The Community Leader

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Alleviating Poverty–One Person at a Time

by Megan Ryan, 2014-2015 Rochester Youth Year Fellow

There are many people in this world that have thoughts on solving poverty. In Rochester, I have witnessed many individuals in all different positions discuss poverty–where it stems from, how it impacts the community, and what should be done to make positive changes. Our city has community organizations making positive changes every day.

From my experiences I have witnessed community organizations help individuals and families solve problems and take steps to alleviate distressful situations. People working to climb out of poverty are often using several community programs to resolve many different issues. Often people that have multiple problem areas feel overwhelmed and find it easier to give up rather than work to fix the issues. Unfortunately, it is too often that individuals begin feeling hopeless and stuck in a downward spiral.

The organizations with which I am affiliated include Rochester Youth Year (RYY) and the Center for Youth. The RYY fellowship is an AmeriCorps*VISTA-sponsored program that places recent graduates of Rochester area colleges in community-based organizations to create and expand projects that address challenges the city’s youth and families encounter. RYY is one program that is able to cause significant changes in the lives of thousands of people in Rochester every year. The other RYY fellows that I have been working with this year are very determined and passionate about their projects. I feel lucky to know every one of these amazing people, and I know we are all making positive changes in the organizations we are serving.

The Center for Youth is an organization that young people can turn to when looking to explore, understand, and deal with issues of importance to them. The Center for Youth has many programs and services including, school-based, prevention counseling, prevention education, teen court, and residential housing. The overall mission of the Center for Youth states “all Center services are rooted in, and delivered with the knowledge that youth want to, and can, take responsibility for their life choices.” This organization is constantly fighting to end poverty by assisting youth in our community with their voluntary choice to change the current negativity in their lives in order to grow into a better adult. Once they leave their past mistakes and experiences behind the youth can successfully contribute to the community in the future instead of becoming part of the poverty cycle.

The Center’s residential program that I am serving with is the Crisis Nursery. This program is a temporary child care service offered to families that are going through a crisis. We often encounter families dealing with medical emergencies, homelessness, incarceration, mental health needs, domestic violence, and many others. The parents that we serve have no one trustworthy to turn to for help with anything, let alone their children. The Crisis Nursery is the only program that provides free emergency child care in the state of New York. We are helping people become self-sufficient, independent, mentally and physically healthy, safe, and engaged in improving the lives of themselves and their children. While serving at this organization I continuously experience the immediate gratification knowing that I take part in the program’s ability to help those that reach out to us. I witness parents saying that our program is a miracle and a true blessing on a daily basis. Being able to see the sign of relief on their faces when they know their children will be safe is priceless and makes the work I do behind the scenes worth it.

My experiences this year while being involved with Rochester Youth Year, AmeriCorps*VISTA, and the Center for Youth have been truly life-changing. While there are several working plans to end poverty, knowing that hundreds of organizations help those who struggle little by little proves to me that community-based leadership improves lives and fights against poverty.

As long as individuals and organizations continue to provide hope and guidance to those in need it is possible to alleviate poverty piece by piece and person by person. It is understood that there will never be an overnight fix, but with many successes and learning from failures along the way, I do believe that leaders in our community can solve poverty.

Re-defining Leadership Through Employment and Advocacy

by Jillian Latorre, RCCL Student Intern
Transition Opportunities at UR (TOUR) Student

In my opinion, leadership is about being reliable, giving it your best and
advocating others.

It is easy to be my best at Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL)
because of the accepting environment and people, and it continues to be a great
experience working with RCCL. One of the best involvements I have had recently
was working on the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign. Working
on this project gave me the opportunity to improve my leadership skills as I
guided the RCCL staff and Transition Opportunities at UR (TOUR) students in a
campaign that would build acceptance and respect for all.
I continue to have a meaningful work experience at RCCL while completing vital
office work and acting as a liaison between RCCL and the TOUR program. It has
been meaningful to me because the environment is welcoming and appreciative
of the work I do as well as the person I am. In addition, by working with RCCL, I
have advanced my software skills, become a better team-player, and learned to
be more organized when dealing with multiple tasks.
Most importantly, advocating for others is an important part of leadership, and I
appreciate how the RCCL office accepted me from the day I stepped foot in the
office. I believe that on a daily basis, I am learning more leadership skills as I
follow their example. Above all, I believe that I can advocate for other people in a
number of different ways through my growth and learning experience from RCCL
and TOUR.

