Barringer High School ServiceWorks Capstone Project

serviceworkswithasmileBy:  LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

As a ServiceWorks AmeriCorps VISTA, I’ve often visualized my scholars as glowing embers; a tempered heat, reserved, uncertain and at times even uninterested, but you can still see a glow, however faint. Depending on their circumstances and perspective, some are also quite charred but it never bothered me because I understood the importance of time; of the trust and rapport needed in order for more free-flowing conversations. I knew that the flow, coupled with the realization that someone genuinely cared about what they had to say and about their thoughts on issues in their community could actually make a difference. “The embers will glow until they catch,” I once wrote. “And then there will be fire.”

“I’m tired of all the shootings,” yelled one student in the middle of a brainstorming session when they were trying very hard to finalize their Capstone Project. “Yeah, me too. It’s all over the place,” chimed in another. Other thoughts popped up here and there, but everything always came back to gun violence. Always. It’s a grave topic with an enormity that can be hard to grasp no less actually address, and it certainly showed on their faces at times but, “we’re not trying to cure cancer in a day,” I reminded them. “What can we do, here, now to make a difference even in just one person’s life?”

I don’t remember the exact moment, but I do know that the embers began to burn a little brighter. The heat intensified at the prospect of doing a school assembly; of having some type of discussion around gun violence that would be engaging and not just another adult droning on to students. There was a crackle of excitement when one suggested ordering bracelets that could be handed out to all of those in the audience with a message that would encapsulate the theme of the day: It Starts With a Smile – ServiceWorks, they all agreed.

There was plenty of ServiceWorks project planning and ServiceWorks project development in the interim, but I did my best to fan the flames when the idea of creating videos to highlight gun violence and its effects was thrown on the table. “You can absolutely do this,” I urged. “You just need to think it through.”

In the end, my ServiceWorks scholars created two impactful videos: one that depicted images of people in mourning and crime scenes of violence juxtaposed against gun violence statistics of their city. It also included voice overs of interviews with people of various ages discussing the problem. The second video was a brief, filmed dramatization of gun violence scenarios that the class acted out (see combined videos here: Barringer HS Capstone Video). Both videos preceded three former gang members who spoke with raw honesty about the dangers of gang life and alternate routes to take which can truly create different and better options (see small clip here: Barringer HS Capstone Speaker). The energy was one of quiet captivation. The 120 students in the audience (glowing embers in their own right) absorbed it all as they watched and listened to stories of pain and tragedy but also to the possibilities that stand behind better choices.

As a ServiceWorks VISTA, I absolutely loved watching my scholars literally see, firsthand, their Service actually Work; to see them eye the many students who felt compelled afterwards to approach our speakers to spend a little more time talking.   I was excited for them and truthfully, quite proud. I also saw what I already knew, and that is that embers do glow. Embers do catch so that there is fire. And fire, well — it spreads.

Take 5 With ServiceWorks – Barbara Allende

In the spirit of National Volunteer Week (#NVW2016), join us as we celebrate service. This week we will highlight volunteers who are Success Coaches supporting our ServiceWorks program in Newark. NJ. These inspiring individuals are paving the way and leading our Scholars to the onramps they need to lead a fulfilling life. ServiceWorks is a three-year, nationwide initiative that uses community engagement and volunteer service to help underserved youth and young adults develop the skills they need to prepare for college and careers. Jersey Cares is one of ten nationwide host sites for this initiative facilitated through a grant received by Points of Light and funded by Citi Foundation through their “Pathways to Progress, a three-year $50 million initiative to unlock economic opportunity for 100,000 low-income youth in 15 cities across the United States.” If you would like to learn more about joining this remarkable team of passionate volunteer leaders, please contact Thomas Dougherty.

Take 5 with a ServiceWorks

Barbara Allende - Jersey Cares - ServiceWorks - Success Coach - 2016Name

Barbara V. Allende

At which ServiceWorks site are you a volunteer?

Rutgers and Youth Build

How long have you been a ServiceWorks volunteer?

6 months

Why did you decide to volunteer with ServiceWorks?

I wanted to help first generation college students ease their transition from high school to college and provide guidance to them on navigating their new environment. When I was a college student I remember feeling overwhelmed and wishing I had someone to talk to that could relate.

In what ways have you seen Service Scholars grow and develop because of ServiceWorks?

