By Nani Swaminathan
In 2013, when I stood to take my AmeriCorps Oath of Service for the very first time, I couldn’t help but feel like I was about to embark on a Lord of the Rings style adventure. I felt a little bit like every member of the Fellowship of the Ring mixed together. I pledged my sword, bow and axe to AmeriCorps. I felt like people were relying on me and fighting for my success at the same time.
This year, half way through my second term of service, just as the oath I took declares, my commitment has yet to waver. I am fighting the orcs of exhaustion, resisting The Lonely Mountain of laziness, guarding myself against the Sauron of surrender, and climbing the rocky terrain to the Mordor of success. (That last part got away from me a little). But I am not without fault, I occasionally have to find my center, harness my chi, and fight the urge to transform into Gollum. But that’s usually reserved for the days that I have to pay rent (my bank account is my precious).
Nani with Kid Power students on MLK Day of Service
The work that AmeriCorps Members do is driven by perseverance, commitment to safety and health, peaceful resolution, community action, and the glory of being able to say that they, much like Gandalf the Grey to the Balrog, did not allow the shadows of darkness to pass.
I decided 2 years after college that the community that forged me, was the community that I wanted to start making change within. My first year of service was spent wearing multiple hats as an Education Specialist for the United Teen Equality Center in Lowell, Massachusetts. That place was my Shire. The growth that I made there, both personally and professionally, reminded me that change begins at home, and spreads outwards.
This year, I am serving in Washington D.C. as an Academic Consultant for Kid Power, Inc. The fact still remains that the work that I do and the change that I strive to be a part of, has not faltered since I took my oath in 2013. Kid Power has brought me in with open arms, provided me with the environment I need to succeed, and pushes me to be the best version of myself. There are challenges along the way, but the continued senior staff support has made this experience one that I would not trade for anything.
Kid Power's 5 AmeriCorps Members
One does not simply walk into the Mordor of success. It is riddled with the fire, ash, and dust of life’s unruly challenges. The Nazgûl you face are those who would see you fail, but when you remember your oath, you will make it to the end and back home again.
I have already accomplished so much this year. I find myself sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting with baited breath, to see how the rest of the journey unfolds. It is as Gandalf said “AmeriCorps members are really amazing creatures. You can learn all there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet, after a hundred years, they can still surprise you.”
by Curtis Leitch
I can’t believe that it has already been half a year since I began working with AmeriCorps and Kid Power! Time definitely seems to pass more expediently as the years go by; moreover, the phrase “time flies when you’re having fun” rings true regarding my time as an AmeriCorps member. The work is challenging at times and there are many difficult days; however, my collective time working with Kid Power through AmeriCorps has been an amazing experience.
Our awesome AmeriCorps Members!
If I were to have told you that I thought I would be working with an educational non-profit six months ago, I would have been lying to you. Did I ponder the idea of teaching at one point while I was in college? Yes. Did I ponder the idea of working with non-profits and NGO’s? Yes. Did I ponder the idea of working with AmeriCorps? Yes. Did I think I would be working with an after-school program in Washington, DC via AmeriCorps? No. I have never prescribed to the idea that everything happens for a reason, however, I see the phrase’s appeal, for I love my work and I would like to think that I am supposed to be here at this given point in my life.
People ask me all the time what it’s like to work with AmeriCorps. To be completely honest, my time as an AmeriCorps member will be vastly different from other members because our community is so large and diverse. There’s the National Civilian Community Corps, FEMA Corps, VISTA, and AmeriCorps State and National. AmeriCorps members work in different sectors all throughout the nation; therefore, one person’s experience can be dramatically different than someone else’s year of service. Although we have different jobs and contribute in different ways, AmeriCorps members all share one thing in common: helping others in need and strengthening our communities.
To answer the aforementioned question that I am often asked, I work as an Academic Consultant for Kid Power via the State and National Program. The title of “Academic Consultant” is seemingly official, but I can assure you that I am the furthest thing from what you are envisioning. I like toting the title of Academic Consultant in the signature line of my e-mails; however, I really just get to act like a kid, which suits me well as I am a child at heart. My job is to create abstract engaging activities that are outside of the box for the students we work with (I predominately work with elementary school students). Moreover, I try to think of ways to teach students academic and citizenship lessons, while keeping their attention and advancing their knowledge.
I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I work in an office all day. I enjoy visiting the students that we work with on a weekly basis. I not only get to help students for the latter half of the day during our programming hours, I get to see what parts of my curriculum works and what doesn’t. I take and internalize what I learn every day and incorporate it into future lessons. I have also taught in our after-school classrooms; gone rowing with students on the Anacostia River; taken students to Georgetown Day and Sidwell Friends School for tutoring; taken students to meet their pen-pals at Delta Towers Senior Living Community; met with community organizations and universities to form new partnerships; and co-organized a service project on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Over 100 MLK Day of Service students and volunteers!
