Archives for August 2013

Beyond the Office Syndrome

By Andrea Becerra ’13

There’s a lot that changes when you transition from being a student to an employee. To begin with sitting in front of a computer from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. is a real strain on the body. Human beings were just not made to sit still all day. I’ve read every article online on how to prevent back pains and I’ve incorporated some exercise routines to practice under my desk.  I recently started doing jumping jacks in the bathroom and when no one is looking I do a couple of lunges to the water cooler.  Andrea Pauw and I have even incorporated a run to our apartment during our lunch break, mainly to get to our food quicker and make the most of our break, but also to remind our limbs that we know they exist. I took for granted all of the nomadic freedom and privilege I had at Davidson—to roam from Summit, to the library, to my apartment, and then back to Summit.

Beyond the Office Syndrome

The juxtaposition of refurbished and worn out homes is noticeable throughout the downtown area where we work and live.

While I’ve been making active efforts to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s not what I spend most of my days thinking about. Regardless, once we get our visa issues resolved we’ll be working one on one with the Mayan communities involved in our development projects. So besides the new crafty ways of exercising in an office space, there’s plenty more that has changed now that I’m a Davidson Impact Fellow.

As students our duty was to work long hours in the library, take a broad range of classes offered by a liberal arts education, binge on coffee in order to compensate for the failure to balance life and to finally finish that paper in the wee hours of the night…only to receive a B—dang, there goes the GPA. In our new world as DIFs, per Davidson’s definition, we are expected to “create and implement solutions to some of the most urgent problems our society now confronts.” I have the opportunity to be a part of something big, to make a change that extends beyond my academic progress. This is not to say I don’t miss Davidson, to do so would be blasphemy; the world of academia opened up numerous doors for wonderment and discovery—it sparked conversation, invited debate and it created a space to contemplate solutions to the world’s problems. As graduates we can finally put all of this knowledge and understanding to use. I’m currently spending my days researching ways to solve a debt crisis in a Mayan community via a project I just got approved (more on this in future posts). It’s daunting to think of the adverse effects a project can have in a community of 400 people, but on the other hand, the potential to make a positive impact on that many lives is incredibly motivating.

There are plenty of thanks in a lifetime, and in the non-profit world, gestures of appreciation must be bountiful. A couple of weeks ago I helped an eleven-year-old girl plant a tree along a soccer field in Sihunchen, a community of 336 people on the outskirts of Merida. Her older cousin decided that it was a perfect spot for it since once its branches sprang out it could offer shade to local community members watching the game. In the middle of our digging an elderly man approached me. He looked at me and then looked up towards the sky as he raised his hands in prayer; he did this three more times as he thanked me for my work in the broken spanish of his native mayan tongue. His eyes, tired and wise from the uphill battles of a lifetime, are what truly stood out—they softened when I looked at him and revealed the complete truth of his gratitude. And to think that seconds before I had wondered if the tree would even survive.

Beyond the Office Syndrome

A tree planted during the reforestation project.

As memory fades only a few of these moments will actually stand out, and the thanks that this man gave me will probably be one of those; it happened right after thinking that what I was doing was so small in comparison to the grander plans I had in mind—complex development proposals that can change the world—to halt global warming, end inequality, and give every street dog a loving home. While I’m still naively optimistic about these things, the moment I shared with him will serve to remind me to also take into account the day-to-day interactions and to appreciate all of the small ways people welcome me into their lives.

I'm sorry… But No.

By Kenneth Westberry ’13

I am the “front-door-man,” temporarily, until the new Mission Year volunteer comes in September to relieve me of this position.  Currently, all initial calls and inquiries for help go through me.  Because of this, I am also the “no-man…”

Many people call daily, explaining their regrettable situations of the past; situations that happened 10, 20, even 30 years ago.  Currently in the state of Georgia, if you have been convicted of a crime–regardless if it is a misdemeanor or a felony–it is impossible to get the charge expunged from your record, albeit with some exceptions (i.e. Youthful Offender, First Offender, etc.).  The Georgia Justice Project turns down nearly 95% of all applications and inquiries it receives for a variety of reasons.  This is at no fault to the project, considering our capacity and reach; but, it does show that enormous numbers of ex-offenders legitimately wish to clean their records so they may be able to find stable employment.  This statistic also depicts the necessity of more programs like GJP here in Atlanta, across Georgia and the rest of the nation.

I'm sorry... But No.

On Tuesday morning, I received a call from a man who seemed to be in his mid to late thirties… though voices can be deceiving.  He explained to me that he had been convicted of a felony in his early twenties during one of his summers in college.  Nearly 15 years later, he explained to me that he is still unable to get a job–anywhere.

