It's Better to Give and Receive
"One of the most satisfying experiences of this year was having the opportunity to connect Carol, a community member, with resources that enrich her life. Carol is a vivacious woman who is active with her local neighborhood association, Greater Four Corners, and she also volunteers her time to give free piano lessons to community members in the building where I serve.
Because she does so much for the Dorchester community, I was happy to be able to give back to her in some way. Lauren Anderson and I began a Spanish class in the community center where we serve with SCI because the center director had received requests from community members who wanted to learn Spanish to compete in the job market or to converse with their Spanish speaking friends. Carol was the first person to join the class and even though she struggled at the beginning, she’s become our best student, attending every single class. Through the class, Carol has learned to converse with her good friend Raymond, a native Spanish speaker, and she tells us that the class is the highlight of her day.
Through our relationship with Carol from the class, we recruited Carol to volunteer as a musician with Codman Square Health Center ‘s Black History Month celebration, and to volunteer as a greeter at the Codman Square Tech Center. Carol is an inspiration to me of how we as community members can improve our lives through social interaction and giving back to our communities, and she makes me proud to be part of an organization that works to foster social connections and connect community members with resources that can enriches people’s lives." - Lauren Ames
"Before I moved to Boston, I used to smile at people as I passed on the sidewalk. This was normal in my native St. Louis. I thought this was normal everywhere, but my simple gesture produced very strange reactions in my new home: a sudden fascination with foliage, trash, anything but eye contact; or an over-eager look that said, “Hey, baby, how you doing?” After a week, I gave up. After four years, I was ready to move back to a place where I felt people looked out for each other just a bit more.
So why am I still here?
Flash forward to a night just a few weeks ago. I am standing in an elementary school cafeteria – actually, standing is not the right word. I am surrounded by activity – I greet Zori’s mom and hand her a summer resource guide packet, congratulate first grader Jennixsa on the dance performance she has just completed, and check in to make sure the thirty organizations that have come to present information on summer programs have everything they need at their tables.
Suddenly I feel a tap on my arm and look down to see a young girl looking up at me with big eyes. “Excuse me,” she says, in an excited tone of voice, “I’m looking for the camp where you can swim? And dance? I had a piece of paper to give to my mom but I lost it and I really want to go but now I can’t remember which one it is.” After two months of researching summer programs to invite to this resource fair, I knew that she could be talking about almost any of the programs in the room. Swimming and dance are very popular with the under-12 set. “Which table did you get the paper from?” I ask. “Can you show me?” We start walking quickly past the rows of tables. Finally she stops at one and picks up a program schedule. “Here it is!” she says, relieved. Pointing to the schedule, she excitedly lists all the activities she wants to do, then runs off to give the flyer to her mom. Looking around, I see the scene repeated everywhere – parents talking with representatives from different summer programs, and kids pointing excitedly at posters and telling their parents everything they want to do this summer: hiking, ropes courses, tennis, sailing - and of course, swimming and dance.
These might seem like small things – saying hi to parents I know, helping a little girl find the summer program she wants to join – but collectively these small connections build up to a thriving community, which is where I find myself today. And that’s why I’m still here. Through my SCI AmeriCorps service position with DotWell and the Dorchester FAMILY School Initiative, I not only participate in this community, but help create it.
Like at this resource fair, for instance – many students like Zori and Jennixsa in our partner elementary schools don’t participate in any summer programs or camps. Without any enrichment opportunities over the summer, they come back to school in the fall at least a month behind where they finished in June, maybe more. This learning loss is at the root of the achievement gap that exists in many urban schools. Our resource fair was an opportunity to address this huge problem in a simple way –connecting families with opportunities to keep learning over the summer.
I don’t personally offer any assistance programs or run a summer camp – there are already many successful programs in Boston. Any impact I have comes from creating connections. Unfortunately in Dorchester and elsewhere, there are a lot of missed opportunities to connect – whether between two strangers on the street who don’t smile at each other, or between a child who needs help reading and the free tutoring services at the library. In my role I get to act as the connector, helping families and students by bridging those gaps and linking them with resources that help them succeed.
