What have you learned from your first-hand experience about poverty here in the City of Rochester and how has that affected you?
The City’s Department of Recreation and Youth Services relies heavily on building programs that supplement the ‘40 Developmental Assets.’ When I first started as a VISTA, I somehow had never heard of them. As I get further into my position, I realize how they correspond to the opportunities youth have to succeed. I have realized that building upon these assets, from shaping perspectives of their future to motivating them to finish a business plan for their new business can have lasting impacts. I’ve learned that something as abstract sounding as a ‘developmental asset’ can actually be relatively easily incorporated into a program aimed at reducing the effects of poverty and also into my daily life.
This has also shown me just how out of touch and ignorant so many public figures are when they discuss issues of poverty, public assistance, education, and after school programs, among many others. But that is a different story.
The youth we work with are smart, resourceful, and resilient by nature. These attributes, that when channeled in a positive direction, can really transform one’s circumstances. We had our first camp a few weeks ago and it was my most significant firsthand experience with poverty in my position so far. Many of the youth walked several miles or relied on public transportation to get them to and from camp for each of the 5 days. They were happy to have breakfast, lunch, and snacks. The same students that complained about being there at 9am on Monday were the ones energized by the idea of selling hot chocolate and earning money on Wednesday. What I took away from the camp was that my program helped to empower 20 youth to start businesses, an idea most of them might never have thought possible. I believe that empowerment and therefore, the opportunity to succeed, are the first steps to ending poverty.
I have seen more and more that fighting poverty must be approached holistically. So many aspects, like good health, a support system, and a sense of safety, are imperative to a child’s well-being and likeliness to succeed. Working with Rochester Youth Year has given me the opportunity to see how these elements interact and the many possibilities we have as individuals and as members of our organizations to make an impact in reducing the effects of poverty.