“I robbed a store man… I was young, I was dumb as hell, man, and my mother and my sisters needed help.”

His purpose for calling was to ask about the new law that has passed.  He explained that he had heard that this law, implemented in July, was geared to expand eligibility for expungement.  He asked if he would be eligible.

By this point, after countless responses by phone and in person I was ready to assume the position.  Despite the fact that this was a phone conversation, I took a deep breath in and deepened my voice to a more serious tone.  I contemplated.  What should I say to him?  I am the ‘NO-MAN’ and regardless of our organization’s heartfelt desire to improve his standard of living, I could punitively say …

”Sorry sir, but according to Georgia Law, regardless of the length of time it has been since you’ve committed your crime, you still will not be able to expunge it from your record.  If you would like, I can suggest that you fill out this pardon application that may or may not (most likely not) be beneficial for future employers to determine whether or not they still wish to hire you in this job market.”

Instead of this harsh response, I wanted to ensure that he understood that we are doing everything we can to fight and fix this injustice.  Yes, I told him no, but we don’t have the power to say yes…yet.  The ‘No-Man’s’ job at the Georgia Justice Project is not only to deny but to inform.  At 95 percent, we are all the “no people” attempting to serve those we can while pressing for change through policy.   It is idealism at its finest.  Even while I knew the truth, I still wanted to motivate him.  I still wanted to let him know that laws are not permanent.

 

– See more at: http://www.gjp.org/kens-blog/im-sorry-but-no/#sthash.FVPDrUJK.dpuf

The Most Powerful Thing So Far…

By Cakey Worthington ’13The Most Powerful Thing So Far…

It is crazy to think that I am already two months into my year as a fellow and two months into my first job. It’s big; it’s exciting; and it’s going by so fast. Through the generous funding of the Davidson Impact Fellows program, I am a research fellow at the Carolina Thread Trail under the organizational umbrella of the Catawba Lands Conservancy. I live a comfortable 20 minutes from Davidson in downtown Charlotte, a wonderful city many students never get to explore.

The Carolina Thread Trail is a non-profit trail project connecting communities through greenways, blueways, trails, and sidewalk-connector paths. The organization currently has over 120 miles of developed trail with many more adopted connector paths and will eventually develop into a 1,500 mile trail network across 15 counties in North and South Carolina.

My primary goal in this position is to determine the economic impact of the Carolina Thread Trail across the region, although I intend to work on a diversity of projects in the office with the Catawba Lands Conservancy as well. So far, I have innovated and will soon launch several survey studies with local business owners, trails users, and realtors, in order to begin to piece together the economic impact story. All of the people I have talked to in my short time here have been enthusiastic and energetic about this economic impact initiative.

I have met with government officials, non-profit leaders, and trail users and supporters throughout my eight weeks so far. It is in meeting all of these people that I have determined what the most powerful thing about this fellowship is. This “Davidson Impact Fellowship” is what its name implies; it is truly an impactful thing I am doing here. Right out of the starting gate, it was clear to me that everyone I talked to was excited and motivated by the work I would be doing. The economic impact story of these trails will become a tool for all of these people, a tool to fortify what to some is obvious: that trails are good for the community, the environment, and the economy. Trails and greenways are a triple-win; but in a time of reduced government spending, funding is harder to come by for continued development of this project.

I know how helpful my work will be, and that is my favorite part of this job. In many ways, it has been both intimidating and motivating. After the tremendous responses from all the people I’ve met, I felt a bit of pressure make sure my end products are truly useful. It is that realization that I may have a real impact that encourages me to work hard. When I think about what I want to accomplish, I remember that I only get one year to make it all happen. I’m already two months in and time is certainly flying. Luckily, I feel that I have a good handle on my vision for these projects and how to work within the year-long timeline. Additionally, I am given hearty encouragement and sound advice from my program mentors: my boss, Executive Director of the Catawba Lands Conservancy, Tom Okel, and the Davidson Alumni Director, Marya Howell. It is with the help of these sage guiding individuals that I have been so successful already.

As I delve into the heart of my work here, I hope to be thinking and acting deliberately so that each thing I do here, no matter how small, can contribute to the greater impact I have both on this organization and in the Thread Trail’s footprint as a whole.

The strangeness of starting my professional career

By Whitley Raney ’13

Last weekend I had to make the jump from being a student to taking ownership over the knowledge that I supposedly gained as a student. It was a weird concept to think about, and I’m still not entirely sure that I am ready to take that responsibility and change of identity.