Connecting Across Differences

by Evan Burnett, 2014-2015 Rochester Youth Year Fellow

As I sit back and think about my year as a Rochester Youth Year Americorps*VISTA member, I can’t help but think about how quickly it has gone by.  I am so very grateful to have had this experience and share great moments with my fellow VISTAs that I will never forget.

Over the course of this year, I have been a part of countless trainings and events that will be extremely beneficial as I move forward in my professional career.  This whole experience has been eye opening, and furthered the passion in me to help be a part of the positive change that I would like to see in the city of Rochester.  It is evident that community based leadership is an integral part in the process of alleviating poverty. The Rochester Youth Year annual luncheon further exemplified how this kind of leadership is needed in the world that we live in today.

While attending the luncheon, I was able to hear everyone’s passionate speeches about all of the wonderful assignments and the various awe-inspiring stories that have transpired over the duration of our year of service.  Our commitment to change was truly visible and I gained even more appreciation for each one of us that spoke.  It is difficult for all of society to come to an agreement that benefits all if we don’t take the time to open our eyes and use our ears in order to soak in the multitude of attributes and characteristics that all of us have.  At such a young age, oftentimes we are just trying to be heard and I know that we all can make a difference when given opportunities.

A topic of conversation that we discussed as a group at our last monthly meeting dealt with which kind of people are the ones fighting to mitigate poverty. Our consensus was that the majority of the people in the fight against poverty have an open mind or come from areas of poverty themselves, therefore there is a burning desire for those people to seek out change in their communities. If you have never encountered a community outside your own, then that can create a very limited worldview that I believe divides this country. It is imperative that individuals in society need to cooperate with one another so we can admire and utilize our differences in ways that help us understand the people that we come in contact with. It can be difficult to get individuals to buy into ideas that are going to help society as a whole, but I think that it can be done. People are often looking for individual gains as a result of their thinking because that is what they believe is more prosperous for them instead of keeping and open mind.

Community-based Leadership as a Solution to Poverty

By Matias Piva ’14, who currently serves as an Americorps*VISTA member with the Rochester Youth Year Fellowship program. This is the first in a series of guest posts by current Rochester Youth Year Fellows. 

When I read the words “community-based leadership as a solution to poverty,” I, as an AmeriCorps*VISTA, immediately think of the two main roles of the AmeriCorps*VISTA: Capacity-building, and Community Empowerment. According to the VISTA Member Handbook, “the principles of collaborative, grassroots, and sustainable development…are at the heart of AmeriCorps*VISTA’s anti-poverty mission.” This is a resounding commitment to community-based leadership if I ever heard one.

Of course, these are only words; it’s all too easy to pay lip service to grassroots leadership without following through. One would expect that in a program touting community empowerment as an integral part of its identity, community empowerment would be integrated into every strata of the model.

Is it? Consider the following:

  • Ask any AmeriCorps*VISTA about the very beginning of their service and they’ll tell you that they spent a very large portion of their pre-service orientation covering community empowerment and how to do it. I remember learning about systems development and execution, about volunteer recruitment and management, and more all with a focus on how to make the victims of [state-created] poverty the dynamic centerpieces of the solutions. Already at the absolute beginning of the year of service, AmeriCorps*VISTA intentionally impresses upon its newest recruits the importance of community empowerment.
  • My AmeriCorps*VISTA-sponsored program, Rochester Youth Year (RYY), enlists graduating seniors from 4-year Universities in Rochester to stay in Rochester to take on a year of service after having spent 4 years benefiting from all Rochester has to offer and becoming part of the community. In other words, RYY enrolls local talent to solve local problems. Community empowerment.
  • Furthermore, RYY regularly empowers me and my RYY colleagues to fill our roles ever better at least once per month by hosting meetings and professional development trainings to talk capacity-building and community-based leadership within the context of our city of Rochester and our host sites.
  • At my host site, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County (CCE-MC), I have begun an alumni engagement program, enlisting consenting alumni of a positive youth development program called CITIZEN U to help facilitate the success of the program by empowering them to transfer knowledge to, to lead community service projects in conjunction with, and to mentor the current CITIZEN U youth. Put differently, I’m recruiting the former recipients of an excellent program to support the students who were once in their position. In addition, with youth voice a cornerstone of the program, the asset development curriculum solicits feedback about, and caters to, the wants and needs of its at-risk youth who will do anything they can to succeed but who’ve been deprived of the support, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and opportunities needed to flourish.