I have 4 Scholars, and have developed different relationships with them. During our conversations I see how they have adjusted to college and work life and it’s been fun to watch how they blossom into adulthood. There have been growing pains for them all, but going through those pains is how they develop and grow. I’m really proud of all of them.

What has been your most memorable or inspiring moment as a ServiceWorks volunteer?

I had breakfast with one of my scholars, and during our conversation discovered we have many similarities. We were both very young mothers, we both spent time in foster care, we both had similar difficult periods of adversity in our childhood. And during our conversation we bonded. I looked and her and saw myself, and she looked at me and saw what she could become. I’m not a crier, but we both cried during that meeting and we have been close since.

How has being a ServiceWorks volunteer impacted you personally?

I have typically done ‘hands off’ volunteering; volunteering that didn’t require developing close relationships, like fundraising or coordinating groups to collect donations for the homeless, things like that. I am not a person that gets too close to people. I realize now that I have a lot to offer in a mentor relationship and that it’s OK to bond with people, because I can give guidance to someone who is experiencing the same adversities I did in my life. If I can help someone through young adulthood and give them advice to make their life a little easier, then it’s all worth it.

In three words or less, describe what it’s like to be a ServiceWorks volunteer.

Emotional. Hectic. Fulfilling.

AmeriCorps Navigator’s Log – Part III

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, today we continue a multi-part series entitled “The Navigator’s Log,” created by LaRhonda Boone, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Jersey Cares’ ServiceWorks program in Newark, NJ. ServiceWorks helps youth ages 16-24 to develop workplace skills through specialized training and to gain leadership experience by designing and implementing community service projects. You can learn more about ServiceWorks here. Service Works

Every volunteer’s story is unique, and while LaRhonda’s story, which is still being written, is her own, she provides us with insight into what it is, can be – and at times hopefully won’t often be – to be a volunteer.

Navigator’s Log Lovedate 309.2-15.9.41A

By: LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

Prosper.  That was his name.  I met him at our recent National Day of Service and he is the Service Scholar of one of our crew (VISTA) who works at another site within our borders.  There were other Service Scholars there but I remember him, his name.  He was typical in many ways for someone his age – silly (borderline goofy), comical (hilarious actually), and a hard worker (or hardly working) and yet, in some ways he served as a IMG_3770bit of an adhesive.

A quip or gesture here, a funny expression or impersonation there, was often enough to keep his fellow Scholars entertained and engaged while working.  Their camaraderie was evident and it reminded me of a team, of how it can be, how it should be.  Each fit of laughter, every raised voice or discussion about some commonality (like holding a bag of leaves and pulling weeds) were ultimately sealing a bond that will come in handy as they move forward.

No doubt they didn’t see it or understand it then and may never, but I did, and it made me smile.  I smiled for our crew because they are truly ServiceWorking it and I was happy for myself because despite not having Scholars yet, I caught a glimpse of what is to come.  Here for a moment and gone the next?  Perhaps, but even that is ok.  Prosper.  Love long and.

 

AmeriCorps Navigator’s Log – Part II

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, today we continue a multi-part series entitled “The Navigator’s Log,” created by LaRhonda Boone, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Jersey Cares’ ServiceWorks program in Newark, NJ. ServiceWorks helps youth ages 16-24 to develop workplace skills through specialized training and to gain leadership experience by designing and implementing community service projects. You can learn more about ServiceWorks here. Service Works

Every volunteer’s story is unique, and while LaRhonda’s story, which is still being written, is her own, she provides us with insight into what it is, can be – and at times hopefully won’t often be – to be a volunteer.

Navigator’s Log Lovedate 278.2-15.8.30B

By: LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

We are floating.  To where, I do not know.  We encountered what we thought to be scholar activity in the distance, but learned instead that the activity was atmospheric shifts causing matter to unfold unto itself.  What does that mean exactly?  We’ve yet to engage scholars because there was a collapse due to a breakdown of communication and accountability.  This person set “that” up, and that person ignored or forgot or puIMG_3770t off the “this,” and as such, we are here – floating.

The good news is that this setback wasn’t because of the crew of this massive ServiceWorks enterprise.  While floating, we’re continuing to observe (while offering help); prepare (knowing our start day will eventually come); and take notes (our Points of Light home station demands this.)

And I don’t dare assume this incident doesn’t take a toll.  The energy around finally beginning has faded.  The recruits we worked hard to obtain may go to another site for fear of their disengagement as we wait for this matter to be resolved.  It’s for the good of the team, of course, but still a hard pill to swallow.