FHMM is participating in a continuing education course for community facilitators. Since I wasn’t here for the first few sessions, I wasn’t obligated to go, but I’m really glad that I did (After all, I’m enough of a nerd that class is appealing—even on Friday night and Saturday morning—and as a Davidson grad, I hardly know what else to do when I’m not in class or on a deadline to work on something).

When my coworkers and I went around to introduce ourselves to the visiting professor from Mexico City, we had to tell him our names, what area we worked in, and what we are. Everyone said that they were psychologists, engineers, biologists, sociologists, economists etc. I introduced myself, and said that I had studied anthropology. The teacher then responded (after misunderstanding and mispronouncing my name no less than 4 times before finally giving up), “Oh, you’re an anthropologist!” I guess I went to school for 4 years and President Quillen gave me a piece of paper to make that distinction, but that was the first time that I was given the opportunity (read: forced, because I’m still not sure how I feel about that “opportunity”) to assume responsibility for my education and assume a certain degree of authority for the expertise that I should have. Since the course dealt with a lot of anthropological theory and fieldwork concepts and things that I should know a lot about…I got to actually feel like I did have some kind of expertise, which is always positive.

At the same time however, real life and real jobs aren’t measured on any basis that I am equipped to navigate. The ability to ration my time and energy and sleep while still making it to class and meetings and activities and lectures and back to my apartment for desert night with my roommates is a skill that I’m still trying to learn how to adapt and apply to my life. There are no grades, there are no syllabi that outline the specific guidelines, and office hours aren’t quite as easy to come by. It isn’t enough to be able to write about the progression from structuralism to functionalism, I need to understand how that applies to community outreach work and the development of projects that have real budgets, real timetables, and affect real lives and real health outcomes.

There is a much more superficial level to this changing identity as well. As a break from the identity as a student that I have cultivated for the past 17 years of my life, it’s considered polite here to refer to people by their titles. In the United States we do that for doctors, maybe judges or ministers, but everyone else pretty much just graduates from college and goes on with their life. But in emails or formal interactions, I get referred to as la Licenciada Whitley. Which is basically an impressive-sounding way to acknowledge that I have a college degree. Which basically means that I need to get used to the fact that I can’t hang on to being a student, something that I got pretty good at over the course of, well, my entire life since I can remember. I get to apply all the student stuff, and half the time I can’t decide if that’s more pressure or less. It’s a strange jump to try and make.

And the funniest change to my identity as a young adult living and working in Mexico is definitely my name. Besides the fact that no one can pronounce it and I usually end up being called Wendy, there have been various forms to fill out that require both given names and both last names. People really don’t like the answer that I only have one last name (because, well, my birth certificate and social security card and passport and anything that legally gives me an identity says so). That explanation seems to make very little sense. So I get my two given names, my dad’s last name and my mom’s maiden name.

I’m la Licenciada Whitley Raye Raney Hensdale and I’m an anthropologist. I might need reminding occasionally, because I’m not entirely sure what to do with that information.

 

Back 2 School with GJP

By Kenneth Westberry ’13

My two “C’s” at Davidson in Basic Studio Art and Basic Acting led me to the realization that I’m not that great at art.  In the first, I was “too explorative” and not willing to pay mind to structure.  In the latter I wasn’t explorative enough.

Back 2 School with GJP

But I put my skills to the test again this past summer at Georgia Justice Project’s 7th Annual Back-2-School Festival.  This was my first weekend after my first weeks worth of work at my new job.  While I had been in Atlanta for nearly two and a half weeks, I was very

excited for the opportunity to meet the children of some of our many current and former clients.  The only word that I can begin to formulate to describe the week before the event is…. “real.”  The packing, unpacking, loading, lifting, and pushing boxes in and out of trucks and buildings was “real.”  However, there is no doubt that in my first week I could truly see this whole family element that had been described to me before arriving.  The staff is a family.

 

 

It was 7:30 AM  Saturday and I realized that I only had about 30 minutes to pick up one of the summer interns, James, and head to the event.   On the way out of 100 Midtown (my first apartment in Atlanta) I backed into a random pole that magically appeared in the tight parking garage.  I kept it moving.  When we arrived at the gymnasium I was greeted by Sanchez, a GJP Social Worker, who yelled from the back of the truck, “Lets Go! Lets Go!”  James and I jogged from the parking lot and jumped into the back of the truck.  We began to unload hundreds of book bags into the hands of many eager volunteers.

