Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

Advocating for Adult Education On and Off the Job

February always has us watching the state budget process. While we’ve been spreading the word about the Baltimore Education Coalition‘s campaign to prevent cuts to public education funding, you might not know that the Governor’s budget affects our Adult Literacy & ESOL Program as well.

Todd ElliottRecently we caught up with Adult Literacy & ESOL Program Director Todd Elliott to talk to him about his work at GHCC and on the state level as an advocate for adult education. Todd has worked at GHCC for the past 10 years, and in addition to his efforts here he serves as President of the Board of Directors for the Maryland Association for Adult, Community and Continuing Education (a volunteer role).

Read the interview »

Celebrating Literacy and People

Submitted by Jaclyn Paul, Program Assistant for Development and Administration

Last week, I was asked to wear my photographer hat and volunteer my services at our 20th Annual Literacy Celebration.   More than 160 program volunteers, current and former staff, learners, and partners came out to recognize the wonderful work GHCC’s Adult Literacy and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Program is doing.  I’d like to share a few of my favorite moments from the event in the form of a short photo essay.

20th Annual Literacy Celebration

20th Annual Literacy Celebration

I felt fortunate for the opportunity to see these heartfelt performances from the Greenmount Senior Center Dance Team.

20th Annual Literacy Celebration

Without meeting them in person, it’s hard to convey just how strong the tutor-learner bond can be.  Seeing tutors speak about their learners—and vice versa—brought home to me how much these pairs become like family, completely invested in reaching a shared goal.

20th Annual Literacy Celebration

The first photo doesn’t do it justice, so I just have to highlight the butterfly wings learner Ruby used to represent the changes she’s undergone in her life since coming to the Literacy Program.

20th Annual Literacy Celebration

Our VISTA members have shared a lot of stories on this blog lately, but sometimes we forget how much impact they have on our staff.  Here, Special Literacy Projects VISTA Cyndel Taylor (shown receiving flowers) receives a big thank you from Program Director Todd Elliott and Assistant Director Kim Bosworth.

To see more photos from the evening, check out our albums on Facebook or Flickr.

VISTA: A Legacy of Service

Throughout April, we heard a number of stories from current and former AmeriCorps*VISTA members.  VISTA is a national service program dedicated to eradicating poverty in the United States.  VISTA members sign on for a year of full-time service, receiving a modest stipend to offset the basic costs of living.  Here, GHCC’s VISTA Supervisor shares what he learned from his recent experience at a reception for the 45th anniversary of VISTA in Washington, DC.

We are still recruiting VISTA members to serve at GHCC beginning this August!  If you would like to serve, visit our website for details.

Submitted by Tyson Smith.
I’ve served as GHCC’s VISTA Supervisor for about 18 months now.  Although my role is pretty administrative—managing paperwork, attending meetings and so on—I have developed a real affinity for the AmeriCorps*VISTA mission.  There’s something really inspiring about national service, and even though I’ve never taken my turn to serve the country in this way, I’m glad I’m in a position at GHCC where I can support the individuals who are serving.  That’s why, when I received an invitation to attend a reception for the 45th Anniversary of VISTA in Washington, DC, I gladly accepted.

