By Olivia Hanson
When I first started my VISTA journey, I was a new college grad looking for a professional opportunity that would allow me to gain experience in a wide range of skills and explore my career options. I was immediately drawn to my position as the Community Relations Coordinator at Friendship Academy of the Arts because it gave me the flexibility to do just that. Initially, my work primarily consisted of marketing and fundraising, but as I got farther into my year of VISTA service I began expanding my reach to work on a variety of other projects.
One of my current projects, and biggest successes, is a blogging program which I have had the opportunity to co-create with help from our 5th-grade class. The 5th graders at Friendship Academy had expressed interest in blogging to their teacher Mr. Kidd. Mr. Kidd was interested in incorporating his student’s ideas into their curriculum, but was looking for help in facilitating and creating that program. It just so happened that I had been contacted by a volunteer, Felicia Philibert, who had significant experience in blogging and was looking for a skills-based opportunity to work with our school. Together, the three of us implemented a weekly blogging program that was student-driven and a huge success.
The students each created their own personal and small group blogs along with a collective class blog where they write about their experiences in and outside of school. Some of the blog posts are class assignments, but many are creative writing projects which the students have developed themselves. We also work to incorporate multimedia into our blogs including gifs, photos, and videos. Recently, we have gained access to podcast equipment which we are excited to incorporate into future programming!
The class has loved having an outlet to express themselves as well as an enjoyable and creative way to hone their writing and digital literacy skills. Working so closely with the students has allowed me to create genuine connections with the community I serve as a VISTA.
We had such success with the program that we were inspired to adapt it into a long-term sustainable program model called Girls Who Write. Girls Who Write is a free community program targeted towards girls around middle school age to improve their writing skills while expressing themselves and exploring their own identities.
The goals of Girls Who Write are to…
- Provide a safe and supportive place for girls to explore, accept, articulate, and celebrate their unique identities and life experiences
- Bolster creative composition skills to help students excel in school and future careers
- Reframe narratives around women and girls by empowering youth to understand and address the way our society treats marginalized communities
- Explore different forms of expressive writing including but not limited to journaling, blogging, memoir, and storytelling
- Facilitate community conversations about race, gender, sexuality, mental health, and other identities to destroy barriers, misconceptions, and stereotypes
- Enhance participants’ understanding of how to establish a strong and confident online presence through blogs or personal websites
- Increase representation and encourage diverse leadership by connecting girls to mentors and role models from a variety of professional and cultural backgrounds, while empowering young women to gain the skills necessary to become effective and impactful facilitators
Together, Felicia and I have received grant funding for the program and are excited to soon apply for non-profit status. We plan to continue to partner with Friendship Academy of the Arts and implement our pilot program at the school this Fall, after my year of AmeriCorps service is over. I am excited to continue working with these bright students as this project has encouraged me to develop a deep passion for youth programming.
A photo of Felicia and I with the 5th grade class picking up trash before brainstorming blog ideas about the experience for Earth Day