Monday, November 30, 2009

Why Do You Serve?

My elementary school site absolutely loves Generations Incorporated. I generally get stopped in the hall about 20 times a day by children asking me to take them to read. If it is a child that I know we serve regularly, I tell them that they will need to wait their turn to see their reading coach. If it is a child that I don't recognize, I usually ask them who their teacher is and tell them that they need permission from them before they can read with us. Today, just like any other day, I was stopped by a child on her way to the restroom with the question "Can you take me to read, please?" So, as usual I told her to ask her teacher. After she used the restroom, the first grader approached me a second time.

"Excuse me, do you take kids who don't know how to read good?" she asked.

"No, we are coaches who help kids read the best that they can," I replied.

"Oh okay. I really want to read with you because my parents can't read with me at home," she said, "my daddy works all day and night and my mommy is blind so she can't help me."

It took everything that I had to not show this child the internal struggle that was brewing, because anyone who knows me knows that I cry at just about anything that is remotely heartfelt. All of the training in the world could not have prepared me for this sobering encounter with a six year old. It was about the equivalent of watching an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and an SPCA commercial with Sarah Mclachlan belting out the song "Angel." It was enough to melt the heart of Cruella Deville. After speaking to her teacher, I learned that the child is already receiving outside help for a large portion of the week. Since the child took such initiative to be a part of our program, her teacher was happy to find a spot in her schedule to allow the girl to read with us twice a week.

It is difficult to put into words the effect that these kids have on me. They tend to put everything into perspective, making this experience more meaningful and important than I could have ever imagined. Each day brings on new surprises, challenges, and rewards. Experiences like the one with this child today are sure to stick with me for life.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Introducing the 09/10 Generations Incorporated State Members

For our first AmeriCorps State 2009/2010 blog entry, we wrote a song to the tune of Camp Grenada (Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda). This song introduces all of the new 9 State Members and gives a small window into our first month of orientation with Generations Incorporated. We hope you enjoy...keep an eye out for the video blog entry at a later date.

-Molly Dutter and Maddie Kiuttu

Goodbye Mother, Goodbye Father

I am off to, serve some others

Red Sox fans are, very vocal

I will have to drop my R's so I sound local

On the first day, of orientation

We became members, of Generations

Got in groups to, scavenge Boston

Turns out that this East Coast city is quite awesome!

Got through one whole, month of training

Canceled hiking, cause it was raining

No one told us, about our cluster

Julie knew and said that we just had to trust her

Take me home to Coolidge Corner

There are five States to discover

Don't touch Jason's tortellini

Elvia is a Twitter Queenie

If you want to, see Zach cryin'

Watch a chick flick, with Meg Ryan

Lisa's laugh is, quite contagious

Molly cut 2000 meatballs, how outrageous!

Oh but wait there's, four more Staties

One's a gent and, three are ladies

One is Amy, she's a sweet one

One is Karleigh and when you're with her you'll have great fun!

Who's got overalls, and a beard?

Look its Joe out, in Revere!

Then there's Maddie, she's a great chick

When you have a bad day she's there for you real quick

What a great bunch, of new Staties

They were all born, in the eighties!

So glad they joined, the team this year

Hope our singing was too not bad and hurt your ear!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The start of VISTA service.

Fresh out of school with a degree in anthropology left me with a new perspective on the world, several new ideas, and an unwavering optimism that I could do something to change the world. The kind of major that often resulted in the much feared, “That’s great but what are you going to do with it?” question.

Starting at Generations Incorporated as the Recruitment VISTA has been an eye-opening opportunity for me. I’ve been learning a lot about what seems to work and what doesn’t with recruiting volunteers, which is challenging yet exciting. I am surrounded by several intelligent and optimistic AmeriCorps members, all excited in their own ways for learning about their position, the organization, non-profits, et cetera. We are here for a year or two (or even three if we get hooked), but then we move on to take the skills and experience that we have acquired and move to our next step in life.

