Solutions for Community Resilience: Meeting the Urgent Needs

Jul 14, 2017
“When you do good work and you’re authentic, people naturally want to get involved. We simply need to spend time listening to people and responding to what they’re saying are their needs.” Brian Humphreys, director of financial empowerment at South Sound Outreach, discussed how he engages volunteers in his work during the “Removing Barriers to Opportunity” workshop.

When government agencies, nonprofits and community changemakers focus on strengthening educational and economic advancement for youth and families, social equity and cultural expression, their collective action can lead to clear, measurable impact and sustainable long-term change.

Participants of the Solutions for Community Resilience track at the Conference on Volunteering and Service learned about successful models that empower and equip everyday citizens to create healthy, vibrant, thriving communities, as well as best practices for engaging volunteers from across the community in consensus building and community organizing to tackle some of today’s toughest issues.

Citywide Volunteer Initiative Sparks Youth Interest In Careers

Local schools issued a challenge to 11 of the largest employers in Indianapolis: Open your doors so our kids can learn about the world of work and the skills they need to succeed. “Schools with 95 percent of their children living in poverty are a complex environment with complex issues,” said Joe Gramelspacher, special assistant to the superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools. Fifteen months later, a broad cross-sector collaboration delivered an answer.

Workshop attendees learned how the JA JobSpark initiative – a team of businesses, educators, government agencies and nonprofits in Indianapolis – brought together 115 of the city’s employers, more than 3,000 volunteers, and 400 educators to build a two-day event to spark career inspiration for more than 7,000 eighth graders. Filled with hands-on learning experiences and demonstrations, the event presented on the types of jobs needed in the future for different industries, the skills needed and the pathways to acquiring them.

Whereas schools are primarily focused on closing the achievement gap, Jennifer Burk, president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana, explained that, “JA JobSpark’s goal is to tackle the ‘exposure gap’ – the lack of opportunities for a student to see something that inspires them to consider what their future could look like.”

Engaging Veterans: The Second Mission

Veterans who served in the last decade represent less than half a percent of the total population, but their dedication to service and American democracy supports 100 percent of Americans. Jason Alves, program manager for the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, and Peter Schmidt, program coordinator for the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, led an engaging conversation around how we can access the strengths, skills and talents that exist in every service man and woman leaving our nation’s military. Workshop attendees discussed how it is crucial to evaluate situations from multiple perspectives when considering how a veteran’s experience and skill set can be used in a civilian volunteering opportunity. Jason and Peter also encouraged attendees to reframe post-traumatic stress as an opportunity for post-traumatic growth, as Jason explained it, “the experience of positive change resulting from the struggle with major life crisis.”

New Pathways to the American Dream for Youth

The path to college and career success is not always a straight one. More than 5 million youth are in need of new opportunities to participate in the labor market or continue school. Marcia Page, president and CEO of Education is Freedom, Terra Gay, senior vice president of programs at Points of Light, and Stephanie Lloyd, director of monitoring and evaluation at Points of Light, shared how volunteer service has provided opportunities for success for youth, as well as become an integral part of the solution in closing the opportunity gap via the ServiceWorks program.

A joint partnership between AmeriCorps, the Citi Foundation and Points of Light, ServiceWorks had a three-year charter, from 2014 to 2017, to provide 25,000 low-income youth scholars with the specific tools and platforms needed to increase their access to economic advancement through college and career success. “The idea isn’t to go and serve simply to fulfill a gap. It’s to help [opportunity youth] understand the need to serve as a volunteer so they can become the ones to teach it to their peers; it’s a building process,” Terra said. “ServiceWorks takes them through the process of elevating their thinking of how they are citizens within their own community and agents of change.”

In spring 2017, Peter Levine, Lincoln Filene professor of citizenship and public Service and associate dean for research at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, conducted a review of ServiceWorks based on an assessment of program data and documents, plus interviews with participants and stakeholders. Read about his key findings.

Removing Barriers to Opportunity

Recent scholarship suggests a path to economic mobility lies in investing in low-income neighborhoods. Brian Humphreys, director of financial empowerment at South Sound Outreach; Megan Karch, CEO of FareStart; Catherine McConnell, vice president of advancement at Goodwill; and Kim Vu, senior vice president, Seattle market manager of enterprise business and community engagement at Bank of America, shared how community-level problem solvers, resident volunteers and local nonprofits can accelerate and sustain change by promoting financial empowerment while also re-imaging neighborhood community spaces to stabilize and, optimally, boost economic opportunity. “Where we are most successful are in the relationships that we build over time,” Megan said. “How we engage with volunteers is more in how they are establishing relationships and the appropriate boundaries with those that are being served.”

Read more from the 2017 Conference on Volunteering and Service

Robert Montgomery