I am continually amazed by how eagerly families have welcomed me, a complete outsider in many ways, into their lives – and I didn’t have to move miles away to find this community, I just had to find some new ways to get involved. I’m glad to know there are organizations like DotWell and SCI that share my belief that we need to look out for our neighbors, and I’m so pleased to be a part of this effort. I’ve even started smiling at passers-by again - so if you see me out on the sidewalk, I hope you’ll return the favor!"- Laura Santel
SCI Leverages Community Talent to make Dorchester a Better Place
"One thing in particular our team is proud of is the story of Cornelia, a volutneer here at the Codman Square Tech Center. When we began, one huge need we recognized in our center was the lack of an organized Computer class that taught skills surrounding Word and Excel as well as the teaching how to construct a Resume. Cornelia, a woman with a Masters in Computer Programing, looking to serve the community while gaining experience, was matched up with this need, and has begun teaching a Computer class at a minimal cost to Dorchester residents. She has been teaching a class for the past 4 weeks [as of the start of November, 2009], twice a week, and has a committed group of 12 students. Cornelia is an ideal volunteer and great teacher, and has invested hours of her time to help the Dorchester community, while learning valuable skills and experience for herself." - Scotland Huber
SCI Brings Together Volunteers to Serve Lunches to Needy Children
One of our host site partners, the North Suburban YMCA, asked SCI if we could help recruit volunteers to serve lunches to needy children over the summer at a site close to a public housing development. Without a strong base of volunteers, the free lunch program could not be made available during this time of need.
Morgan Randall, serving as an SCI AmeriCorps member focused on Woburn volunteer recruitment, was charged with collaborating with the YMCA staff and the Boys & Girls Club of Woburn to recruit volunteers needed to be able to offer this service. This was toward the end of her service term, and she was able to build upon her experience over the year to recruit the 14 volunteers needed to offer the program to low-income children every weekday all summer—3,164 lunches were served thanks to these volunteers!
“I received an overwhelming response from the community wanting to volunteer for the program,” Morgan commented. “A great example of the power of volunteering to make a difference.”
This story shows the power of volunteers; as well as the power of collaboration. The YMCA, Boys & Girls Club and SCI all worked closely to ensure the program was able to be offered during this time of need, and many other local organizations including NuPath and the Rotary Club of Woburn also stepped up to help.
Our Youth Councils Prepare Students for the Future
One of our AmeriCorps members, Kevin McGravey, mentioned he'd been hearing several reports of former SCI Youth Council members who have attributed their success in college in part to the leadership experience they gained on the Youth Council. Sounds like this is an avenue we should think about for future impact evaluation. Meanwhile, this anecdote he relayed from a parent is compelling:
"My child was one of the first group of youth council members and just finished her second year of college. Her youth council experience gave her the skills she needed to succeed. When she was part of youth council I always thought it was a nice way for her to give back to the community but after a few years of youth council I noticed she was more independent, able to speak her mind and lead her peers. Those qualities have been so helpful for her inside and outside of the classroom."
Christine (Woburn Youth Council) delivered a speech at the Milford Youth Council kick-off press conference
“My fellow Youth Council members and I decided we wanted to address the issue of hunger in our area. During a Youth Adult Connections (YAC) session we heard from the local food pantry director that their shelves get nearly bare in the summer time, when fewer groups are running food drives. This seemed like a place we could step in and make difference. We reached out to specific neighborhoods where we knew our peers could help us achieve success. It was hard work to organize the drive, collect hundreds of cans and stock the pantry shelves, but it was great to come together with my fellow youth and the adults in the community to make a difference. It was amazing to see so many people in the Woburn community play a role in addressing the problem of hunger. Through our success I was able to understand how youth could not only solve an immediate problem, but influence social change among both our peers and adults.”