As I adapt to the social environment of serving in an office, I have noticed the difference between the staff and myself. The difference that I am noticing is that while I’ve come here with my idealistic, unwavering, fresh-out-of-college kind of optimism, they have a different kind of optimism. It is a sort of grounded optimism. It is the kind of optimism that has been challenged with the reality of running a non-profit (especially in this economy) and pulled through.

Being around these kind of resources, mentors, supervisors, who are so excited to help us all learn and develop our skills and develop ourselves as people has made me realize something about this experience. I may not figure out exactly what I am going to do in the future in a year, but I’m going to have a much better idea of how I am going to do it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Site Photos!

A few weeks ago, we held a photo contest for the AmeriCorps State members. It was a fun way for us to share what different sites are like and to show off the work we've been doing. There were tons of great pictures, but since I can't post them all, here are the winners:

Best Site Photo
Abraham and Aaron Richardson
by Bryan Lamoreau, Yawkey Boys and Girls Club

Most Enthralled Reading Coaches Session
Ms. Pearl Jones and Rasheed Abdullah
by Maya Milic-Strkalj, Blue Hill Boys and Girls Club

Cutest Kid
Taryn Dineen
by Jessi Kunhardt, South Boston Boys and Girls Club

Best Volunteer Action Shot
Brianna Herrera and Jade Richardson-Delay
by Kirkland Ahrens, JFK Elementary School

Friday, May 1, 2009

Proof of Progress

As part of the AmeriCorps network, our motto is “We’re getting things done for America.” And on a day to day basis, I don’t think this could be truer. Four days a week, we help students improve their reading skills and confidence. Obviously, it would be rather time consuming and difficult to try to quantify our accomplishments on a day-to-day basis. For most of us, it’s the little improvements we see in the students that prove we are, indeed, “getting things done.” It may be something as small as a student begging for an extra five minutes with their coach, reading a basic book with no stumbles or recognizing a new sight word. But every so often, we get big results that truly prove that we’re making a difference; an accomplishment so great that we can’t help but celebrate it with our other Corps members who understand just how big that particular feat is. My big reward came in February and it’s a story I still enjoy sharing.

When I enrolled Lauren back in October, she was essentially a non-reader. Lauren was in first grade and able to read only the most basic of words—a, and, the—and had little confidence. She clearly didn’t enjoy reading and was nervous about having to do it in front of complete strangers. Her teacher knew she was well behind the rest of the class and wanted her in the school’s reading recovery program which offered 45 minutes of intensive literacy tutoring with a specialist four times a week. Unfortunately, the program was full first semester, so Lauren had to wait until February to begin. Until then, her teacher wanted her in Generations so that she was still getting a form of individualized attention twice a week.

I assigned Lauren to one of our most dynamic, consistent and dedicated Reading Coaches, Ms. Tena, in the hopes that she would encourage not only Lauren’s reading skills but also her confidence. Lauren was initially very shy during her sessions and struggled through them. Gradually, she began to trust Tena and before long, I was regularly hearing giggles from their work station and would occasionally have to tell them to keep the volume down. Every session, I would be impressed by some new word she could decipher or how fluently she was reading rather lengthy sentences. Clearly, she was making considerable gains in her skills and appreciation of reading.

I didn’t realize how big those gains were until her teacher approached me in February to talk about Lauren. She informed me that the week prior she and the literacy specialist had started the enrollment process to get Lauren into the reading recovery program. In order to enroll her, she had to be tested to see at which level she would be starting. Her teacher was pleased to report that Lauren had actually tested out of the program. Her skills were now too high for her to qualify for extra help.

Sharing that fantastic news with Tena has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my year of service. Tena was absolutely beaming and was so proud of Lauren’s accomplishment. Certainly, significant feedback like that doesn’t come along every day, so we really have to savor those moments and remember that all of the little signs of improvement are pieces of a much bigger picture of the students developing skills and confidence that will serve them well for life. We’re getting things done.