At the reception, officials from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)—the government entity that runs VISTA—including CEO Patrick Corvington and Acting Director Paul Davis, thanked former VISTA members and praised the spirit and national impact of VISTA over the past four and a half decades.  Hyepin Im, of the CNCS Board of Directors, spoke about VISTA members in recent years whose work had garnered millions of dollars to support impoverished families and communities impacted by the housing market collapse and economic crisis.  Clearly, VISTA has become an integral part of our nation’s strategy for fighting poverty on many levels.
What I found most impactful, though, were the stories shared by three guests of honor who have had a lifetime of experience with VISTA.  Lynda Robb, daughter of Former President Lyndon Baines Johnson, spoke about the day her father launched the VISTA program and the lunch she attended with the very first group of 20 VISTA members. 
Senator Jay Rockefeller from West Virginia spoke about his year of VISTA service over 40 years ago in the Appalachian Mountains, and of the great impact that experience had on the course of his life. 
Maybe most impressive was the story that Representative Gwen Moore from Wisconsin shared.  Rep. Moore was a single mother living on welfare in Milwaukee when her neighborhood applied for VISTA funds to establish a credit union in their community.  She was encouraged to work on that project as a VISTA member, and as a result Rep. Moore became very well educated about finance, lending and other money matters.  Rep. Moore was honored as the VISTA of the Decade for 1976-1986.  Years later, she is sitting on the House Finance Committee. 
Sometimes we think of VISTA as a means to an end: to build a program, to address an issue, to fill a need.  What I learned last Wednesday was that VISTA is much more than an opportunity.  VISTA is a legacy of service.  It can change the course of lives.  VISTA is an incredible way to make a difference in the country, and in one’s self.  I am honored to be a part of this movement and I am so excited to share this experience with the lucky 10 individuals who will join GHCC’s new VISTA team this fall.

Stories from VISTA Alums: John Bernet

Know someone interested in making positive changes in the world? GHCC is seeking qualified candidates for our nationally-renowned AmeriCorps*VISTA program.  Sign on for a year of service with us and receive health benefits, a modest living allowance, and an end-of-service education award.  We have 10 positions available to start in August 2010 in the areas of improving public schools, strengthening neighborhoods, and adult literacy.  

We’ll be featuring several VISTA stories in the coming weeks to raise awareness of national service.

Want to know more? Visit our website!
Submitted by John Bernet

Where do you come from?
This has always been an entertaining question for me, mainly because there have been a lot of stops along the way to where I am.  Born in Colorado, lived in Vermont and a few places in New Hampshire, went to high school in Massachusetts, and finally college at Goucher, in Towson, MD.  While all these things made me who I am, it was Goucher College that landed me in Baltimore, if only because I didn’t want to go home and didn’t have reason to go anywhere else. 

What made you decide to be a VISTA?
It happened accidentally, really.  I had made it three and a half years at Goucher without completing the internship necessary for graduation in my psychology major.  I wasn’t particularly interested in doing the standard psych hospital internship, so I wound up with Read-A-Story/Write-A-Story, a program one of my professors helped start.  The after-school program partners Goucher College students with students at Dallas F. Nicholas, Sr. Elementary School for afternoons of reading and ultimately writing books each semester.  I thought they would simply want me to participate, but as it turns out, they were badly in need of a director.  So, having never done anything akin to this, I filled the need.  The job entailed all of the planning, hands-on management, and general problem solving that made Read-A-Story/Write-A-Story tick (with a lot of help from the staff), but most importantly involved scheduling with the current GHCC VISTA placed at the school.  Through these interactions and some lengthy conversations, I got a much better idea of what VISTA actually was and meant.

Why did you choose Baltimore/GHCC?
As graduation approached I, like so many students in my year, was having difficulty finding a job with any meaning.  Conveniently, the VISTA position at Dallas Nicholas came open in August.  Having some experience with the school, its staff, and a few folks at GHCC, I wound up being chosen for the position.  It also fit my goals, as I was beginning to feel I had been doing too much self-service and needed to give back.  VISTA provided me an opportunity to do that, in a forum that I had some familiarity with, and in a city that had begun to feel as much like home as anywhere else. 

How has your experience influenced your life and work?
That year of VISTA has influenced my life an awful lot thus far.  Not only did I begin to develop an affection for the city of Baltimore (which, being a country boy until college, was a big step), I bought a house here and wound up working for GHCC following the end of my VISTA year.  Nowadays I can be found upstairs and to the left at GHCC’s 3503 N. Charles Street office, working to strengthen neighborhoods in north central Baltimore by building capacity in schools and communities.  If that isn’t VISTA influenced, I don’t know what is!

