Social Impact

A child's hand is shown stamping a pattern on a white t-shirt.

Breaking the Digital Ice: Creative Approaches to Community Engagement

When I submitted my FAO Schwarz Fellowship application in February 2020, how could I have predicted that the world would become unrecognizable in just four short weeks? Graduating college, starting a full-time job, and moving to a new city are not easy feats, pandemic or not. Under normal circumstances, I would have walked across astage in May to receive my degree. I would have visited the city wherein I’d received a job offer–before accepting the offer.

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Silhouetted sign post with arrows in front of sunset

Crises and Creativity: What we can learn from 2020

At Jumpstart, we emphasize the importance of young children’s capacity to learn during those critical early years, when their minds are flexible and open to new experiences. As adults, it can be easy to settle into our patterns and believe that our time to learn and change has passed. The pandemic has affected every aspect of my work and personal life, but rather than focus on the way things haven’t gone according to plan, I’m considering the ways my perspective has changed.

At the end of my fellowship, I’m thinking about how I can continue to challenge my expectations, habits, and ideas, even after leaving the crisis-mode of this past year.

I remember the dread throughout the nonprofit and education world as we entered the pandemic last spring. Without in-person classes, how could students learn effectively? Without in-person services, would families fall through the cracks? Before there was time to conduct research, we began planning how to address the expected learning loss. When things go sideways, it’s easy to catastrophize, freeze, and just wait for things to go back to normal.

Unimaginable events can lead to previously unimagined (or unimplemented) ideas. Knowing this, I hope to hold onto the mindset that every person or system still has a huge potential for growth.

At Jumpstart, once we realized that “normalcy” would never return, the work of redesigning programs for a virtual setting began. Tech averse folks (like me), had to let go of our resistances and become fluent in virtual platforms. Rather than create a temporary replacement for traditional community engagement, we were able to develop something new. Over the summer, I worked with Jumpstart volunteers who created astounding educational videos for children. Throughout the year, I collaborated with the Reads Alliance in Brooklyn and Queens to host trilingual Zoom events that often gathered nearly one hundred attendees and distributed hundreds of book kits. Although the in-person interaction was missing, we were able to create entirely different experiences. Virtual engagement gave us the ability to have translators for multiple languages, host guest speakers who live across the world, and connect with families who may not have had the time to travel to a traditional event.

This is not to force a silver lining onto a year that was devastating and traumatic, but to point out how the learning potential we see in children still exists in adults and organizations. Unimaginable events can lead to previously unimagined (or unimplemented) ideas. Knowing this, I hope to hold onto the mindset that every person or system still has a huge potential for growth, even though they may have exited that “critical period.” I hope that we can carry forward the innovations that have stemmed from this disaster, along with a new openness to adaptation. I’m excited to return to seeing children and families in-person, to have the side conversations and irreplaceable interactions, and I’ll bring a new sense of resourcefulness and creativity with me.

Meredith Jones

Meredith Jones

Meredith Jones (she/her) is the Policy and Community Impact Fellow Jumpstart for Young Children in New York City.

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Photo Raul PetriUnsplash

An infographic about a Community Building method designed by FAO Fellow Lex Brown. The graphic's title is Building Community, The "ICE FARM" Approach by lex brown. The graphic is organized by the letters of ICEFARM with a step based on each letter. I- Individualization: Over time, get to know each person and their unique context. C- Consistency and Clear communication: Remember key details and reach out in ways that resonate with both the messenger and receiver. E- Explicit Ecosystem of expectations: Know what we need of others, know what is needed of us, and know how these needs are interconnected. F- Follow up/through: Be faithful to our word and acknowledge when needs aren't being met. A-Accountability: Make demonstrated effort to be accountable in action to those in our community. R- Respect for each other's humanity: Hold and honor community members as full humans with capacity for growth. M- Mutuality: Others must demonstrate a willingness and ability to enthusiastically build and maintain.

Building Community: the ICE FARM Approach

Since I was young, building community has been noted as one of my strengths. However, having my fellowship experience at Breakthrough Greater Boston (BTGB) begin completely virtually required me to think more intentionally about what community building looks like as a practice, one that cannot be facilitated as a byproduct of proximity. READ MORE

Former fellow Emily posing with members of the Yearup community

The Medium Doesn’t Matter

The past nine months of working for Year Up New York | New Jersey have been busy, busy, busy. Between my work with the alumni community, our students, and analyzing data to provide suggestions to continue improving our program and support, I have been trusted to take on more and more high-level tasks within the organization.

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Former fellow Meredith running a craft table for small children with other Jumpstart employees

Navigating Community Outreach and Policy Advocacy

On a rainy Tuesday morning, my coworker and I lugged our Jumpstart bags stuffed with books and craft supplies to a Brooklyn preschool. Though I had already coordinated many such events since I started my role six months ago, I still felt anticipation as I imagined how the children and teachers might respond to the books and activity. Like always, however, the skilled teachers made the event a breeze, catching tantrums before they escalated and prompting the students with thoughtful questions about the book.

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Former fellow Joyce Kim advising a student one on one

A Glimpse into “Virtual” Advising

When I tell people about the advising half of my work, I usually give a one-liner along the lines of, “I advise students about financial aid and college affordability, but it’s virtual so I’m mostly texting them.” This tends to receive many raised eyebrows, which only raise higher when I go on to explain that I have hundreds of students in my caseload.

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