Kim Bohling is an Americorps State Program Coordinator. You can email her at

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Good Luck

She responded, "I don't know; stop calling here." He told me, "I do not have time for this...." I only asked if they might donate pizza to the event, Be a STAR (Share The Art of Reading). We expect that over 100 Nathan Hale Elementary School students, parents, and community members will attend. The event's goals are to inspire a love of reading and to celebrate the students' academic achievements. Highlights include a family reading hour, educational programs by community organizations Boston Campaign for Proficiency, Sports 4 Kids, Peace Games, and of course, Generations Incorporated. I hung up the phone with a sense of defeat that spoiled my motivation to seek more donations. I took their responses personally, as irrational as this was. For we weren't mortal enemies. And clearly, we weren't mortal friends either.

That they yelled at me didn’t bother me. On occasion I listened to heavy metal rock. The rejection bothered me. Was it what I was wearing? Was it the style of my hair? Was it something I said? I asked for donations over the phone, so the first two questions don't apply. Regardless of my solicitation method, the rejection born from these encounters deflated my once ballooned confidence. The following reminders helped me find the motivation to seek donations once again. And so now, I recommend them to you.

1) Some people are rude. Period. They're rude to their mothers, their friends, their dog and their parakeet. It is no surprise they're rude to strangers. Take comfort in the predictability of their behavior. The phrase, "It's not you, it's me," is, for once, true.
2) Some small businesses are not used to donation requests. Employees have a defensive reaction to this rare occurrence—they think it is a scam. Fair enough. Then it may be better to ask for a donation in person, rather than over the phone. Bring any paperwork that will establish your legitimacy—tax forms, pre-written donation request letter on a letterhead, business card, etc. But chain businesses are used to donation solicitors. It may be better—and more respectful of the business manager's time—to call him or her before your visit to set up a meeting time.
3) Often enough, your request for donations will be met with the response "No. " Be proud of yourself for having the determination to overcome the mountain you are climbing, no matter how many boulders are in your path. And always remember these words from The Great One, the hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, "You miss 100-percent of the shots you don't take." I won’t try to relate the mountain metaphor to the Wayne Gretzky quote, so I leave you with this instead. When you ask for donations you are “selling” your organization’s purpose, but more so you are selling yourself. To establish yourself as respectable and legitimate to strangers is a skill you need to be successful in your professional (and personal) life. Seeking donations is an opportunity to strengthen it. And so is writing blog entries. Did I establish myself as respectable and legitimate? If I did, then you accepted my advice. And if you used it, I hoped it helped. Good luck.

Carlos Livingston is an AmeriCorps State Lead at Generations Incorporated. You can e-mail him at

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

At the Club

Each morning, while most of my peers at Generations head out to their respective schools to begin programming, I make the commute to our downtown office to get some work done before my site begins at 2:30. I am one of four AmeriCorps coordinators serving at an after-school site, and I think that all of us can agree that we operate in a very different world from that of the school-serving corps members. One of the differences is that our afternoon schedules afford us the time to visit school sites during the morning and become ever more aware that the after-school environment is a world of its own. Last week, on a suggestion from my supervisor, I used one of my mornings to visit the Blackstone Elementary School in the South End in order to get a better feeling for how different sites run.

I have spent time at schools all throughout my year of service; in particular, I visit the Perkins Elementary School in South Boston regularly, which is right down the street from the South Boston Boys & Girls Club, where I serve. However, it has become very clear to all of us this year that each site has its own personality – no two are the same. The Blackstone is much bigger than the other schools I’ve visited – Bill, the site coordinator there, told me that it takes ten minutes to walk from one end of the school to the other! Bill and Sarah, the AmeriCorps member at the Blackstone, have the luxury of a wonderful space there, big enough to accommodate all of the many students they serve. Having spent some time at schools that can only offer the space under the stairs for their Generations program, I understood how lucky Bill and Sarah are.

The most shocking thing to me about school sites, however, – and in this they are mostly similar – is how easy it is to locate the students and get their reading sessions started uniformly on time. Since the Blackstone is a large school, and one with mostly three-walled classrooms, which sometimes gets confusing, things don’t always go as quickly and smoothly as they do at smaller schools. Still, I found myself with mouth agape at how efficiently everything ran at the Blackstone. At the after-school sites, particularly the larger Boys & Girls Clubs, there is never a day that is not at least somewhat chaotic. It is fun chaos, though, and I have come to really enjoy the whirlwind of activity surrounding me constantly from 2:30 until 6.