I love working with all of my co-workers. I love the open and inviting environment that I work in. I love creating curriculum and getting to channel my inner child. I love going to schools and helping out in the classroom. I love seeing the smiles on all of our students’ faces. I love working as an AmeriCorps Member (okay the money situation living in DC on an AmeriCorps salary isn’t the greatest, but everything else is great). I love working with Kid Power, Inc. and all of the great work they do. Overall, I really and truly do love my current situation and I couldn’t ask for anything more during this point in my life.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?" On January 19th, 50 Kid Power students and 150 volunteers rose to this challenge by committing their time and energy to the service of others for MLK Day of Service, a national day of giving back to your community. To kick off this day of service, Kid Power students decorated paper lunch bags and filled them with friendly notes of encouragement. Then students and volunteers filled the bags with homemade sandwiches and healthy snacks to be distributed to community members currently experiencing homelessness. Next, students and volunteers took to the streets to distribute the lunches to those in need.
As the day drew to a close, the students participated in a reflection activity. After watching a video clip of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream Speech”, students wrote on their “hands” how helping others made them feel and what else they can do to give back to their community. Students talked among themselves and came up with some inspirational ways to be of service to others: helping at a shelter, working with the elderly, and just making people happy, to name a few! After all the hands were filled, the students placed them on a tree, which symbolized working together to grow and help the world we live in.
We could not be more proud of Kid Power students or more grateful to the many volunteers who chose to honor Dr. King and his dream by making the holiday “a day on, not a day off,” reflecting the true spirit of MLK Day. We believe that understanding the value and importance of community service and civic engagement is crucial for youth as they grow into adulthood. Kid Power students’ passion, energy, and kindness to others on this day truly embodied what MLK Day is all about!
Thank you again to our volunteers from Miami University, Censeo Consulting, Georgetown Day School, Dickinson Wright, and generous community members for your time and support! It would not have been possible without you!
My name is Rachel and I am currently a college intern at Kid Power. In high school I volunteered with Kid Power through the mentoring/tutoring program that pairs Kid Power students with students from local private schools (I went to Sidwell Friends). Along with Sidwell Friends, Kid Power has spearheaded Public-Private School Network with Georgetown Day School and Edmund Burke. By partnering underserved youth in DC with students from local private schools, Kid Power seeks to bridge the socioeconomic gap in DC. In doing so, many students from the aforementioned private schools, who might not have been aware of the educational and socioeconomic inequalities that persist in DC, are made aware of the issue. Through this experience with Kid Power, some of these students have gone on to pursue careers focused on addressing such inequalities. This experience in high school sparked my interest in the non-profit sector and the relationships I formed with mentees made a lasting impression on me and helped me to feel stronger ties to my own DC community.
When I first started working at Watkins Camp this summer, I thought Maria (pictured left) looked remarkably familiar. After we talked a bit, I learned that Maria was actually a Kid Power alumna and had come to Sidwell as a Kid Power student! One of Kid Power’s biggest accomplishments – and I think one of its coolest aspects as an organization – is maintaining student involvement after they graduate from Kid Power’s after-school and summer programs. Maria started attending Kid Power’s programs when she went to Tubman Elementary School. Now Maria, about to enter high school, works with Kid Power through the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and uses her past experiences with the program to help her work more effectively with the current students and form a mentor/mentee relationship with them.
Reuniting with Maria this summer truly made my Kid Power experience come full circle. Both Maria and I were able to use our past experience with Kid Power to provide current Kid Power students with more insightful mentor relationships and better understanding of their needs and interests. I believe it is these lasting interpersonal connections are what make the Kid Power experience so unique!
What is a citizen? What makes a good citizen? And, how can we become more engaged citizens? These are just a few of the questions discussed this week at Kid Power’s Summer Leadership Academy at Watkins Elementary School. Believing that we all have the power to be the agents of change in our lives, Kid Power’s Citizenship Curriculum is focused on providing students with helpful information on their rights and responsibilities as citizens, as well familiarizing students with the vocabulary that often accompanies discussions about citizenship and democracy. When asked “What makes a responsible citizen?” students came up with thoughtful answers such as, “caring about each other”, “not littering”, and “not committing crimes”.
After solidifying how a good citizen acted, we moved on to the concept of advocacy, discussing what being an advocate meant and entailed. Students were then asked to come up with issues in their neighborhoods they wished to advocate for. By asking students to think critically about their own neighborhoods, Kid Power helps to empower students to stand up against issues that affect them. Some insightful issues discussed included: having more recycling cans in their neighborhoods; improving neighborhood relations with the police; and helping to eliminate homelessness in the District.
This summer, each class will choose one topic they can advocate for. For example, students in the Art Club chose to focus their advocacy project on raising awareness about childhood cancer. Students will then learn about their chosen cause and plan a service-learning project based on the advocacy methods they’ve learned at the Summer Leadership Academy (e.g. letter writing to government officials, PSAs, protests, boycotts). By providing information on advocacy methods, we hope that students will leave with a better understanding of how to affect change in the world!
