Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Riordan Community Action Grant '13-'14


"to provide a safe, welcoming, and innovative environment that challenges the youth to envision and navigate a course for a rewarding future characterized by achievement, independent thought, and social responsibility through education, mentoring, and play" - Urban Compass Mission

"to provide students, especially those in low-income communities, with access to a high-quality education that will prepare them to compete successfully in the 21st Century" - Riordan Foundation

This spring 2014 semester, the Richard Riordan Foundation awarded me the Riordan Community Action Grant of $2,500 to be used for an 8-week service project at a 501(c)(3) organization. The recipient was an after-school program in Watts Los Angeles called Urban Compass.  Urban Compass was formed in partnership with Verbum Dei High School and 112th Elementary School to combat poverty and violence and make a difference in the lives of children in Watts.  Together, they capture children at a very volatile age and offer an alternative model for them: an environment that challenges our young people to envision a rewarding future.  Over the course of this semester, I have grown in unexplainable ways.  I've learned so much about the sector of education and have grown a real passion for equal opportunity of education, especially for those in at-risk neighborhoods.  I've also learned much about my LMU community, the Watts community, my fellow brothers, and myself.

I am in a service organization called The Crimson Circle and we have been volunteering with Urban Compass for the past few years.  We have formed a mentorship and assume the role as positive male figures in these children's lives.  Doing service with these men always pushes me to a greater purpose in life.  In collaboration with the Crimson Circle, we implemented a curriculum filled with presentations and hands-on activities for the kids.  Mirroring the LMU mission, our project focused around the motto of "Education of the Whole Person".  Over the course of 8 weeks (starting in February) we implemented Friday sessions in various subject areas including the environment/sustainability, recreation/health, arts, mathematics, reading, etc.  We aimed to give the kids a perspective of dreaming towards a brighter future by exposing them to new subjects and activities.  Around 48 kids were targeted in this project and around 40 Crimsons helped out throughout the course of this semester.  

Now, the kids at Urban Compass are not like your typical kids.  Most are from broken homes and/or exposed to poverty and violence on a daily basis.  They act out more than most kids and rarely listen to directions well.  They are most definitely challenging to say the least.  The starting point for kids like them is already 1-2 years below their expected learning age by the time they reach 5th grade.  When I volunteer at places closer to LMU (in richer neighborhoods) such as Paseo Elementary, it is mind-boggling to see the difference in learning.  Most of these 5th graders can complete complex paragraph based essay assignments regularly and with little to no guidance.  This, unfortunately is not the case for most of the kids at Urban Compass.  Only 30% of these kids are at reading level.  

However, there are some things that the Urban Compass kids have that others do not.  It is their charisma, which continuously shines through past these statistics, past the drugs/alcohol at home, past the poverty and violence, and past the struggling life with single/foster parents.  Seeing the kids faces every week when we brought a new activity to them not only excited them, but it motivated them to forget their current situation and simply be a kid.  They were influenced to dream big in a positive supportive environment fostered by these programs.  The programs included:

Week 1 – Kick-off Day – 2/21/14 – We introduced the programs for the coming weeks to the kids and also brainstormed ideas on what it meant to educate the whole person.

Week 2 – Artist Day – 2/28/14 – We painted masterpieces and also mason jars to store various items, including the pictures that were taken over spring break.  40 mason jars and 40 paper paintings were painted and kept until the showcase day at the end of the program.  Each kid was given a disposable camera to take with them over spring break and they were developed on the last week of the program.  The kids were given directions to take photos of things such as, “your family”, “your home”, etc.

Week 3 – Environment/Sustainability Day – 3/14/14 – Bright, floral succulent plants were implemented into a new Urban Compass Wooly Garden that were positioned along the side fencing.  Each kid was given their own plant and they planted them with help by the Crimson Circle men into a wooly pocket.  An educational piece supplemented this project.  The kids maintained their plants by watering them each week.  A total of 48 plants were planted in the new Urban Compass hanging garden.

Week 4 – Let’s Be Active/Recreation Day – 3/21/14 – New playground equipment was donated for the kids (including a new storage unit for all of their equipment).  We enjoyed a day of recreational fun out on the playground and then came inside to the classroom to learn about how and why to stay active.

Week 5 – Nutrition Day/Healthy Snacks Day – 3/28/14 – The Crimson Circle men made healthy fruit snacks and smoothies for the kids.  It was supplemented by an educational presentation about healthy snack options and nutritional facts.

Week 6 – Reading Day – 4/4/14 – The LMU Library graciously donated a used book cart for free for Urban Compass.  The Crimson Circle men helped transform this used looking cart into a one of a kind personalized Urban Compass Library Book Cart.  The cart was revealed this day to the kids and they all went wild with excitement.  In addition, interesting children’s books were donated with the cart and a take home check out system was implemented for the kids to take books home with them to read and bring back.  In addition, the kids were all given pieces of paper to write their own part of a bigger story for a collaborative book effort.

Week 7 – Math Day – 4/11/14 – Math games were brought to the kids of Urban Compass and we had a day of mathematics and fun.  Games included various math bingos, math board games, math puzzle solving games, etc.  A total of around 30 games were donated to the program for the kids.

Week 8 – Urban Compass Fun Day – 4/27/14 – The boys of Urban Compass and the Men of the Crimson Circle had a fun Saturday afternoon at Golf’n Stuff as a reward for all the great participation and behavior over the course of the program.  The day was filled with miniature golf, bumper cars/boats, go-karts, disc-O, pizza, and train rides! We also discussed with the boys about what constitutes being a 'nice guy'.

Week 9 – Showcase Day – 4/9/14 – The last day of the program included a recap of all past project days.  Also the pictures from the kids were developed and given back to make a photo collage to hang for an Urban Compass Showcase Day for parents and sponsors.

I cannot begin to express everything that has happened over this past Spring semester.  The project has taught me so much about the needs of programs like these and the impact one person can have.  Coming in as an avid volunteer who simply showed up every week, to planning big programs such as the ones stated has pushed me to new conscious heights in my social justice life.  I believe every child deserves a right to a good education.  The Watts and LMU community has surprised me with their support and responsiveness to help this cause.  It's a magical feeling knowing that two seemingly distant worlds can come together for the sake of the children.  I cannot thank Miss Annie, Mr. Chris, Ms. Bravo, the Urban Compass Board of Directors, the LMU Library, Lorena Chavez, the Center for Service and Action, my fellow Crimson Circle brothers, and of course all of the kids enough.

Urban Compass has inspired my brothers and me to always strive for more and be a man with and for others.

See more pictures at: More Riordan Grant Photos!

Check out the Urban Compass Website and help support this program: Urban Compass