The South Boston Boys & Girls Club has about 200 members, children who come there after school is over until their parents can pick them up, and at any given moment, they have two options for activities to take part in. In reality, the children could be in any number of places – doing their homework, getting a snack, or, as has become more frequent as the end of the year draws nearer, hiding from me. By necessity, I have become intimately familiar with every nook and cranny of the clubhouse. I’ll admit that it took me a while to get into the flow of the club; to understand when different kids would arrive, what activities they were likely to do, whether they would be easy to convince to come and read or whether it would be a time-consuming persuasion process. But by this point, the club feels like a home to me; granted, it is a chaotic, crazy, and at times stressful home, but a home nonetheless. There are definitely benefits to being at a school site, but I love the unique qualities of the after-school environment that set these sites apart. The club is a little like summer camp, which I am very familiar with. It is fun and casual; kids often stop by the Generations room to hang out or do some independent reading when there is enough space, and if a student misses a session, I can always grab them later in the week to make it up. I have gotten to know the kids in my program in a friendly way, not just an educational way, and I have also had the chance to get to know other kids who go to the club, because we see each other every day. When I am not too busy, I will occasionally get the chance to play games with my students, see what they are working on in the art room, the computer room, or the education room, and sometimes help with homework or school projects.

I really enjoy being able to visit other sites, and there are days when I think that my mornings spent at the Perkins School are the only thing preserving my sanity, but I know that when my year of service ends in June, I will be broken-hearted to leave this crazy, chaotic world that I have grown to love.

Jessie Kunhardt is an AmeriCorps State Program Coordinator. You can email her at

Thursday, April 9, 2009

October to April...Are these really the same children?

A day in the life in October…. I step into a classroom in my green polo and kids cower and hide their faces. “I don’t want to come with you!” “I don’t like reading.” “This is going to be boring.” It was rough convincing these tough kids that they would have fun coming down to read and that their cool and caring Experience Corps reading coaches were not working with them as a punishment, but were there to be supportive and to have an enjoyable time together.

A day in the life in April…. I step into a classroom in my green polo and kids jump into my path. “Is it me today?” “How come you never pick me to come read?” “Can I come with him/her?” I come up at the end of sessions and hear, “I don’t want to go back yet.” “How about 5 more minutes?” or, “Just a couple more pages?” Ah, the joy it brings to my heart not to have to convince them every day that I am friend not foe. And even those who are still a bit skeptical at the beginning of each session, once they get going with their reading coach, never want to leave.

I’ll bring it down from the broad spectrum to the personal and talk about one student in particular. I have the privilege of getting to read with this sweet student and now I get to see his smiling face most of the time. At the beginning of the year it was literally quite the opposite, he would cry when it was time for him to come read with Generations. The transition was stressful for him and he felt uncomfortable leaving the classroom. Once his teacher and I figured out that this was his difficulty we switched to reading right outside the classroom and slowly worked our way down to the library (where we hold the majority of our reading coaches sessions). Now he comes down with that beautiful smile lighting up his face. His ability to feel comfortable in the environment we provide lends to him being able to make much more progress in his reading. His comfort level in regard to his atmosphere has led to a new confidence in his reading and gives him something to feel proud of. Working with him is now a delight and his excitement and enthusiasm about the stories we read make his smiles contagious.

I see the same story occurring between each of the students and their Generations reading coaches at the Mission Hill School where I serve. I see students gaining another positive influence in their lives and a needed support in their education because of their relationships with their reading coaches. It is the flexibility and helpful collaboration of the teachers combined with the gentle, patient, perseverance of the Experience Corps volunteers that make a visible difference in the lives of these children and in turn make my walking into those classrooms in my green polo each day feel more and more worthwhile.