So what does a Master Navigator do?  I’m learning to manage the unexpected.  I’m networking and making new partnerships in my quest for additional cohorts.  I am willing myself to not just accept a new reality, but embrace it.  I am willing myself.  I am willing myself.  I am willing…

AmeriCorps Navigator’s Log – Part I

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, today we begin a multi-part series entitled “The Navigator’s Log,” created by LaRhonda Boone, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Jersey Cares’ ServiceWorks program in Newark, NJ. ServiceWorks helps youth ages 16-24 to develop workplace skills through specialized training and to gain leadership experience by designing and implementing community service projects. You can learn more about ServiceWorks here. http://www.jerseycares.org/ServiceWorks

Every volunteer’s story is unique, and while LaRhonda’s story, which is still being written, is her own, she provides us with insight into what it is, can be – and at times hopefully won’t often be – to be a volunteer.

Navigator’s Log Lovedate 248.2-15.1.47A

By: LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

IMG_3770

LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

At a point in our Pre Service Orientation, I decided to stop trying. I stopped telling myself that I needed to question everything, understand everything, and be prepared for it all. “There’s no way”, I realized then, that I could know it all and even if they had told me everything (yes they tried), I wouldn’t have remembered it anyway (indeed I don’t). “Your task then”, I declared to myself, “is to become a Master Navigator.”

 We’ve been on this mission for 47 days and while we’ve yet to enter the true waters of full scholar-trainer-coach engagement, I find that what I’m most navigating, what I’m finding my way around and under, up and down, over and about is — myself.   

“Stay positive,” I say, to remind me of my ultimate goal, but that doesn’t mean I should ignore the rolling wave of ego that prevents me from seeing the amazing gifts others have to offer, or the crashing wave of stubbornness that wants to convince me my way is best. And there are other off-putting waves in this self that fight for attention: waves of judgment, frustration, angst, etc. but with every surge, the mighty wave of discovery pushes back. I’m seeing how humility makes way for empathy, how camaraderie slices through isolation, and how compassion swells purposefulness. I still have no idea what lies ahead, but a Master Navigator I strive to be, and it’s what pushes this self, this ship to stay the course.

 

 

City Spotlight: Plainfield

As a response to all of the amazing volunteer work being done across New Jersey, the Jersey Cares City Spotlight will showcase exceptional civic engagement weekly in a specific New Jersey community.

Plainfield is a city in Union County, New Jersey and has experienced exponential growth according to the United States Census. As of 2010, the city’s population increased to 49,808 – supposedly the highest ever recorded population in any decennial census! While Plainfield continues to grow in population, its citizens also grow in the number of places and ways they volunteer!

Last winter, Plainfield civic groups and businesses collected as many as 680 gently used and new coats and distributed them among four non-profit agencies through the Jersey Cares Coat Drive. Additionally, 183 children received holiday gifts through Frosty’s Friends, the Jersey Cares winter gift giving program. Nearly 80 corporate volunteers from Boston Consulting Group braved the chilly winter months and gave back over 300 hours to a Plainfield public middle school. These dedicated volunteers painted murals, planted flower pots, built four picnic tables and five bookshelves, totaling 308 hours of service that will benefit almost 750 students for years to come!

The warm spring temperatures brought even more eager volunteers to Plainfield! During the 16th Annual Jersey Cares Day, volunteers revitalized a Plainfield charter school by painting line games, walls and planter murals. Volunteers also gardened and assembled picnic tables, benches and bookshelves. This hard work totaled 326 hours of service and assisted about 750 children.

Not only is Plainfield dedicated to volunteering, but all Union County residents dedicate their time to others! Through the Volunteer Opportunity Calendar, Union County volunteers leverage their strengths to meet the needs of four non-profit agencies. On a weekly basis, you can find Jersey Cares volunteers socializing with seniors at Bingo Time in Berkeley Heights or sorting and packing food donations at Mobile Meals in Elizabeth and Marketplace in Hillside. Twice a month, our tech savvy volunteers teach computer skills to adults at Computer Essentials in Elizabeth.

Plainfield’s numbers have seen a steady increase in the recent years and we hope that along with more citizens comes even more enthusiasm for volunteering! For fun and exciting volunteer opportunities 365 days of the year, visit our website!