With only two months left in my year of service, what feels like the blink of an eye, I reflect back on my work as a VISTA with pride and amazement. As any VISTA will attest to, connecting the worlds of the university and community is no easy task, and one that includes too many intricacies and working parts to describe. The challenges I faced only made my successes more meaningful and satisfying. Whetting my desire to continue service, my time as a VISTA has excited and prepared me for my next steps in pursuit of social justice within communities.
The Prospect Hill Community Center is an amazing partnership and testament to the Waltham community. The Waltham Housing Authority, Waltham Police Department, Brandeis University, and Bentley University, all came together In 2014 to refurbish and reopen the housing development’s old Community Center. Programs built from the ground up doubled in participation over the following year and culminated in the programs currently running. The largest program, and my main focus, is the Afterschool Program serving between 30 and 50 residents grades 1-9 in Waltham’s largest low-income housing development. After their first year of programming, I came in to collaborate on their capacity building and program development.
The main steps in this development were to build consistency in volunteer training, solidify the difference between our Afterschool Program and Teen Program, and to build a foundational base for curriculum. Training proved to be a long-term project, implemented for the first time this semester. One of three community center’s in Waltham, I worked to create a training that encompassed skills and information necessary for all volunteers across universities and centers, focusing on cultural training as well as the best practices for a successful and engaged volunteer. My greatest accomplishment, this training will be a tool and resource for years to come and bring all volunteers together in order to unify the support given to the Prospect Hill residents.
Growing exponentially in participants, it became clear that the program could not accommodate the number and range of ages in the program. Throughout the summer all partners met and slowly, we developed a capacity building program to focus on the population with new needs in the program. Implemented this semester, a new Teen Homework Help Drop-in Program that we developed supports the Mentoring Teen program and allows specific aid for Prospect Hill teens, who’s academic needs differ greatly from the younger students in the Afterschool Program. The final major project I was able to see through the year, was a curriculum program. With common core and new standards seen in school, I worked with the Program Director and Principal of the public school to build a foundation of supplemental academic materials in the Center in order to support both the children in their work and the volunteers in adapting to new standards. Last semester we were able to provide a solid amount of resources for English, a strong need in the Prospect Hill community, and currently I will be building STEM resources for the next VISTA to continue and implement.
I have seen tremendous change and growth in the Community Center programs as well as the participants themselves and am grateful personally and professionally for the perspective gained during the year. I look forward to seeing where the programs go from here, and am thrilled to have seen and initiated the next step in the Prospect Hill Community Center’s growth.