Meghan MacLean is an AmeriCorps State Community Engagement Coordinator. You can email her at

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

News and Gratitude from an AC Alum

The following email was sent by an AmeriCorps Alum (from '07-'08) to one of our staff members. How awesome to hear what she is up to and how her service has had a lasting effect in her life!

I wanted to write to you and everyone else at Generations Incorporated to share my experiences training for the Boston Marathon and to express gratitude for the influence my experiences at GI continue to have in this endeavor as well as in other aspects of my life. I am so grateful for my experiences as an AmeriCorps member at Generations Incorporated because of the things I learned, the spirit that I felt, and the persons I associated with. And I wanted to let everyone know a few of the ways those experiences continue to influence my life post-AmeriCorps. Would you mind forwarding this and/or posting it at the office (as it's appropriate)?

While serving in AmeriCorps I learned a lot about non-profits that is helping me in my graduate courses in museum education. The value of that is not only the knowledge of how non-profit organizations work but in how they can become a part of and benefit the community--the difference they can make in the lives of many individuals and how they can uplift and strengthen each individual that they serve--from volunteers to families to civic leaders, etc. And the experiential knowledge I gained last year is every bit as valuable, if not more so. For example, my communication skills are much improved thanks to all the collaboration I was a part of (especially during the Read-a-thon). A couple of weeks ago we talked about the importance of supporting volunteers and I was able to contribute some insights that opened the eyes of some of my classmates. And here's another example: thanks to the expertise of the devo team, my supervisor, and really everyone else, drafting my marathon fundraising letter was a breeze. All that practice with in-kind letters comes in mighty handy. :)

The motivation behind the service makes all the difference. And the willingness of so many to spend so much time to create wonderful experiences for others brings energy and spirit that carry you through each task. That spirit touches the hearts of those who serve and extends to the lives of those who are served. When everyone pulls together amazing things happen that lead to greater energy and consequently greater things--like making stone soup. I will always appreciate my fellow AmeriCorps members whose excitement fueled mine in a way that helped us all give more than we thought we could. That experience, I think, is what gave me the courage to leap at the chance to run the marathon as part of a team that would pull together for an important cause. Not sure if I could really do it, I signed up anyway; and being part of a team gets me through the rough spots. Last week it literally got me up and over Heartbreak Hill.

I love people. I love people! My experiences as an AmeriCorps member at Generations Incorporated immersed me into the variety of culture and community of Boston. I love it here! And not just because Washington once walked these streets. :) I have gotten to know so many people and have been given opportunities to work with them and learn about them that I would not have otherwise had. Those people are special to me. And you are some of them. Thanks for sharing your lives with me. Thanks for recognizing my strengths and allowing me to rely on yours. Thanks for recognizing my weaknesses and supporting me to accomplish our mutual goals. Life goes on and our goals are less closely aligned than they were, but our relationships matter and impact our lives in great measure.

Well, I didn't mean this to be quite so long. Turns out I had a lot to say (typical of when I have strong feelings about something). I appreciate each one of you and the powerful impact you have had on my life through your service and kindness. I hope you will consider helping me support Perkins School for the Blind this year as I prepare for and run the Boston Marathon. To do so, or to simply read a little about my experiences go to:

Warmest regards,

Christina Ashton

Monday, March 16, 2009

Experience Gained, Experience Given

In observance and celebration of Black History Month, many Generations Incorporated programs, including the Kennedy elementary, took part in discussing historical figures and events that shaped the rights of people in the United States. However, a group of students at the Kennedy were able to expand their experience, when a volunteer shared her encounters as a participant in Civil Rights demonstrations in the Deep South.

One day in conversation Jean Webber mentioned taking part in a march with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in her hometown of Chicago, Illinois. This just absolutely blew me away! Here was this woman who had participated in a demonstration with one of the most important figures in history, and she was going to be working with our students…Awesome! So, when Black History month arrived, I asked Ms. Jean if she would share her incredible experience with a few of our older, lunch time mentoring students. I was surprised when she hesitated a bit, but delighted when she agreed. Later I realized that her hesitation arose from the depth of emotion that surrounded her memories.

