will start after training is over. We took a tour through some of the neighborhoods that GHCC works with and it made me determined to start work that would benefit the people who live in those neighborhoods. I also found my office and received my business cards, which makes the whole process seem much more real to me. Soon, I will be doing my part as a Special Literacy Projects VISTA!

Friday, August 28, 2009

40th Birthday Fundraiser Tickets Now Available

This week we did a soft launch of online ticket sales for our 40th birthday party in October. Want to make sure you get your tickets before anyone else? Check out our 40th Birthday page for more information about the event and to buy your ticket.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

How My VISTA Leader Year Began

AmeriCorps*VISTA Leaders have completed 1-2 years of VISTA service and chosen to take on a leadership role in national service. They recruit, support, and mentor the team of VISTA members at their site.

Written by K. Breathett, GHCC's VISTA Leader.

I believe in destiny and following my dreams to where they may lead, so when a fellow VISTA told me about a VISTA Leader opening at Greater Homewood Community Corporation (GHCC), I jumped at the chance. I had heard a lot about GHCC and their work with the community, and I decided to shadow the current VISTA Leader to learn more. I found out GHCC has many parts all working together to meet a common goal. This was a wonderful example of what a functioning organization should look like, but it was also a challenge to try to understand how each body part functioned.

I am a perfectionist, but not all the time. I don’t know if you can be a sometime perfectionist, but that is how I would classify myself: a sometime perfectionist who is hardest on herself. Average is not something that I strive for – I strive to get results. The only problem is, sometimes I believe those results should be generated overnight.

Being a perfectionist who expects a lot from herself, I almost drove myself batty during my first week here, attempting to figure out who does what and how they fit into this moving structure. After all, I am the one who will be looked to for answers. Every time I found an answer to one question, a new question would pop up. The wonderful body of GHCC seemed to become intensely complex. I began to panic. It wasn’t that I didn’t know where to find the answers; it was having to ask questions that made me worry. I know this logic seems backwards, but remember, I am a perfectionist who expects to know the answers to today yesterday. Unfortunately, yesterday was when the training for 12 new VISTAs was to be planned.

We have 12 new VISTAs coming into our organization and I, being new also, have to plan a significant training for them. I am relying cooperation from the VISTAs’ supervisors to plan and present something that will be helpful for the VISTAs as they begin their service. It has been eventful, but the only problem so far has been reminding me to double check all the plans to make sure that they fit together well.

It just took me six years to find out how I wanted to use my gifts. Not everyone can be a VISTA. It is a conscious life choice that we make. We decide to live on near poverty wages, we decide to work tirelessly for little to no recognition, we decide to stay and work at whatever issue there may be until we finish. But I am learning that being a perfectionist means that at times I have to be gentle with myself. It is hard trying to learn everything about an organization and having so many people rely on me for answers. The great thing is that there are so many splendid people at GHCC who are willing to take the time out to answer my questions and to remind me to breathe. I am excited to meet 12 new personalities in a few weeks. I am grateful that I will get to witness their growth as individuals. We will get a chance to learn together. No one starts out in the world already knowing how to read – they must first learn letters, and then words.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Experience Corps Begins a New Year!

Today, Experience Corps Team Leaders returned to Baltimore City Public Schools to meet with teachers and assess needs for the upcoming school year. And you thought it was still summer, didn't you? Team Leaders are Experience Corps members who have been promoted to coordinate the volunteer team in their school. In addition to providing general support for the volunteers, Team Leaders interface with the staff and administration to maintain a positive relationship between the Program and the school.

Above all, Team Leaders help to ensure a win-win relationship between the school staff, students, and volunteers. Thanks in no small part to their hard work, volunteers like Sandra Davis at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School have many success stories to tell about their experience. Here, Davis reflects on her first year as an Experience Corps member and looks forward to returning this year:

When I first walked into Ms. Jirsa's kindergarten class back in January 2009, I saw 16 pairs of eyes looking up at me. I thought, "oh my! What have I gotten myself into?" But as the days and weeks passed, it was very rewarding. This is how it went:

You see, coming to a school three days a week and working side by side with a pleasant and wonderful teacher helped a lot. It opened my eyes early on to how important it is to bond with your teacher and students. It creates a most fulfilling atmosphere for teaching and learning. It also stabilizes good behavior and enhances the student's learning abilities in the classroom. What makes it exciting and rewarding is to see those little eyes gleaming with joy when you tell them, "job well done."

The best feeling I get out of this program is knowing most students will move on to the next grade well instructed and knowledgeable. And I, as a volunteer, will still have constructive knowledge to give the next group of students in the fall.

If the above situation does not exist in the classroom, the the program is not effective. Our presence and expertise is definitely needed in our schools.

Thank you Experience Corps and Margaret Brent administrators for filling in the void after retirement!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Save the Date!

Save the date for GHCC's big 40th birthday bash! Click on the image to view a larger version.

Save the Date!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Remembering Jack Yates

It is with heavy hearts that Greater Homewood Community Corporation (GHCC) acknowledges the death of a Board Member, John Richard “Jack” Yates. Our deepest sympathies and prayers go out to his family in this difficult time.

“Jack’s death in a cycling accident is a tragic loss for all citizens of Baltimore,” said Randy Knepper, GHCC’s board president. He worked tirelessly as an advocate for children and youth and, until his recent return to graduate school, as secretary to the board of GHCC where he served since March 2004.

Jack had the heart of a social worker and worked closely with at-risk youth before he retired from the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. He also served as a mentor and facilitator for Baraka School alumni with the Educational Opportunities Program (EOP) at Lake Clifton High School from 2001-2008. With funding from the Abell Foundation (where he acted as an Educational Consultant), he counseled disadvantaged young men from Baltimore City Public Schools when they returned from two years in a Kenyan boarding school to begin high school.

During this seven-year period, Jack worked tirelessly to help nearly all of the 89 Baraka alumni graduate from high school. While less than 35% of at-risk males typically graduate from City Schools, 55 Baraka alumni (62%) earned a high school diploma or GED thanks in part to Jack’s support.

EOP founder, Robert Bonnell, described Jack as “extraordinary with those youngsters” – something current Director, Shelton Skinner, echoes, remembering him as “fantastic.” Skinner points to Jack’s focused commitment, recalling how he often drove his students to and from almost every high school in Baltimore.

Closer to home, Jack served on GHCC’s Youth Development Initiative board committee and helped lead our efforts to offer quality opportunities for children and youth. Much like his colleagues here at GHCC, Jack believed that all children deserve a quality education, a vibrant neighborhood, and the access to enrichment programs that build skills for academic success.

GHCC will honor Jack’s memory by hosting our second annual cycling Tour de Greater Homewood this fall, with all of its proceeds designated to GHCC’s Youth Programs.

Velocipede Bike Project, in conjunction with Ghost Bikes – an international biking organization dedicated to memorializing fallen bicyclists – will remember Jack by placing a white bicycle with a small plaque on the corners of Lafayette and Maryland this Sunday, August 9th, at 6:00pm. All are welcome to attend.

Friends are invited to call at Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home Inc., 6500 York Rd., on Monday, August 10th from 7-9 p.m. The service will be on Tuesday, August 11th at 1:30 p.m.

Photo copyright Baltimore Sun.