Meg Gambale's (2008-2009 SCI AmeriCorps Member) speech from SCI Social Capitalist Luncheon, April 1, 2009
“Veronica is a blur of motion. Each week she bounds into the teen center, begins planning the next Youth for Unity meeting, vents about problems at school, and then comes up with a range of ways to fix them. But Veronica didn’t exude all this positive energy when I first met her. As a 14 year old African American girl who had recently moved to the tight-knit town of Woburn. Veronica suddenly found herself to be an outsider. Initially uncomfortable in her new surroundings, Veronica felt it hard to make friends and find a place in her new school amongst the already formed friends and groups. Longing for community, she dove head-first into the Boys and Girls Club of Woburn, where its members have a keen sense of belonging and ownership.
Hoping to show everyone the importance of embracing our differences, Veronica came to me with an idea for starting a new group to encourage conversation on some big issues, including some she was confronting as she tried to fit into her new community. My role as a youth program coordinator is to support such youth initiated projects so together we worked to grow her program into Youth for Unity, a Boys and Girls Club of America program in which we examine diversity and work to increase its’ acceptance and appreciation.
I understood Veronica’s hunger for belonging… A year ago my father passed away. Although it was a time of extreme sadness, what I remember most was how the community came together to support my family. My family did not look like the others on the block. My mother was a nun for 15 years before she left the convent. My father was a confirmed bachelor, content to be the favorite Uncle Tony. Unable to have kids of their own they were foster parents to many before adopting my brother and sister, and then I surprised everyone with my arrival.
When my father died our community held us up. Neighbors in our small town of Farmingdale, NJ brought us dinner each night and helped us with the funeral. Friends from high school never left the house and friends from Boston College traveled hours to support us. Friends who have turned into family. It showed me that I belong and am where I am meant to be.
During this time a lot of things became clear. At one time I was going to be an elementary school teacher and find a classroom to call my own. Then I came across SCI. I was struck by the organization’s commitment to community. It reminded me of how my own community came together to support my mom, which made it easier for me to explore my own path. I am living proof of how community can save a family, and I believe that SCI’s mission is taking this to a new level.
It is individuals that make change. Veronica learned this in our Youth for Unity group. Unwilling to sit back unnoticed, she has worked with me to bring a greater understanding and diversity to Woburn. Each week a group of youth come together to discuss such things as race, prejudice, and discrimination. They talk about what racism and prejudice looks like to them and how they can encourage conversations about diversity outside of this group. Veronica chose not to sit back but to take active steps to better her adopted home and make it a great place for all in it. And while strengthening her adopted community, she found herself much more at home in Woburn.
Community has the power to change an individual’s life. I know this. It is people like Veronica and organizations like SCI who build the strong bonds we need so much in our communities. Thank you.”
“From India to Woburn”, as told by Morgan Randall (2008-2009 SCI AmeriCorps Member)
"Steven moved from India and became a new resident to Woburn, Massachusetts 6 months ago. He heard about Social Capital Inc. and the Holiday House Tour through a poster at the YMCA and volunteered to help at that event. Steven met his neighbors, developed friendships and even got to see his first snow that day. Woburn was a strange new place 6 months ago, Steven didn’t know his neighbors and didn’t feel like he was a part of the community. Now Steven has developed a network of friends, become a regular volunteer with SCI and is even starting to get used to the frigid Massachusetts winters."
“Snowblower Story” as told by David Crowley (SCI President)
“Last year, around the time of the first snowfall, a distant memory on this beautiful day, I got a call from someone from out of state. She was worried about her elderly father, living alone in Woburn and recovering from surgery. Knowing that her Dad had a stubborn streak, she was worried that he’d still try to shovel his own snow if he didn’t get some help! We posted this concern to our community website & our weekly eblast. Within 24 hours, I was contacted by Jim, one of the gentleman’s neighbors who read about this need. Though Jim was a bit sheepish that he had never met this neighbor in the years he had lived on the street, Jim was more than happy to use his snowblower to take care of his neighbors driveway now that he knew of this neighbor in need.
Whether it’s connecting neighbors like this or mobilizing citizens to vote, SCI applies technology for civic purposes. We are very excited about the potential of our web technology to be a powerful resource for weaving the social fabric of our neighborhoods and our communities.”