Turns out that Jean had taken a solo trip that toured the southern states in the height of the Civil Rights movement, and was full of vivid stories that confirmed many of the horrors many have only heard about. Jean shared a story in which she joined a peaceful march in a Mississippi town that was chaotic with racial tension. It was extremely interesting to observe the students as Jean described fellow white people screaming, and attempting to physically harm her for marching with African Americans. Jean left no detail of their abuse hidden, and the students reacted with shock, and confusion. When Jean finished, the students asked only a few questions, however, I truly feel that they were fascinated by the images, and emotions in her story. The perspective that her experience allowed these young students to explore is invaluable to their appreciation of their rights as people, and might not have ever occurred if they were not able to come into contact with the volunteers at Generations Incorporated. Almost anyone can sit with students and help them read, but these kids are truly lucky to not only have a friend and a tutor, but a resource to experiences that is sure to build strong character.

Kirkland Ahrens is an AmeriCorps State Community Engagement Coordinator at Generations Incorporated. You can e-mail him at

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Southie Story

For one of our recent Member Development Friday’s I helped facilitate a discussion about educational equality and bussing as one attempt at achieving that in Boston today. We watched the Boston bussing section of the award winning Civil Rights documentary Eyes on the Prize, and discussed our reactions to that film. We were shocked by the violence that occurred, some of it directed at children who were just trying to go to school, white parents throwing rocks and hurling obscenities at young black children in Southie. It was especially surprising to think about how recent these events were. Many of the older adult volunteers who serve at our schools were living in Boston during this time, touched by these events. It was a pretty dark era in the history of South Boston (know to the locals as “Southie”).

But let’s back up a bit, to how I ended up discussing educational equality with fellow Americorps members at Generations Incorporated. I guess it started as graduation neared senior year of college. I often thought to myself ‘what now?’ I knew I wanted to be an educator, but was not sure if I was cut out to be a teacher. I heard about Americorps, a year long service opportunity, and with extensive community service and nonprofit experience, it seemed that spending another year in service was a fitting next step. When I came across Generations Incorporated I was struck by the uniqueness of their mission to bring together youth and older adults through literacy based mentoring. I was excited about the chance to explore my interest in education, while also working with diverse populations, diverse in all senses of the word. Many organizations that Americorps members work with engage low-income communities, but with Generations Incorporated there is also the element of diversity in age.

Generations Incorporated (GI) places volunteers in schools and afterschools across Boston and Revere, so when I got my placement at a small school in South Boston, I was a little surprised. With great-grandparents who came over from Ireland with the last name Connolly, I wasn’t expecting too much in terms of diversity in my placement, based on what I had heard about South Boston. I wanted to learn all I could about the area, and I started by reading Michael Macdonald’s All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, and was struck by the images of the racial and class struggle of the 1970s during Boston’s bussing crisis. As my year of service progressed, I craved more background and history of the area . I read J. Anthony Lukas’ Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families, a compelling depiction of urban life in Boston in the 70s, including an in-depth look at exchanges among different ethnicities in the search for educational equality. Some Bostonians developed community schools that tried to bridge the education gap. While some of these succeeded, many proved insufficient, so communities reached out to the Boston Public School Board and eventually the courts for a fair chance for their children to receive a quality education. The bussing that resulted produced mixed results. In many neighborhoods integration occurred peacefully, but some featured significant violence. I was so struck by this decades old debate and the injustice that occurred right here where I serve today. I have also seen that the volunteers at my site have not forgotten the events of that time, and for many it is still a raw, emotional issue. I saw the relevance of the issue to our older adult volunteers and felt the urge to share some of this story with my fellow Americorps members, and that is how I came to facilitating the discussion.