This articles is written by Lauren Zapko and Clara Huang, two Kid Power Summer Interns
This week, we visited the both the Elementary and Middle Summer Leadership Academy camps. We had the opportunity to speak with some of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) staff members. However, we soon realized that they are more than just summer counselors for Kid Power – they were actually enrolled in the Kid Power programs when they were in elementary and middle school.
SYEP is a “locally funded initiative sponsored by the Department of Employment Services that provides District youth ages 14-21 with enriching and constructive summer work experiences." Kid Power is lucky enough to serve as a host employer to these wonderful summer counselors who are familiar with Kid Power’s programs and the impact the programs have on the community.
We interviewed five alumni of Kid Power who are currently SYEP staff. They all talked about how much fun they had as Kid Power students when they were younger – so much so that they wanted to give back to other kids to ensure that current children were able to have the same wonderful experiences.
One SYEP counselor, Amira, was enrolled in Kid Power from 3rd-5th grade at Miner Elementary School (pictured left). She came back as a 9th grader to where at all began at Kid Power's 2013 Summer Leadership Academy at Miner Elementary School. She told us she wanted to get younger kids "excited about our program activities." She added: "I would do anything for Kid Power because they helped me when I was a kid. I want to tell all the kids in the area that Kid Power makes learning fun."
Throughout our interview, Amira continued to mention that what she learned from Kid Power programs helped her tremendously in school. Math was difficult for her in the classroom but when she started participating in Kid Power’s after-school program, the enrichment activities she completed made math easier and clearer. Eventually, Amira, along with her grade in math class, showed great improvement. Check out Amira on the right as a high school counselor.
SYEP Counselors also spoke to us about how Kid Power helped them learn to become role models and take more responsibility for their actions. One stated, “When I was a kid in Kid Power, I didn’t really have a good attitude or good behavior at school, but when I went to the program at Kid Power, I wanted to change.”
Community service was also a big topic among KP alumni. Because Kid Power focuses on civic engagement and citizenship, SYEP counselors are always interested in giving back to their communities. Iyoha, who works at Middle School Summer Leadership Academy started Kid Power in the 3rd grade and not only graduate high school, but is attending college this month! He stated that, “Helping other people has always been important in my family, but Kid Power gave me a place to do it and people to help.”
After several days at camp, we were perhaps most impressed by the extensive support network that Kid Power is able to create with the young people that it serves. Of course, we have learned that Kid Power has specific academic and social goals for young people to achieve annually each year, but what was strikingly apparent was how dedicated Kid Power is to helping each student transition to a healthy adulthood. What we heard over and over again was how grateful these high school students are having the support of Kid Power no matter what. Several SYEP workers let us know that Kid Power is "our second family."
After getting to know these SYEP counselors, we were inspired by their passion and dedication to Kid Power. We hope they will be back for years to come and continue to support our programs – thank you SYEP staff and Kid Power alumni!
Below, Maleyka is pictured as a 3rd grade Kid Power participant winning an award for "outstanding citizenship" and as an 8th grade role model leading a Farmer's Market VeggieTime Sale with Kid Power's Program Director (Grant Elliott) and Executive Director (Andria Hollis)! Kid Power as a second family... we certainly couldn't agree more!
As part of Kid Power's Citizenship Project program, which is a multifaceted approach to civics education, Kid Power students from the Latin American Bilingual Montessori Public Charter School (LAMB) hosted international volunteers from World Learning’s Global Undergraduate Exchange Program. The international college students and LAMB elementary students participated in cultural exploration activities during two after-school sessions in March and April. The university students hailed from different countries in Southeast Asia, Central America and South America. The rare exchange was a truly wonderful experience for all participants.
In the CookieTime program, students learn food preparation skills from professional bakers at CakeLove, develop and market an original line of cookies, and use the proceeds to fund service-learning projects. Last week, Kid Power youth from Jefferson Middle School and Tubman Elementary School came together to host a youth-led CookieTime bake sale. The students in this group carefully thought about where they wanted cookie proceeds to go, and students discussed different groups that could benefit. Students took a vote and ultimately decided to donate proceeds to "Toys for Tots."
An important part of Kid Power’s Veggie Time program is to teach youth how to prepare healthy snacks and meals not only for themselves, but also for their families. One of the ways this is done is through hosting Parent Nights. During this Parent Night at Tubman Elementary School, students decided to make smoothies and complete a craft project with their families.
I showed up as the students at Tubman were preparing strawberry and blueberry smoothies. They looked delicious. Students used ingredients that were high in vitamins and nutrients. Ingredients included orange juice (high in Vitamin C), strawberries ( high in Vitamin C), blueberries (good source of Vitamins C and E) and a special secret ingredient, spinach. Adding spinach to the smoothies boosted the Vitamin A content by 377%! When Tubman students first made smoothies earlier this year, some were hesitant about adding spinach to the smoothie, but other students reassured them that spinach is good for you and you can't even taste it in the smoothies.