Stories from VISTA Alums: Jaclyn Paul

Know someone interested in making positive changes in the world? GHCC is seeking qualified candidates for our nationally-renowned AmeriCorps*VISTA program.  Sign on for a year of service with us and receive health benefits, a modest living allowance, and an end-of-service education award.  We have 10 positions available to start in August 2010 in the areas of improving public schools, strengthening neighborhoods, and adult literacy.

Want to know more? Visit our website!

Submitted by Jaclyn Paul.

A few years ago, I was preparing to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.  Despite having a lot of passion for what I did (especially music and photography), I just couldn’t imagine moving to New York City to sell myself to gallery owners.  At the same time, I didn’t want to just accept the highest job offer I got, either.  I had a tremendous desire to serve my fellow people.  I wanted work that really meant something.  Unfortunately, my college’s career center was ill-equipped to handle someone like me, and I was stuck.

That’s when a good friend recommended I look into AmeriCorps.  I’m writing this largely because I had never heard of AmeriCorps before that day.  When I did an online search for available VISTA positions, my eyes were opened to a whole new world, and I wanted in.

After I listed my skills and interests, the positions GHCC offered were far and away the most interesting and challenging I saw.  I put my best foot forward for a very lengthy phone interview, waited in suspense for several long days, and finally received a call during printmaking class telling me I’d gotten the position as a School-Community Partnership Coordinator at GHCC.

I was elated.  Of course, I got a lot of pushback from well-meaning family who thought not getting a “real job” after college meant I wasn’t reaching my potential.  My choice was one I had to explain (and justify) over and over again.  Some people very much respected what I was doing, and some just didn’t seem to get it.

However, no matter what anyone said, I was sure national service was the right choice for me.  Little did I know, it would be a crash course on both Baltimore City and the non-profit sector.  During my VISTA year I learned how to lead meetings, I confronted problems head-on, convened stakeholders, wrote a volunteer handbook, and dove headlong into the Baltimore City Public School System.  I learned what terms like “social capital” meant, and I would never again feel the same way when I heard people talk about poverty or urban public education.

One of the biggest challenges I faced as a VISTA was defining something I could call “success.”  My previous employment—IT helpdesk, Staples Copy Center, carpentry shop assistant—had provided me with a ready sense of mastery.  I knew when I was doing a good job.  As a VISTA, life wasn’t that easy.  No one changes an entire city—or even an entire school or neighborhood—in a year.  But this challenge was also the most important thing I learned all year: in the real world, there’s no easy path to earning an ‘A’, no rush at the conclusion of a flawless performance, no rave reviews.  There’s no magic formula, and we all have to make and define our own version of success, something that makes us feel good at the end of the day.

For those of us who come to GHCC purely by chance, the place has a certain magic to it.  Sometimes we find it awfully hard to leave.  When my service concluded I requested that I stay on for an extension so I could help plan the training for the next VISTA team.  I kept setting aside tasks for the VISTA Leader (yet to be identified), thinking “this person’s going to have a lot on their plate…good thing it’s not me!”  A month and some interesting events later, I stood in front of a brand-new VISTA team and introduced myself as their VISTA Leader.

My Leader year taught me even more.  I felt like I’d joined an elite (if not enviable) class of people who not only want to do a second year of service, they choose to remove themselves from the fray and dedicate their time and talents to providing an excellent service experience for others.  I was met with countless challenges, but I also learned that I actually prefer being a pillar of support to doing the direct service everyone sees on the outside.  This served me well when I joined GHCC’s administrative staff later on.

So I finally got that “real job,” but I wouldn’t have gotten here without my VISTA experience.  It set me on a path to a challenging and ultimately very fulfilling career, one that I likely never would have discovered otherwise because it’s off the beaten path.  I’m glad I made a somewhat unorthodox decision and found meaningful work, and I hope more young people will make that choice as they consider their post-college futures.