If that isn’t community empowerment, then I don’t know what is. What I’ve been trying to help the reader to understand is that the mantra of community empowerment is part of the DNA of AmeriCorps*VISTA, and that the result is the infusion of community-based leadership at every level of the system. From the top-level administration at the Corporation for National and Community Service right down to the VISTAs and host sites themselves, the model of recognizing locals (like me and my youth) as assets and giving them nontrivial control over the solutions to poverty – and, ultimately, their destiny – is making tremendous impact here in Rochester despite the depressing statistics. To wit, look no further than our impressive 100% rate of CITIZEN U graduates advancing to college with partial or full scholarships.

To learn more about CITIZEN U and to stay in the loop, visit us online and like us on Facebook!

Click here to learn more about Rochester Youth Year and how to apply!

Reinventing Undergraduate Education

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the biennial meeting of the Reinvention Center in Arlington, VA, along with Dean Richard Feldman and two other colleagues from the College. The Reinvention Center is housed at Colorado State University and is a “national consortium of research universities dedicated to strengthening undergraduate education”(from their website). It was formed in April, 2000, as a follow-up to a report issued in 1998 by a commission convened by the Carnegie Foundation to examine the state of undergraduate education in U.S. research universities. The report, entitled, “Re-inventing Undergraduate  Education,” is commonly referred to as the Boyer report, in honor of Ernest Boyer, who helped to convene the Commission, whose own scholarship on education reform informed and inspired it, and who died of cancer while the Commission was meeting. The Commission’s report contained a student’s Bill of rights, and made provocative recommendations that challenged the status quo in the country’s most elite universities, as follows:

  • Make Research-Based Learning the Standard
  • Construct an Inquiry-based Freshman Year
  • Build on the Freshman Foundation
  • Remove Barriers to Interdisciplinary Education
  • Link Communication Skills and Course Work
  • Use Information Technology Creatively
  • Culminate with a Capstone Experience
  • Educate Graduate Students as Apprentice Teachers
  • Change Faculty Reward Systems
  • Cultivate a Sense of Community

While these recommendations may seem intuitive to us now, at the time they were received with resistance by many. As a small, private research university which had by then already created the Rochester Curriculum and the residential college structure, the University of a Rochester was–and continues to be–an exemplar of many of these recommendations. For example, our primary writing course, pre-major advising programs, Office of Undergraduate Research, workshop programs, and interdisciplinary study initiatives all embody Boyer Commission recommendations. Former College Dean Bill Green was involved in the Reivention Center in its early years, and Dean Feldman now serves on its Board of Directors.

Over 15 years since the Report was issued, its recommendations remain relevant, and continue to inspire the work of the member institutions of the Re-invention Center. The conference I attended included sessions on

  • using predictive analytics to ensure student success;
  • using learning science to strengthen undergraduate teaching strategies;
  • integrative learning across the disciplines;
  • blending co-curricular experiences.

As Director of the Rochester Center for Community Leadership, it was inspiring to be surrounded by senior leaders from research universities across the country who shared a strong interest in approaches to undergraduate education–similar to approaches that we’re helping to create through our work. Our 26-year-old tradition of Wilson Day is a prime example of the sort of community-building experience that the Boyer Commission recommended. The Rochester Urban Fellows program is a co-curricular program with significant, transformative learning outcomes for students. The Rochester Youth Year Fellowship effectively comprises a capstone experience for graduating seniors through the year-long projects that our Fellows undertake with community partner organization. And most recently, our efforts to help faculty to incorporate community-based experiences into their courses is precisely the sort of engaged teaching practice recommended by the Boyer Report and espoused by the Re-invention Center.

