Making a Difference in My Community

How I'm finally giving back at a time when I have the time and what I’m learning in the process...

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10 Things About Facilitating a Workshop You Have to Experience for Yourself

In the last several months, we’ve all seen the world change dramatically from what we once knew.  The pandemic has shifted everything in our everyday lives where it’s nearly impossible to forget the new reality we are living in.  

While a lot has changed in these last few months, I’ve noticed that a lot has also remained the same for me overall. Specifically, I’ve been fortunate enough to remain healthy and safe. I’ve also been lucky enough to continue to have all of my basic needs easily met: food, shelter, security, friendship, and family. As time has gone on, I’ve become hyper aware of much we take these things for granted most of the time.

As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I could give back and help in some way that might make even the smallest difference.  But for a long time I wasn’t sure what that would be or what it might look like.

I kept thinking “How could I do something that can be both meaningful and rewarding but would also keep me safe?”  For now, I needed to focus on something that could be remote. And whatever it was would ideally need to align with my nature of wanting to guide, support, and share ideas to help others build skills and habits to improve their everyday life.

Well, I put that idea out into the universe and the universe seemed to be listening.

Fast-forward to this week when I took on a role as a Facilitator of 2 virtual classes a day.  It’s a virtual program that offers NYC Youth (ages 14-21) opportunities to learn new skills, explore potential careers and earn money over 5-weeks this summer.  As a facilitator, I’m tasked with helping participants explore career options and develop work readiness skills, including critical competencies such as problem solving, team building and analytic reasoning.

What’s this program you ask?  It’s the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP).  Each summer, this program offers NYC youth entry-level work experience in a variety of jobs at community-based organizations, government agencies, and private sector businesses.

Back in April due to COVID-19 uncertainties and the financial crisis, the program was cut along with many other city initiatives. But a new initiative, announced earlier this month by Mayor Bill de Blasio, has brought it back on a smaller scale and in a new way, allowing youth from ages 14 to 21 to participate in a virtual work program.

“Summer Bridge 2020” as it’s now called, is offering approximately 60 to 90 hours of activities over a five-week period, providing enriching opportunities for the city’s youth while school is out. The program prioritizes low-income, justice-involved, foster care, runaway and homeless, NYCHA residents and young adults from communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

So, this past week I began this journey that will not only help others in some way, but will also challenge me, stretch me, and help me grow.  It’s yet another chance for me to work on my own intentions:  to transform, grow & learn – about myself, about others, and to gain perspective while shifting my own perspective.

When this opportunity came along to facilitate a workshop AND do it completely virtually, it seemed like a no brainer.  Of course, being the positive & optimistic one that I am, I could only see the good, which while “good” means I often forget there will always be challenges along the way.

I envisioned myself as “teacher” wearing glasses, tapping my foot while waiting for the class to settle down, taking attendance, having a structured lesson that goes smoothly….etc, etc. I conveniently neglected to think about what challenges I might face, or how “hard” some things might be. It was probably for the best, because focusing on the negative is never a good thing at the start of anything new. It’s still all SO new to me, but with Week 1 down…

Here are my Week 1 observations – 10 Things About Facilitating a Workshop You Need to Experience for Yourself:

  1. It’s hard to connect with others on a screen, and it’s even harder to connect with a name in a box when participants won’t all turn on their cameraBut it’s not impossible.
  2. Class size matters, even in and especially in a virtual environment.  Too many people in a room is hard for me to keep track of and be as effective. I like small groups.  But it’s not impossible.
  3. Screen sharing is great, but it has its challenges at times.  Still, it’s manageable and not impossible.
  4. Kids are funny, smart, insightful, and hopeful and inspiring.  And contrary to what we may “think” when we generalize about teenagers, they are not impossible.  
  5. It’s hard to pick up on individual personalities really get to know someone in a virtual environment.  But it’s not impossible.  In just a short week, I can already see personalities popping through the Zoom screen and can pinpoint some of the classic classroom figures: the class clown, teacher’s pet, class monitor, etc.  
  6. A commitment of your time really is just that: a commitment.  Committing 4 hours of my day to virtual classes is more challenging that I originally anticipated.  It must be even harder for students who’ve already endured months of virtual learning in a Zoom environment, to continue on non-stop through the summer months.  But it’s not impossible.
  7. Nothing comes easy OR free.  There’s a ton of work involved behind the scenes to support, plan and prep a workshop and a lot of work to sit through a workshop & do it successfully.  But it’s not impossible.
  8. It’s hard find a balance and not to lose yourself in being overzealous in the planning & prep of the weekly lessons, and being continuously stressed about the impact you hope to make.  But it’s not impossible.
  9. It’s a delicate balance between being understanding and being a compassionate ally to students and then enforcing rules and expectations.  Again, you’re getting the idea now – But it’s not impossible.
  10. Taking attendance – ALL WEEK I so desperately wanted to call out “Bueller…Bueller!” just once!!!  Witholding that urge has, honestly, been extremely difficult for me!  BUT not impossible…mostly, because I remember that none of them have probably ever seen that movie and I absolutely don’t want to do anything to date myself.

Bottom line: My lesson for Week 1 is to remember that everything is hard in some way.  But nothing is impossible.  I guess I already knew that, but we all need to be reminded of this from time to time.  Especially, now.

At the end of week 1, I applaud educators who tirelessly work to teach our youth and prepare them for the world.  

Anyone can do it (theoretically) but not everyone can do it.  

My hat’s off to those who choose to do it – either because it is their passion in life, or because it was just a path they ended up in for other reasons, like parents suddenly homeschooling or volunteers who feel called to dedicate time.  The fact remains, sticking with it in the long term is admirable.  And especially now, in a world that is going through so much, at a time when most learning has moved to a virtual platform and isn’t quite ideal for most.  Putting myself in their shoes, I can see that it’s not impossibly “hard” but it’s certainly not super “easy” either.  

This past week has been a great teacher. I am so much more aware of the importance of being a “student of life.” There’s incredible value and perspective in being present, being engaged, being open, and being thoughtful.

With that, I also applaud all the student participants. I’d love to be able to hug them and tell them how amazing, intelligent, and resilient I already think they are.

As I move into week 2, I’m inspired by these real students who are also teaching me along the way, giving me hope that everything will be ok.

Week 2, here I come! Stay tuned…

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