So what’s it like in Southie today? That’s what my Americorps State team members wanted to know after our discussion. Well, it’s not like in that video, I can say for sure. Walking the streets of South Boston near my school, The Perkins Elementary, you’ll find people of just about every skin color, age range, ethnic background, and religion, and that heterogeneity is reflected in the student body of my small school. Of course it’s not all happy harmony, but for the most part, it’s an atmosphere of relative accord in the neighborhood. The people of South Boston have worked hard to put the past behind them, and it shows today. It means something that most of my fellow Americorps members had no idea the kind of racial violence that went on around educational issues in these neighborhoods not so long ago. The neighborhood has come a long way. But there’s still a ways to go. I’m happy to be a small part of an organization that does something to bring older adults from neighborhoods across the greater Boston area to work with students who may not be like themselves. I couldn’t ask for a richer experience for my service year.


Kelly Connolly is an Americorps State Program Coordinator. You can email her at

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Curious Thing

During my two years of AmeriCorps Service at Generations Incorporated I have found member development training to be an enriching experience. At GI we are surrounded by helpful and knowledgeable individuals who are constantly willing to share their experience. What I believe enriches the program the most, however, is the constant invitation to AmeriCorps members to enhance the program as they see fit. This is one of my experiences doing just that.

Let me start by saying that I am a 23 year old gay man. I have never felt unwelcome or unwanted at Generations Incorporated, and I have never felt anything but encouragement regarding my ability to express myself openly.

It wasn’t until the end of my VISTA year when I was cleaning out my desk, and found some evaluations of a training on LGBT diversity that had been presented to AmeriCorps members a few years ago, that the thought of such a training even crossed my mind. The evaluations of this training were to my surprise almost universally negative. I did some research and contacted a member of the corps from that year who confirmed that the training had been unsuccessful. You can’t blame anyone really. Sometimes trainings work, and sometimes they don’t. As VISTA in charge of volunteer training last year, few are more familiar with this phenomenon than I. Nevertheless, I took the opportunity to collect some constructive feedback while I had this former corps member on the phone.

Fast forward to about 3 months ago, in the middle of my second year of service as an AmeriCorps Lead. I decided I would take another crack at LGBT diversity, but this time with an important twist.

In my VISTA position last year I learned a thing or two about presenting information to groups of people. One thing that I picked up on was that especially where diversity is concerned, you need to give your audience a stake in what you’re presenting. I know it’s wrong to assume, but I feel safe in assuming that those who sign onto a year of AmeriCorps with Generations Incorporated expect to be exposed to youth issues and older adult issues. LGBT diversity doesn’t have to be dealt with separately from those things. This progression of logic led me to the following Google search: LGBT aging Boston.

This search brought me to the website of the LGBT Aging Project. A non-profit organization in Boston that provides resources and hosts social gatherings for LGBT identified older adults. I called the volunteer contact there, who informed me that they would be excited to host our corps at one of their weekly lunches in February. I emailed the corps to gauge feasibility and was met with such an outpouring of interest that I actually had to start a waitlist, because they could only host 10 of us.

We just got back from the lunch, and not to seem overly gay, but it went fabulously. Before the guests arrived the assistant director of the Project gave us a short orientation to the issues that face older adults today. Namely their sense of alienation from the movement that our generation has chosen, their inability to function socially among their straight-identified peers because of their generation’s widespread lack of acceptance, and also the differing issues faced by men and by women within the community, and how to serve one group without alienating the other. It was great to hear about these issues from someone with such firsthand knowledge.

After we had helped set up and the guests had arrived, we sat with them and chatted them up. One of the guests at my table was English, and one of the AmeriCorps members at my table had lived in England for a time, so they had a wonderful conversation. It was great to hear about their various experiences and their differing areas of expertise. We were even able to jot down some names of prospective volunteers.

All in all it was a great start to my mission. Today’s event started a meaningful and productive conversation among our corps, now the challenge will be to continue this conversation, keeping it productive while constantly giving it new meaning.

Garen Nigon is an AmeriCorps State Lead at Generations Incorporated. You can e-mail him at

Friday, February 6, 2009

Why Service?