Innovative educational approaches such as these are what attracted me to attend the University as an undergraduate over a quarter century ago, and I believe they continue to be crucial in attracting students today. More to the point, they result in improved learning outcomes once students arrive, and successful careers, productive citizens, and rewarding personal lives long after graduating from the university. They strengthen our students, our institution and our society.

Leadership Demystified: A White House Intern’s Story

by Andrew Cutillo ’13

How John F. Kennedy decided to run for president provides  an inspiring tale for today’s Millennials. As a young freshman Senator, he was expected to keep his head down and simply observe for his first years in office. But one day he supposedly entered that body’s chamber, looked around at the political giants of the day, and asked himself,  “Why not me?” Years earlier than the establishment would bless his candidacy, JFK took the reins straight from a senate seat, and in doing so spurred a nation of young guns to leadership in their own communities.

My path to the White House also began with this question. I was tired of viewing the world as an inevitable flow of incomprehensible forces, and wanted to see for myself how the country’s top decision-makers operated. Who were these leaders anyway? Were they any different from me? The White House Internship seemed the perfect place to ask these questions.

The best answers came from a surprising source. As I got to know my cohort of over a hundred other interns, I was blown away by their stories. They led their student governments, taught English abroad, worked on campaigns, and poured their souls into every admirable endeavor in between. Hailing from every corner of the country, they all jumped at the chance to serve their national community as they had served back home. They worked with unbridled energy, unflinchingly confident in their aims and their abilities. They saw problems and got to solving them. Simply put, they all had asked, “why not me?” and had realized there was no good answer.

For me, this is a defining characteristic of community leadership. While there are trade-offs between grey-haired experience and youthful energy, the latter certainly has its time and place– which is “now” and “here” more often than we think. Everyone has something to offer. As my friends at the White House have proved to me, it only takes one person to shake off complacency and rattle his or her community awake. If reading this makes you think of something in the world that just doesn’t seem right –an issue that someone really should address– then start by asking yourself one simple question: “Why not me?”

2014 Susan B. Anthony Scholarship: Crystal Hans’s Story

The 2014 Women’s Leadership Awards allowed various women to share their stories with us. They were inspiring and we wanted to share them with you.

Crystal Hans is a junior studying English. She won the Susan B. Anthony Scholarship Award. Below is her personal statement.

“I pray every single moment of my life; not on my knees but with my work.” -Susan B. Anthony.

In my college career, I have worked hard to make a difference to my community by taking on leadership roles in groups that have value to their participants and the community as a whole. I hope to show my devotion to my community through my hard work and leadership. I have found that leadership is a multi-faceted role, involving hard work and the ability to understand people’s needs. Particularly in the LEAP program through the Rochester Center for Community Leadership, I have had the opportunity to act as a leader, both in administrative aspects of program planning, and in working directly with team members to guide group teamwork. I hope that, as a woman leader, my devotion to my work can have a lasting impact on the people I interact with.

In my experience, leadership means empowering others to contribute and inspiring them to work towards a shared vision. I have seen this as my main role in several organizations I have been involved in, including the University Pep Band and the Women’s Ice Hockey Team. I really believe that this type of leadership improves the group as a whole and helps it to achieve its goals in the University community. All of these groups, with proper leadership, can provide great benefits to their community This is what inspires me daily in my interactions with other members of those groups, as well as running team planning meetings for the LEAP program. When I run these meetings, I make sure that everyone has the support they need, and opportunity to contribute, so that the tutoring sessions we are planning will be fully able to enhance the education of the children we work with.