Alex DeGenova's (2007-2008 SCI AmeriCorps Member) Speech from the 2008 SCI Social Capitalist Luncheon April 9, 2008
"Good afternoon. My name is Alexandra DeGenova. I am a 23-year-old SCI AmeriCorps member serving in Lynn. Last October, I found myself standing in the middle of a banquet hall dance floor as the emcee of birthday party for a Puerto-Rican girl and her fifty closest family and friends. I entertained the crowd and did my best to remember all of the parts of this formal Latino ceremony. I had never been to a quinceañera before, and I wanted to show this family that they could trust such an important moment in their daughter’s life to me, an outsider to their culture, their community. I grew up in Marblehead, just five miles away from Lynn, but a world apart.
You may be wondering -- How did I end up as an emcee of this birthday party?
Before Marblehead, I lived in the suburbs of Washington, DC, and my friends were from everywhere: Bolivia, the UK, Korea, South Africa, and Greece. My mom was an immigrant herself, from a French, Russian and German family living in Morocco. When we moved to Marblehead when I was 11, it took awhile to get used to a community where so many of the families had lived in the same town for generations. What helped was my church , Our Lady, Star of the Sea. As a teen, I got involved in a series of Catholic youth service trips called Gospel Road. On one trip to the rural outskirts of Jackson, Mississippi, I worked on a team to help build a house and teach young children in a summer school program.
I feel fortunate to have been able to travel so far from home to help people in need. But I recognize now that volunteers from far away, who return home after a week or two, can only have a limited impact on the lives of people and communities.
What attracted me to SCI was its approach: neighbors helping one another. We improve communities from within. In Lynn, I build connections among youth and adults across diverse neighborhoods. As advisor to the Part of the Solution Youth Council at Girls Inc. of Lynn, I work with teenage members as they develop their leadership skills and realize opportunities to shape their city.
Jessica is one of two teen interns whom I have supervised at Girls Inc. of Lynn. As the oldest child in her family, Jessica is a seventeen year old, girl who is expected to take on much of the responsibility for the well-being of her three younger siblings. Her parents, originally from Puerto Rico, struggle to provide for their family. Her father has been unemployed for several months, and her mother is now pregnant with their fifth child. Within her extended family in Lynn, several male cousins are in gangs and have served jail time. Another teen cousin just had a baby, which is all too common. Last year, fifty-two girls were pregnant at Lynn English High School alone. Jessica frequently worries about her family’s struggles.
Yet, despite the challenges she faces at home, among her peers at Girls Inc., Jessica is a popular girl who loves to laugh, dance, sing and crack jokes. As I have worked with her to build her job and leadership skills, I have even seen Jessica develop into a more successful adult. She runs some of the meetings now. And she recruits new teens to the group. Jessica has been able to teach me a few things as well, including lessons on resilience, her Latino culture, and embracing foreigners. It was Jessica, who asked me if I would be the MC at her little sister’s Sweet 16 party, after all."
Dain Perry's (2008 SCI Idealist Award Winner) Speech from the 2008 SCI Social Capitalist Luncheon
April 9, 2008
"Thank you, Warren. And thank you for not making this a roast. You are a good friend.
Normally one would spend a few minutes at a time like this recognizing officials, and thanking those special people who have helped us along the way. Well, we have a short leash today. You all know who you are…thank you for coming, and thank you for your support!
The work of this remarkable organization, when we began six years ago, was counter-cultural. Building bridges, encouraging collaboration among community organizations, encouraging teens to become involved in and committed to their communities, all counter-cultural. While we are still very much on the cutting edge, there seems to be a ground swell building in this nation for exactly what we have been doing. It is indeed an exciting time.
Our communities, as Robert Putman detailed in his book, Bowling Alone, have lost much of the sense of community, the sense that we are all in this together, that important social fabric which is so vital for the health of a society. For years, as this loss has deepened, people have lamented it, have talked about it, but few have made an effort to really imaginatively do something about it. That is where SCI comes in.
