“Going Small”: A 3-Month Plan for Civic Engagement Across the Generations (by Guest Blogger Laura Dubois)

Please note that the following is Laura Dubois’s final submission for the Portland State University Course UNST 421: Enhancing Youth Literacy.  Laura volunteered with Portland Youth Builders during Spring 2012.

While this writing was an assignment for class, it is also an actual plan for action beyond the classroom.   Posting these action plans is part of a system of accountability that we set up via the “Action Plan” assignment.  Students developed an accountability method to keep them on track with their community work.  Some chose to post to the public.  I will be checking back in with these students (publicly) down the road. Laura’s action plan showcases the fact that we can do volunteer work with our families and that this work can be part of the way we educate ourselves and our children on community.


I would like to continue to work with the community as a volunteer. My passion has always been working with elderly, and I will focus my efforts on this population. The elderly are an underserved population, just as are the youth that I worked with at Portland Youth Builders. The main theme that I took from the class is that it is very important for each individual to do what they can to support their community. I also learned how very rewarding it is to do so, and I am looking forward to continuing to help my community.

It will be fairly easy for me to take steps towards volunteering with the elderly. Starting the first week of July, I will make the appropriate contacts to work with Store to Door. This organization helps seniors remain independent in their own homes by providing them with groceries that they are otherwise unable to attain. This opportunity is available every Wednesday, every month, and will be easy to work into my life schedule. It is also a good opportunity for me because I will be able to bring my children with me.


I am choosing to “Go Small” with my volunteering at this time, because of my hectic schedule. Hands on Portland makes this very easy by identifying several volunteer opportunities that I can start and complete in just one day. This volunteer opportunity will also allow me to “Simply Connect”. I feel like senior citizens are a forgotten population for most, and working with Store to Door will allow me to connect with senior citizens that may think no one cares. I will let them know that I do care, and so do my children! Another way that this volunteer experience is right for me is that it will help me to become an “Expert in something small”. I learned a long time ago that I can not save the world, but I can make a difference. I know that I will not be able to change the way that society views the elderly, but I can make a big difference, in a very small way.


I will be able to stay on track with the goals that I have set up for myself because I have set very small and reasonable goals. With the kids and myself being out of school for the summer, I will have more than enough time to accomplish my goals. I have also discussed the volunteer opportunity with my children and they are excited to help. They never let me forget anything, so they will help me stay on track. I do not expect there to be any barriers to my success and I am truly looking forward to working with Store to Door, and also exploring other volunteer opportunities on the Hands On website.


The Profound Ways Our Students Teach Us: Reflections on the End of the Term & Introducing a Celebration of Student Work

I had the most peculiar and moving experience today.  I sat down to read my students’ finals to grade them.  And I enjoyed it.  I was moved emotionally and intellectually by what they shared and discussed.

Two of my courses at Portland State University are Capstones, required senior-level classes that pair community work with classroom learning. During the term, we discussed issues of local and national education and equity in our classroom while my students also volunteered with the James John SUN Program, Parkrose High School SUN Program, University Park Community Center Homework Club and Preschool, and Portland Youth Builders.

They served over 450 hours in the community.  They developed learning activities and taught them, supported a tutoring center that is struggling to get off the ground, participated in GED test preparation, ran a panel for students to ask questions about attending college, found resources for a tutoring library, networked to give youth access to a recording studio and recording artists, ran a family night event, and more.

Even more importantly, we had deep conversations about real issues.  And the truth is that we ultimately all learned more from our students and each other than we could even learn in a book or from our teachers alone.

For any of you interested in teaching this kind of community-based course or for those who are just curious, here are the Instructions for Capstone Final Reflection (Spring 2012) that I used.

One student wrote:

This class was probably the most enjoyable, time consuming, and informative course I have taken during my entire college career….There are so many students who grow up at an extreme disadvantage, and therefore suffer in school and the rest of their lives because of it. I feel that this problem, among many others we’ve touched on this term, definitely has ethical and social ties surrounding it. I doubt every Capstone course gets super serious and in depth about the kinds of social issues we face every day, but this one sure does, and I’m very pleased with how informed I’ve become.  

This was one moment among many that reminded me how important this work is, how lucky I am to be teaching in a program that focuses on the connection between the classroom and the community, and how much we all learn in this kind of space.

To all of my students (past and present), thank you for motivating me to always strive be a better guide; for sharing the journey of learning more about education in our community; for teaching me more about service, equity, and justice than I could ever have learned about in books or in my experiences alone; and for committing to small and big actions that will continue to make our community a more equitable and livable place for all in the future.

Upcoming Celebration of Student Work: To all PDXEAN readers, check back here for the next week or so.  I will be posting student action plans, letters, and reflections.  This is work that is meant to be shared!

Empowering Youth & Celebrating Strength: Inspiration from the Field (by Guest Blogger Jaydra Wolfheart)

 Challenge #8: Read & Be Inspired

Inspiration from the Field by Guest Blogger Jaydra Wolfheart

I took Zapoura’s Enhancing Youth Literacy Capstone a few years ago just as my interest in working with youth was developing. Volunteering in a public school for her class was at once frustrating, empowering, enlightening, motivating, and discouraging. Complicated. But I learned so much- that I didn’t want to work with very young kids. That I felt powerless in the face of the huge institutional barriers keeping teachers and kids locked into crappy situations. That I loved working with youth just the same. That I didn’t have to take on the whole system- I could find my place working in concert with others making small, yet meaningful steps toward education and equity for young people. Knowing public school might not be the place for me, I went searching for another place where I could be an advocate. Further coursework and volunteering led me to Portland YouthBuilders, an organization that does phenomenal work with marginalized youth ages 17-24. I volunteered there as a GED tutor and mentor for an academic year and it was there that I found my place in working with youth.
Last fall I was hired as a case manager for a new program serving youth 17-24 who have been involved in the juvenile justice system. The program is called the Civic Justice Corps and we provide job training, GED and college academics, social and life skills, and personal support to our youth.

This is enormously challenging work. Our youth come with so much trauma. They have endured poverty, abuse, drug addiction, school expulsion, gang life, racism, and of course, the alienating and often violent experiences of being incarcerated. They are withdrawn, defiant, surly, angry. I have been lied to, screamed at, ignored. So what makes it worth doing?

The times when they do open up. When you can see that a relationship of respect and trust is building and you are suddenly let in on their fear and pain. When someone says please or thank you or asks for help. When you can empower a young person to speak up for himself. When you can acknowledge who they are as whole people and celebrate their strengths while so many others in their lives have focused on their weaknesses. The struggles of working with this population make the small, yet meaningful successes that much more powerful.

I absolutely love my job, and I would not be doing it if not for all the valuable time I spent donating my time to youth and organizations in the community. Without that foundation, I wouldn’t be as in tune with what the real needs of our youth are and the barriers they face to employment, housing, education, and wellness. I would have never found out where I fit in. If you are struggling to find your place in education/youth advocacy, keep trying. Public schools absolutely need our help and support, perhaps more than any other institution, but if your inner advocate is leading you elsewhere, there are still plenty of organizations that need help. Don’t forget that while you might not be able to solve the big problems, you can do your part as a tiny subversive force, perhaps gathering momentum with others, and definitely changing the lives of young people in need. Volunteering, attending meetings, joining groups- these are the little things that add up.

If you are interested in working with older youth, our organization is seeking GED tutors Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings. Portland YouthBuilders, POIC, the Black Parent Initiative, and countless other organizations fighting for our young people need you too. Consider sharing your unique gifts however you can- it’s truly awesome work.