The inside of the event was very well planned out by many on the staff.  I decided to put my art education to the test when I saw that Mazie (a BM&E summer intern from this past summer) was the only person manning the face painting station and there were nearly 5 kids waiting for their turn. Back 2 School with GJP

My first face-painting client was four year-old Suzie.  Her father is currently incarcerated.  She wanted to be a fairy-tale princess.  So I went to work.  She sat there, eyes closed, daydreaming to herself about how she would look once I was complete.   I used blue paint for her eyelids and pink for blush.   I moved in closer to ensure that I got the red lipstick just right…until her friend ran up and tapped her on the shoulder.  Her friend had obviously been painted as a clown.

“Can I be a clown now?!” she exclaimed.

I was uprooted from my artistic moment.  “I’m sorry?”  I said confused, and somewhat hurt, “I thought you wanted to be a fairytale princess?”

“I don’t want to be a fairytale princess anymore!

“Yes mam!!” I responded smiling and began to paint her nose red and her forehead blue.  When I was finished she ran off screaming and laughing with her friend into the bouncy castle.

My second piece didn’t receive such a reaction.  Seven-year-old Todd decided he wanted a fire-breathing dragon on his face.  I was enthused to take on this challenge.  I handed him my iPhone and suggested that he find a picture on Google images of the dragon that he wanted me to paint on his face.  He chose the Absolute. Most. Complicated. Dragon. I. Have. EVER seen. Back 2 School with GJP

I embraced the challenge.  However, I warned him before I began that it may not come out exactly as he expected, especially considering that he wanted the dragon to breath blue flames. After spending nearly 20 minutes on his face, I presented him with the mirror…

Back 2 School with GJP

“You said I can wash it off in the end if I don’t like it, right?”

At that moment, I decided that my professors were right and that my skills would be best utilized manning the basketball game.

– See more at: http://www.gjp.org/kens-blog/2893/#sthash.RgcVH3tP.dpuf

Early signs that I am in the right profession

By Eli Kahn ’13

It’s hard to imagine that I’m into my sixth week working at the Foundation For The Carolinas.  This opportunity through the Davidson Impact Fellows program has truly been an amazing experience, and one that I will cherish.  Before I started my fellowship at the Foundation, I would often struggle with answering the question, “So what does FFTC do?”  I knew they were a community foundation which I was able to rattle off a basic definition of when prompted, but what I didn’t know is how much more than just a community foundation this place is.

Every day I walk into the office, I am not only amazed at the efforts and abilities of the staff here, but more importantly by the humility of each individual doing such amazing work.  Through my time growing up, and as a Bonner Scholar at Davidson, I became captivated by the non-profit sector but always struggled personally with how I could enter the sector and hopefully make a difference.  By the time I graduated in May, I knew that I wanted to work in the non-profit sector, but knew that my calling wasn’t teaching or “getting my hands dirty” so to speak by doing the amazing work that so many non-profits do on a daily basis, but instead working in a capacity to allow non-profits to continue and expand their work to touch more communities in need.

Even though most of my time at the Foundation thus far has been spent behind a desk or in meetings in the comfort of a conference room, I have not lost the sense that what I am doing is making a difference, and will positively impact the community.  I have had the humbling opportunities to interact and work with individuals who are tackling some of the largest issues facing our society.  To know that what the Foundation does by connecting donors and financial support to causes and organizations that are capable of tackling these problems, and that what I have been doing at the Foundation will help enable others to make a positive impact on our communities is more than enough for me, and something that I can be proud of when I leave the office every day.

With many of the largest social issues in society, say homelessness for example, there is generally a level of pessimism that the issue is too big to tackle.  I have found that in the philanthropic world of a foundation, this pessimism is outweighed by a sense of optimism – that each small initiative we take on, or grant issued, is a step in the right direction.

If I were to be asked now, “So what does FFTC do?” Or even, “what do you do at FFTC?” I am still not sure that I would be able to deliver a complete and concise answer, which I don’t necessarily see as a bad thing.  The opportunities thus far to involve myself in a variety of initiatives and projects tackling a variety of issues have truly been amazing .  To know that the Foundation, and the philanthropic world in general, has the resources available to make a positive impact on society  has made these first few weeks a great experience, and one that will continue to get better throughout my fellowship.

Thank you Davidson and DIF for launching me into the “real world” with such an amazing opportunity!

What I Wish I Had Learned in College

By Melodie Mendez ‘13

It has been one month since I’ve started my job as a Public Policy fellow at FHMM in Merida, Yucatan. I’ve enjoyed almost the entire experience but I would be amiss to say that had it not been for extreme patience (which I didn’t always exemplify) and great feats of flexibility (which I did not always exercise), this experience could have been on the brink of horrifying.

No.  I’m not exaggerating.