The SCI program which most catches my imagination is the mini-grant program conducted by our Youth Councils. I have attended two dinners, hosted by the Boston Globe Foundation, where the Youth Council in Dorchester distributes grants, which are supported by funds from Sovereign Bank, to local youth groups, funding proposals which those groups developed. Imagine, a group of teens sending out RFP’s, evaluating the proposals, and deciding which proposals to fund and by how much. They are a mini charitable foundation. The energy and enthusiasm in the room at those dinners is wonderful to experience, the pride among the members of the Youth Council for the work they have done, and the pride of the grant recipients for the work they have been selected to do.
Building bridges, reconciliation and repair have been a major focus of my volunteer life for many years. It all seems to have prepared me for, and culminated in, the work which Constance and I are devoting ourselves to these days.
The documentary film, Traces of the Trade, mentioned in our biographies, deals with my family’s history of being descended from America’s foremost slave traders, what that history means for our family and what it means for the country today. It has been described as being a “real scab-ripper” of a film. I should mention, as a bit of self promotion, that Traces was selected to premier at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, and will be broadcast on PBS on June 24th.
As Constance and I go around the country showing Traces, and facilitating discussions afterward on race and racial reconciliation, we find people yearning to participate in the conversation. We strongly believe that it is through telling our stories, and listening to the stories of others, truly, sacredly listening to those stories, and honoring what we hear, that we are able to build bridges, that we are able to build trust, that we are able to build community, that we are able to heal.
Finally, I must say that doing this work together, with this remarkable life partner, has been a gift of grace. I recently read a piece which said, “They clearly set each other on fire to do really wonderful things in the world.” I immediately thought, wow, that’s us.
Thank you all for this singular and humbling honor, to be the first recipients of the SCI Idealist Award."
Constance Perry's (2008 SCI Idealist Award Winner) Speech from the 2008 SCI Social Capitalist Luncheon - April 9, 2008
"Thank you, Warren for the wonderful introduction. Thank you, family, friends and colleagues for taking the time to join us today. Thank you for the support you have given to us. And finally, thank you for supporting the important work of SCI. Dain and I are very grateful for the encouragement you have given to us over the years.
We are honored to have been chosen to be the recipients of the first annual SCI Idealist Award. We are both very humbled by the experience. Looking out across the room at all of you—quite frankly--- takes my breath away.
There is a common and consistent theme in the work Dain and I have been involved in, both individually and together. That work has, one way or the other, been about “building bridges”.
Bringing together stakeholders to work on how they might improve the quality of services and life in their community, or working with youth across diverse racial, economic and social backgrounds to learn about each other, and to recognize and further develop their leadership skills. Building bridges, that has been the work of SCI.
For the past six years, SCI has been a catalyst bringing diverse and broad base community members together, first in Wobun, then Dorchester and more recently Lynn --to talk, to listen, to learn, to plan and work together to achieve common goals, and recapture the sense of community that has been absent for so many years.
Dain and I, two people from diverse racial backgrounds---one a descendant of slave traders and the other a descendant of slaves, for the past four years, have traveled around the country using the documentary film Traces of the Trade to engage various communities---schools, places of worship, in the long overdue discussion of race and racial reconciliation."
I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given to do this most important work---work that is at the core of SCI, work that Dain and I consider to be the most important use of our time.
Before I close, I want to thank one other person. Thank you, Dain for your vision, energy and commitment. Thank you for being my partner.
Thank you, SCI for the honor. Now, it’s time to roll up our sleeves. There is still much to be done and many more bridges to build."
Carlotta Richardson (2007-2008 SCI AmeriCorps Member) on her experience with AmeriCorps:
"I have been in the cosmetology business for over 24 years. I have been the owner of three hair salons. After many years of the chemicals having physical effects on my hands, giving me dementias eczema and breathing problems, I had also had my last one bad business partner after another. I knew my season was over in the hair industry. I needed to track myself in a new job market. It had to be something I enjoyed doing as much as I had enjoyed doing hair for twenty years.
