Posts Tagged ‘volunteering’

Photo: anekoho/shutterstock
As art classes get cut back, Philadelphia foundations are stepping up to protect a vital part of education.

In this time of cutbacks in school arts programs, it is heartening to see some organizations stepping up to the plate. If the trend continues, we may all need to start volunteering in schools — just as scores of parishioners at my church did for an amazing arts and crafts day yesterday. The only problem is, Who has the time for sustained volunteering when government doesn’t do its part?

In Philadelphia, foundations are providing some respite, as Mike Scutari reports at Inside Philanthropy.

“In June of 2013, Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission approved massive cuts in funding in what critics referred to as ‘The Doomsday Budget.’ Cuts included mass faculty layoffs, reduction of materials and athletics programs, and the complete elimination of arts and music programs.

“Four years later, Peter Dobrin, the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s culture writer, surveyed the city’s music education landscape and convincingly argued that funders sufficiently rose to the challenge, pointing to city’s web of innovative music education programs, including:

  • Play On, Philly!, launched in 2013 with seed money from Carole Haas Gravagno and the Lenfest Foundation.
  • The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra’s Tune Up Philly, which receives support from Impact100, a women’s giving collective.
  • AristYear Philadelphia, which will pay 12 arts teaching fellows in area schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families. The Knight Foundation has supported both Artist Year Philadelphia and Play On, Philly!

“Knight is only one of many influential funders active in the city. William Penn Foundation has doubled down on arts education, allocating more than $12 million over the last 4 years …

“The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, meanwhile, recently awarded more than $2.5 million to a new program called the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth.

“Other examples include the Neubauer Family Foundation, which, in tandem with other local organizations, is ‘working to figure out what arts education programs are here already to determine what’s needed’  …

“The city’s financial woes were so calamitous that, funders, most of whom already had extensive footprints in the city, had no choice but to respond en masse. …

“In many cases, we’re not talking about your standard music education programs.

“Play On, Philly!, for example, is billed as ‘music for social change.’ Its 2017 summer programming included anti-child obesity and ‘active play’ programming at neighborhood recreation centers. ,,,

“More than ever, funders tend to support arts experiences that are immersive, experiential, and drive positive social outcomes.

“Now, consider the supporting role of big data in framing the arts as a means for driving social change.

“Play On, Philly!’s pilot collected data to show that students in the program improve their self-perceptions, academic motivation and school attendance, all while learning to play and perform a musical instrument. …

“Funders, increasingly beholden to this ROI [return on investment] mindset, are more inclined to cut checks when backed by compelling data. …

“All involved parties agree that access and equality is the key. Funders, more than ever, intuitively rally around this idea. Breadth is important, as well — ‘the net must be cast wide to capture all the talent out there,’ said Dorbin. Music education shouldn’t be just for future Julliard students.”

More here.

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A year ago, I retired from a magazine job I’d held for ten years to see if I could offer more-direct service to people. From January until October I worked at a quasi-public agency that allowed me to connect a bit with lower-income clients. But I wanted to focus more.

What I really wanted to do was to help refugees and other immigrants learn English. So after getting my feet wet in the refugee world as a volunteer blogger for one nonprofit, I retired completely and started to volunteer at three other agencies. So far, it’s tremendously satisfying.

It took a while to set this up, however. It turns out that although most nonprofits need help, few have the infrastructure to move volunteers smoothly into useful roles.

Organizations I reached out to in Massachusetts didn’t respond, and getting a response in Rhode Island required contacting the leadership. Understandably, they then had to take the time to assess whether I had shown any previous interest in helping immigrants with English. (I had life experiences and volunteering that related, but for work that was exactly the same as what I wanted to do, I could claim only a few hours on a United Way Community Care Day.)

The largest organization, an official resettlement agency, wanted to see if I could be empathetic to frustrated adult learners who might have been accomplished in their home countries and were now starting from scratch with a whole new alphabet. And they needed to evaluate whether as an unpaid person I would show up consistently.

Their schedules weren’t necessarily my ideal schedule, but I finally cobbled something together that keeps me busy two and a half days a week.

I definitely had to talk some people into it. At one place where I now volunteer two mornings a week, the teacher hadn’t answered the email I sent after the volunteer coordinator gave it to me. I tried again. She then responded that she had enough volunteers but I could come observe. So I showed up. And stayed. Believe me, she has really needed me with her large class of immigrants, many of whom arrived only months ago from the Congo or Syria.

One aspect of the work that has been particularly interesting has been comparing three different organizations and three different approaches to teaching English. The differences relate in part to students’ different levels of English. In addition to those who have just arrived, there are people who may have been in Providence many years but could function just fine using Spanish. There are others who had no schooling as children and may turn written pages upside down.

I am learning, meeting new people, and having new experiences, which I love. I love seeing someone’s face light up when they suddenly “get it.” I love feeling like this work is important.

Many people I know are asking themselves lately, “What can I do?” There are needs out there in many different fields of interest. I think all the seekers will eventually find the right thing. It may take a while to put it together.

Photo: Genesis Center
Immigrants having fun with learning at Genesis Center in Providence.

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Holly Hall writes at the Chronicle of Philanthropy that teens are more likely to do volunteer work if there’s a social aspect.

“More than half of American teenagers and young adults volunteered [in 2011], and the best way to enlist this group turns out to be peer pressure: Three quarters of people ages 13 to 22 whose friends volunteer regularly also do so, which is nearly twice the number of those who pursue voluntary activities based on their concern about particular social issues. …

“Those were the key findings of new research results released [Oct. 24] by DoSomething.org, a group working to get young people involved in social change.” More.

At the high school Suzanne and John attended, volunteering was required. But they also did things that just interested them. I remember Suzanne in a play targeting the cycle of domestic violence and John working on peace and justice activities.

The organization pictured below is City Year, “an education focused, nonprofit organization that unites young people of all backgrounds for a year of full-time service to keep students in school and on track to graduation.”

Suzanne’s friend Lisa did a City Year and thought it very worthwhile. Today, I often see the kids in their distinctive jackets on the train, and I once went door-to-door to help City Year’s public-spirited cofounder in a primary election for the Senate.

Photograph: Charles Krupa/AP/File
City Year volunteers sing the national anthem outside Faneuil Hall in Boston. The volunteers age 17 to 24 will work in a variety of community-service programs. The best way to encourage teens to volunteer is to make it a way to get together with their friends, a new report suggests.


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