What DC Taught Me

With graduation season here, there is a lot of talk concerning the future, and what we all “want to do when we get older.” As a college junior I’m getting to the point where I should start carving out some definite paths I might be interested in following post-undergrad. Personally, I’ve always found it helpful to figure out what you don’t want to do, and then go from there, so while I was in DC I did just that.

While I was in DC meeting with different companies/agencies, I got a little taste of the different “levels” of the pyramid that my field of work includes. Everyone imagine the food pyramid for a second and use this image to follow along with my analogy.

The bottom layer, so say the grains, was the Dance Place, a community based dance studio. They not only house professional dance companies, but also serve the kids in the under-resourced community they are located in. After many years of just being a dance studio, a program for the youth was organically created when some kids from the neighborhood started throwing rocks at the building. The director confronted these boys, brought them inside, and had them do their homework by her desk. The boys continued to come back to the studio, and eventually their youth after school program was created. Now, the after-school program follows a curriculum of not only dance, but life skills, and youth development topics. From all the stories I heard, the Dance Place has become a second home to many of the youth they serve and their impact is evident within the community.

The layer on top, the fruits, would be The Forum for Youth Investment. They work on aligning interventions to create a “collective impact,” so that organizations in the same area can work together instead of all trying to do the same thing on their own. They also have a department that works within the White House to help push through legislation that directly influences youth.

The next company Bellwether, is the vegetables and operates on the same level as The Forum. Bellether does policy and consulting work that resembles a corporate firm, despite their non-profit status. The work they do directly pertains to schools, and education. Andrew Rotherham, is a co-founder and I really recommend that you all read some of the articles he has written for various news outlets. (Google it!)

The top of the pyramid is the Department of Human Services. Within their department is: Head Start, Child Support, Chid Care, Homeless/Runaway Youth, etc.  As you can guess everything they do works on a federal to state pipeline. They are working toward major legislative change that would eventually funnel down to supporting people around the country.

I don’t think any level is more important than the other, it all has to do with personal preference and what job tasks you want to be doing on a daily basis. All of these companies are working to better serve the youth, but they are all doing it at different levels. At the end of the day I had time to reflect on which area I could see myself working in one day, and it was honestly no question. I want to be on the ground directly working with kids. I could possibly see myself working somewhere like The Forum since they are a really small organization and do a lot of consulting on community organizations already present, but any policy work or consulting higher than that would be too much for me.

While I understand how crucial the work The Department of Health & Human Services is, as well as other policy companies, I know I would become so frustrated with how slow change actually happens and I would miss having direct contact with the kids I am serving. i can just imagine myself sitting in board meetings with nothing getting done and thinking “..but the kids need help NOW.”

I dream of serving youth in community where I get to see their shining faces everyday, help them envision their future beyond their current situation, and just be a safe space in a world that often ignores their needs. From the beginning I knew this is the impact that I saw myself creating, but this trip simply confirmed what I should be focusing all of my energy toward.

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