“WELL WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?!?” my mother shrieked into the phone when I told her I had decided not to apply to graduate school. I was still in college and had just come from a meeting with my advisor who had told me quite bluntly, “Don’t do to grad school just because you don’t know what else to do.” I was stunned. How had I not realized that that was what I was doing? I felt that a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

So when I called my mom with a sense of joyful relief, the panicked scream I got in reaction was not quite what I’d hoped for.

But then, as mothers so often do just when you want to be mad at them, she had made a good point. What was I going to do? Searches for jobs for anthropology majors generally counseled me to use my new-found understanding of human behavior to try to sell people stuff, answer telephones, or try to sell people stuff over the telephone. I found these options uninspiring.

Lucky for me, a different, less talked about option existed: full time service. Admittedly, I stumbled across the Americorps option because I didn’t know what else to do, but that isn’t why I chose it. It takes more than a “why not?” attitude to make a person decide to pack up, leave home and dive head first into a position she might not yet fully understand and pays almost nothing. You have to see a need you think you can meet, a challenge you are excited to overcome, an opportunity that you think will leave you a better and stronger person than you were before.

People have said a lot of very moving things about the value of doing service, but I won’t quote them here. Honestly I don’t feel like my life is that grandiose. Like working people, I sometimes get worn out and have to deal with things I’d rather ignore. Not to mention that I spend too much time on public transit to pretend that service is all about nobility and greatness. But there are more than enough incredible moments to make up for all that.

I get to see the fierce love our volunteers have for their students. I get to be inspired by their dedication and the way they unequivocally reject the idea that somebody else’s children are somebody else’s responsibility. I get to join in the pride a student feels when she reads a book she couldn’t have gotten through at the beginning of the year. I get to work with a Corps of really fun and motivated people who care about a lot of the same things I do.

I guess all that is a little addictive, because here I am in the middle of my second year of service at Generations Incorporated. Sure, we all have days when we look at our stipend check and wish there were a little more left over to buy that cute pair of shoes… but in the end I feel very privileged to be an Americorps member. The trust the staff gives us allows me to challenge myself ad I get far more support in figuring out and preparing for what I want to do with the rest of my life than most entry-level jobs would give me.

Since I can’t stay here forever, that pesky “Well, what are you going to do?” question will come up again soon. For now though, I know that choosing service was the right thing. Let’s just say I’ve never once wished that I had gone the telemarketing route.

Emily Schlosnagle is an AmeriCorps State Lead at Generations Incorporated. You can e-mail her at

Monday, January 5, 2009

Soup from a Stone—Fancy That!

A key piece of our service at Generations Incorporated is engaging the families of our students. Research shows that family involvement—over all other factors, including socioeconomic status and parent’s level of education—is the best indicator of a student’s academic success. As Community Engagement Coordinators, we create simple, but meaningful, opportunities for parents and family members to be involved with and that encourage their student’s educational development. The annual Stone Soup celebration is just one such opportunity for family members to meet the teachers and tutors who help their child to become better readers and citizens.

At the event, Nathan Hale Elementary School students learned how delicious and fun sharing can be when they helped create stone soup to share with classmates, teachers, family and Generations Inc. volunteers. The folktale Stone Soup inspired the event. In the story, a village of hungry peasants refuses to share their food with three starving soldiers. The soldiers tell the villagers they know how to make soup from a stone. The villagers, in disbelief, follow the soldiers’ recipe. But the recipe is a trick. The soldiers tell the villagers that stone soup is tasty, but it could be tastier if they add vegetables. Each villager brings a vegetable to add to the soup. In the end all shared a little and all had plenty to eat.

Our event utilized the Stone Soup story line. Each student brought vegetables for our stew; Generations Inc. volunteers, staff and Americorps members brought bread, fruit and cookies to share, too. Parents, grandparents and siblings came to the feast and had the chance to meet their student’s tutor and see the great work they have done. The party ended with dessert and a fun, interactive read aloud of another version of the tale.

The Stone Soup party is a longstanding and treasured Generations Inc. tradition at the Nathan Hale. It is a real celebration of reading, sharing and connecting all of the people who share in our students’ successes.
Kim Bohling is an Americorps State Program Coordinator. You can email her at