Exploring Character Development in Portland, OR - Mid-Fellowship Update

As I began taking in the culture of fun-loving, mission-driven Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland (BGCP), one thing seemed certain: they are not afraid to use acronyms nor shy away from club-specific lingo. “The difference between a program with a lowercase p versus a program with a capital P is . . .”  beside the point. After undergoing a rigorous introduction of impromptu dancing in front of 150+ summer employees, the objective of my Future Leaders in Action (FLIA) fellowship became more and more clear.

This wasn’t going to be just another summer position of sitting idly and performing unimaginatively; I was going to build a strong rapport within BGCP by collaboratively designing special programs for young children and do innovative work in the field of Service Learning. More than just check boxes of menial tasks completed, I have had the opportunity to direct my passion for service to the benefit of two outstanding organizations, BGCP and FLIA, in several structural and direct ways, as well as grow personally and professionally throughout the fellowship.

My fellowship was originally planned to operate from June 8th to August 14th; however, I am so thankful and excited that it has been extended out to October 16th! The extension will grant me the opportunity to follow through with the implementation as well as staff training and first round assessments of the unique Youth Volunteerism program that I have developed for over 970 club members. It will also allow me to attend the special ZooSnooze event I worked to coordinate for the Fall.

The Boys and Girls Club of Portland at the ZooSnooze in the Fall of 2014. Photo Credit: Boys and Girls Clubs of Portland

The Boys and Girls Club of Portland at the ZooSnooze in the Fall of 2014. Photo Credit: Boys and Girls Clubs of Portland

The first task at hand was to sketch out the details of a special Fall event, the ZooSnooze. It is a unique wildlife experience where youth who would not normally have the opportunity to visit the Oregon Zoo are able to spend the night and experience an exclusive, behind-the-scenes evening with and around inhabitants of the zoo. I have acted as a liaison between BGCP Unit Directors and staff at the Oregon Zoo to determine the best dates for the event as well as coordinate transportation and strategies to promote attendance for the event. The ZooSnooze will take place on the evening of October 8th and go into the morning of October 9th, and I cannot wait to see what magic unfolds for club members while the Zoo would normally be snoozing.

The project that has occupied the vast majority of my fellowship not only aligns with personal ideology, but brings me much joy to develop, pitch, and implement. The Youth Volunteerism Program (with a capital P) is an initiative that aims to involve youth in volunteer community service projects and civic engagement. A key component to this involves measuring the impact on character development and social engagement indicators through formal assessment tools and comparative data collection with the hypothesis that youth who are engaged in their community through volunteer projects have a strong sense of community support and good character. This unique use of outcome measurement and program development will not only be utilized internally for improvement, but also as an external resource to share with stakeholders and future grant reports.

Photo Credit: Peacecraneproject.org

Photo Credit: Peacecraneproject.org

This project will become an integral part of the after-school clubhouse experience - each day, a different age group will participate in their weekly service project, with the same 1-3 designated staff facilitators. We decided to theme the projects around broad character values. Each month has a different value and, in that month, each week’s service project speaks as action towards fostering that value and prompts dialogue around social change and service learning. For example, October’s character value theme is Global Citizenship and one week’s service project involves folding origami paper cranes and exchanging them internationally through The Peace Crane Project to promote peace and connect children through art. Other monthly themes range from gratitude and courage to compassion and environmental stewardship.

Developing the curriculum for the Youth Volunteerism project served as a challenge in more ways than one. It involved rigorous research in potential volunteer projects and service learning prompts for young children as well as the identification and analysis of a variety of assessment tools. Launching this initiative would not be possible without receiving a grant from a data/research system, Comet. A large portion of building the foundation has involved working within the constraints and goals of this grant; I feel all the more confident that these guidelines have helped me develop a stronger program that stands alone as a model to be taken and applied in many different settings and/or organizations.

 As I sit right in the middle of the timeline for my fellowship with Future Leaders in Action, I can’t help but look in both directions - already proud of the material I’ve developed and honored by the professional relationships I’ve fostered within Portland nonprofits, but also overjoyed and ready to see it up and running on the feet of BGCP for the long haul.