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