I work to show the highest level of devotion and commitment in my academic studies, in my job, in my service to my community, and in my extra curricular organizations. The basic ideas of great leadership skills can be applied to all parts of daily life, including interactions with others on a daily basis. I have been able to succeed this far in my academic career by making my work my prayer everyday. My experiences in leadership, particularly with the LEAP program have inspired me to become a lawyer who advocates on behalf of children. I hope to bring positive change to the school system and make an impact on the lives of children all over the state or even the country.

2014 Jane R. Plitt: Brianna Isaacson’s Story

The 2014 Women’s Leadership Awards allowed various women to share their stories with us. They were inspiring and we wanted to share them with you.

Brianna Isaacson is a junior studying Health, Behavior, & Society. She won the Jane R. Plitt Award. Below is her personal statement.

A personal statement requires a person to discuss her contributions and accomplishments, but as a woman, society pressures me to downplay any success I may have had. I am not supposed to take credit for things I have done, and I am certainly not supposed to call myself a leader. To write this statement, I had to coach myself; I had to convince myself I was worth noticing, and that to be noticed is a good thing. My fight for female empowerment begins inside my own head and is inextricably linked with all of my thoughts and actions.

My favorite part of being a leader is convincing others that their voices are worthy of being heard as well. Being a part of Women’s Caucus, the feminist group on campus, has taught me more than all of my classes at college have. My freshman year I served as secretary of the group; my sophomore year I was president; this year I am the activism chair. We are a discussion based group, focused on learning from each other, and I have led weekly meetings on topics ranging from women in politics to gendered toys to sex education to intersectionality. We are a community focused on personal growth and empowerment, and I am proud of all I have contributed, and all that I have learned. Through Women’s Caucus, I have been involved in lobby days for women’s rights, conferences on feminist organizing, productions of the Vagina Monologues, and campaigns to promote feminism on campus.

This past summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a summer program on feminist activism and leadership through the Susan B. Anthony Institute. I was placed at two local organizations: Girls Rock! Rochester (a non-profit summer camp dedicated to empowering girls through rock music) and Students Active for Ending Rape. The highlight of my summer was teaching a Social Justice 101 workshop to 30 campers from hugely different socioeconomic backgrounds. We talked about how stereotypes limited girls and boys, the importance of sticking up for others, and why a social justice mindset is important. It was empowering to watch the girls think independently about these topics and contribute their own ideas—discussing the gender binary with 12 year olds was an experience like no other, but it’s a conversation that needs to happen more often.

Additionally, my involvement with Planned Parenthood through Women’s Caucus has shaped what I would like to do with my public health undergraduate degree—I plan on applying to the 3 2 Masters in Public Health program in the spring, with hopes of eventually working in the field of family planning and reproductive rights. These are my passions, and I look forward to working on them every day for the rest of my life. I want to make a career of feminist activism, and I know my confidence, drive, and personal investment in women’s rights will make it a successful one.

2014 Fannie Bigelow: Fatima Bawany’s Story

The 2014 Women’s Leadership Awards allowed various women to share their stories with us. They were inspiring and we wanted to share them with you.

Fatima Bawany is a junior studying Religion and Biology. She won the Fannie Bigelow Award. Below is her personal statement.

“What’s that towel on your head?” I can’t count the number of times I have been asked this question.

I chose to wear hijab, the Muslim head covering, during high school as a symbol of commitment to my faith. As I entered school on the first day, I had no idea that it would produce such a reaction. I was greeted with stares, gasps, and a barrage of questions, some bordering on the ridiculous. I soon realized that the hijab would signify more than just a change in appearance; it would mean a change in character.

Over the years, it has grown on me, serving as a reminder of my identity and values. It has given me the responsibility of furthering my own religious knowledge in order to portray Islam in its true light. Now, I no longer avoid the questions it draws. Whether through blogging, writing editorials in the local newspaper, or speaking to communities across Rochester about my decision to wear hijab, I feel honored to act as a representative for my faith, for brave women everywhere who have challenged societal perceptions on beauty.

In this post-9/11 society, many people associate my hijab with oppression, terrorism, and extremism. In fact, my hijab is liberation and empowerment. Covering my body has allowed me to unveil my voice, ideas, and actions as a strong and capable young woman.