I don’t want to go into detail on the mishaps, but let’s just say that culture was lost in translation. Besides, the mishaps are not important. What is important is that I never really learned to fully function in a world outside the comforts of Davidson. Davidson did not teach me how to live a hard life.

I lived a luxurious life at Davidson. I had my own room with bathrooms that our dorm keeper took care of, meals cooked for me right when I wanted them, CVS near by, deadlines/ tasks/ expectations all clearly laid out for me right with the handout of a syllabus. Sure, I pulled all-nighters every month; sure, I didn’t always get the grades I wanted; sure, I was a part of way too many clubs… but these were all choices. Davidson afforded me choices and for the large part if I was unhappy about something I could make an effort to change it.

Life, on the other hand, just says “no” to most of your efforts and hands you a bag of ambiguity and other obstacles for you to delve through.

I wish Davidson had taught me how to simply “deal with it.” It sounds so much easier when reading and writing the words.

What I Wish I Had Learned in College

But it’s just harder in the real world (and, believe me, as I write this I’m realizing how much of a comfy life I’ve lived). Anywho, that’s just the professional setting, where I can’t just lounge in the Union pull an all-nighter when I want to and submit my work, but instead I am forced to sit on a wooden chair crank out some work for an undisclosed time with undisclosed specifications. It often times feel like I have no professional power and being President of XYZ club bears no weight on anything except… wait no, absolutely nothing.

Then there is my life outside of the office. I recently had a conversation with one of my housemates (also a Davidson 2013 grad) about our social lives at Davidson. It was a very structured social life. You knew where you where going to eat and with whom. You knew what times you had this and that meeting. You knew that you would probably goof around for X number of hours and then rush to complete an assigned reading. The weekend came and you partied the night/ morning away, slept in, went to Commons, went to the library.

Rinse.

Repeat.

It was relatively planned and known.

I have started a new life outside of Davidson and outside of the US and, for starters, I don’t even know what I like to do [on a budget]? I wish Davidson had afforded me the time to develop a hobby. For the past four years my interests consisted of sleeping on command during any available time, joking around with my friends in the dorms or in the Union, and writing lists upon lists upon lists of things I needed to get done.  But what do I like to do? Or maybe a more appropriate question is, who would I like to be?

At Davidson, I was a workaholic and I loved it and, for the most part, was relatively good at it. Some might ask, “well what did you do before Davidson?” Well, I was at a competitive boarding school and before that I was a Prep 9 student that conducted college prepatory classes starting at age 13. Complimented by my strict parents who wanted to be nothing other than a Doctor or lawyer, I had no life outside of school. I didn’t mind that at all to be honest. One thing I know for certain, I love to learn.

Nowadays, I guess I’m just learning how to be.

 

My Journey Begins

By Kenneth Westberry ’13

Before I applied to the Georgia Justice Project, I was familiar with their work. In my freshman year at Davidson, I remember hearing Doug (Doug Ammar ’84) speak at a dinner at Dean Terry’s house and saying to myself then…”Wow, I need to intern with this guy and his people!” I never was able to get around to it during my summers in college due to various travels. I knew that the Georgia Justice Project (or an organization similar to it) was where I wanted to be once I graduated. The problem is; however, there are not many organizations similar to GJP. What stood out to me then, and still stands out to me now after this first month, is the value in GJP’s systemic theory of change. This theory is presented in the book Forces for Good, explaining: “the most effective non-profits generate impact by combining direct service along with policy efforts.”

This is, working side by side with those whom histories are deemed deplorable by society so that they may become more productive citizens and not regress to a life of crime while simultaneously researching the statistical likelihood that these individuals will return to prison once stably employed.

This is, throwing Christmas parties and Back to School events for the children of clients who are currently incarcerated and may remain so for the next twenty years or more.

My Journey Begins

Doug Ammar ’84 and Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harold Melton

This is, sitting down in our intake lobby with a homeless, ex-offender on Monday, and sitting down in the State-House Lobby with the Governor of Georgia on Thursday to discuss needed legislative changes.

This is true impact.

Yet, even while I was able to say that I was familiar with GJPs work, I cannot say I knew what to expect.

I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with you throughout the year.

– See more at: http://www.gjp.org/kens-blog/my-journey-begins/#sthash.vspwTER8.dpuf

 

Welcome!

This is a blog for reflections from a group of recent Davidson College graduates now working in non-profit organizations around the world.  The Davidson Impact Fellows program placed 16 students into one-year fellowships beginning in the Summer of 2013.  Each of the fellows is a 2013 graduate of Davidson College working in his/her first professional position after college.

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