I was at a community social function and met a lady by the name of Kathy. After many conversations it was evident that we had some of the same social views about our community. We could remember how people were more connected within the community we remembered; we remembered the community organizations which helped us stay focused on our journey in life. We remembered the positive influence all of these things produced in our lives. Kathy was also at a place in her life for a career change. We decided to do something about it. Kathy saw an opportunity for employment and volunteering on the AmeriCorps website and we applied.
The challenge for me was the computer skills. The Technology and Outreach Coordinator’s description required advanced computer skills. The fear of not feeling that my computer skills were updated enough for the job to be well done was overwhelming. I had even considered maybe leaving AmeriCorps. Kathy encouraged me to stay and work the computer skills dilemma fear out.
Joao, one of the AmeriCorps members who had gone to Wenthworth Institute for Technology, shared his knowledge of computer skills. Joao helped to equip me with updated computer skills. He gave me an extensive computer course on a daily basis, while we completed the E-Blast each week and kept the website updated. My Site Supervisor Marisa Luse gave me lots of support as I walked through some of my computer fears.
Now that it is two months into the AmeriCorps experience, I can say that I approach the computer with somewhat of a confidence. I actually enjoy working on the computer on a daily basis. I enjoy the doors of access to information that it has opened for me. I know that these new computer skills that I have acquired through working with AmeriCorps will definitely be a great asset towards my future plans. Thanks to the civic engagement within the AmeriCorps office in Dorchester, I shout out thanks to all who helped me along this journey; you know who you are. This is another day in the inner city and the beat goes on and on. To overcome your fears is to continue your journey and fulfill your destiny."
By Carlotta Richardson, November 6 2007
Terrill Johnson on the SCI Dorchester Youth Council:
“The SCI Dorchester Youth Council is a group of teens making a difference in Dorchester. We as a council engage in the community in any way that we feel will be most effective. When an opportunity becomes available, we are there to lend a helping hand. When there is an issue we would like to address, but there are no opportunities available, we create our own. We have already done this in many ways. This past February we hosted a “Safe Love” event. The event targeted teens and it was created to educate teens more about safe sex, abstinence, and general healthy practices when dealing with relationships. The event was a huge success, drawing more than 225 teens to the Dorchester YMCA. We also have $10,000 that we are in charge of distributing to other youth organizations. This is just one of the ways we help support the other youth who are getting involved throughout Dorchester.
It is so important for youth to give back to the community because we live in it, participate in it, and benefit from it. Every member of the SCI Dorchester youth council wants to see the Dorchester neighborhood thrive in as many ways as possible. Our passion for where we live and the teamwork that we have developed over the course of the year is what has made the youth council so successful thus far. If you ever want to get something done teamwork is the main key. All of the youth council members are dedicated to the community and want to see a change. We meet every Monday to make sure that the change we create today will surely last tomorrow, and the day after. Knowing that there is a dedicated group of youth willing to come together and spend a part of their busy lives once a week to improve the neighborhood we all are a part of is great. The teamwork we have all developed, and the amount of responsibility we are all willing to accept on a regular basis has been my favorite part of the council. I can’t stress this point enough. There is nothing a group of passionate teens cannot accomplish, and this council is just one example of just how successful we can be.”
From "SCI Dorchester Youth Council" by Terrill Johnson, Boston Teens in Print. Spring 2005.
Katie Whittie on the Woburn Civil Rights Forum:
“In the beginning, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I was not exactly sure what the Civil Rights Forum was. After a few meetings with Ron Walker, David Crowley, and Ed Cooney, I realized that I was in a unique and educational program that was designed to teach students different aspects of the Civil Rights Movement.
The first speaker was Reverend Larry Edmunds. It was interesting to hear his perspective on the Civil Rights Movement, and how the church played such an important role in the Movement.
Another part of the program that I enjoyed was reading the Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr. This was the first time that I had ever really read the letter. At one of our meetings, we were able to talk about what we liked about the letter and the different arguments that were stated in the letter…
It has been an honor to be in the forum, I have learned a lot of useful information, and I look forward to teaching other students about the Civil Rights Movement. Thank You!”
From a speech given at Martin Luther King Day Luncheon in Woburn in 2005.