As I continue to answer questions about hijab, all the while increasing my confidence and molding my individuality, I also strive to help others express their own unique identities. On campus, I have helped to create the Students’ Association for Interfaith Cooperation (SAIC), in order to empower students to share their different spiritual traditions and experiences with each other. Though faith can be a taboo topic, SAIC has allowed us to break barriers by creating a welcoming environment where students are allowed to question, to discuss, and to understand
differences.

My goal to connect with people of different backgrounds has not only encompassed
diversity in faith, but also in cultures. In order to explore cultural diversity in Rochester, I spent a year as a regular volunteer in the refugee community. The heartbreaking stories of violence and hardship that I heard from young children quickly inspired me to organize student-run festivals and service trips in subsequent years to help refugee youth feel a sense of belonging in Rochester, and to instill a sense of social responsibility in Rochester students.

As I continue to pursue my passion to promote understanding amongst people of all faiths and all traditions, I can’t help but think about that very first day of high school, where I felt misunderstood and scrutinized, just because I veiled my hair. I overcame, and I have counteracted stigmas of Muslim women as I, with my hijab on, have served as a leader and advocate for understanding on my campus and in my community. My hijab has given me the courage to stand up for myself and for the traditions and faiths of others. Though it appears to be simply a piece of square cloth, after being transformed by it, I can say that each and every thread carries with it responsibility, empowerment, and an inner desire to excel.

2014 Susan B Anthony Prize: Elizabeth Reidman’s Story

The 2014 Women’s Leadership Awards allowed various women to share their stories with us. They were inspiring and we wanted to share them with you.

Elizabeth Reidman is a KEY scholar studying Anthropology and Religion. She won the Susan B Anthony Prize Award. Below is her personal statement.

Sometimes growth sneaks up on you. I’ll never forget the moment I was confronted with mine.

Last August as Wilson Day Coordinator I was given the opportunity to speak in front of 1,200 color-coordinated freshmen, fresh-faced and eager to adventure out into Rochester. I had been preparing for months. The buses were organized. The volunteers gathered and the community was waiting. All I could think about was how just three years ago, I was sitting in those very same bleachers. I remember staring down at the girl who was speaking to us wondering just how someone gets to be in a leadership position like hers. “Wow, it was a student that planned this whole day?” It was unimaginable to me at the time. But fast forward three years and there I was. I was now that girl. I was that leader.

It’s a rare occasion that we take the time to truly stop and realize our growth. But it was there in the sweaty Palestra full of freshmen awaiting my advice that I realized just how far I had come.

My experience is that realization may come suddenly, while leadership grows over time. Throughout my undergraduate career I have been extremely fortunate to learn from many talented and passionate leaders. As student community assistant of Rochester Urban Fellows I planned Wilson Day; met many community leaders; visited businesses on Thurston Road, and discussed the issues facing non-for-profits like Charles Settlement House and Foodlink. I have overcome different challenges leading my peers as a director and secretary of The Opposite of People Theater Group, member of Rochester Raas and student manager of Hartnett Gallery. All these experiences have shaped me as a confident leader over the years.

I have also learned many things from those around me. First, to be proactive about issues I am passionate about, rather than relying on others. Secondly, the importance of listening to others’ viewpoints and thirdly, I learned that strength and passion are keys to making change happen. I saw this first hand as Jackie, a full time grandmother dedicates her time to being Westside Market Manager or how Nancy Johns-Price, an enthusiastic head of the Southeast Neighborhood Service Center, spearheads change on Monroe Ave with a smile. These experiences have fueled my passion to bridge the gap between our community and our campus.

I sought opportunities while an undergraduate, from planning Wilson Day to organizing outings off-campus for friends, yet, it wasn’t enough. I craved a change that would last long after I graduated. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity as a KEY student to dedicate a fifth year to find a way to encourage community engagement and connection for years to come. A recognition for the Susan B Anthony Prize would stand as a recognition not only for me, but for the importance of community engagement as a whole and the strong community leaders who have shaped me into the individual I am today.