Americorps Service reflection, by Aden Haji

Making Change in the Community

I have been serving for the Vermont Folklife Center as an Americorps member since December 2017 as part of the New American Voices initiative. In my service, I have been working primarily with a youth group of the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, the group called Making Change in the Community. My Americorps supervisor and I worked with the group for six months, providing approaches to collaborative ethnography, the core component of the Vermont Folklife Center mission, making Vermonters to be more visible to each other.

 Americorps member Aden Haji

Americorps member Aden Haji

There are more than 30 members in the Making Change group, mostly high-school students, and they meet every Thursday afternoon. We collaborated with the group from January through June. In the beginning, we showed them how to use an audio kit to practice interviewing with each other. We also looked at examples from around the country of media made by other youth in their own communities. We wanted to show the group ways that youth can make media to say something about the issues they care about, that they can use media as a tool for making change.

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After seeing a video project done by a youth basketball team to promote suicide prevention, the AALV youth group wanted to create their own video about the group to promote the group to younger kids in their communities and to the larger Burlington community. The group’s main mission was to share about the youth group to other youth outside the group. The group members came up with questions to interview each other about (about what the youth group does and why they are in it) so that others can know what their mission is and how the group is changing youth lives.

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The youth group members took over the making of the video and filmed interviews with each other, and then filmed the group playing soccer at Roosevelt Park in Burlington. We even had a GoPro that Channel 17 had generously offered the group to use in making their video. After the interviews and the soccer filming was over, two of the youth members who had experience in editing took the lead on editing the video. Here’s an excerpt from the video, which the group is deciding how and where they want to share it, or if they may want to film more and add more to it this year. I’ve had a great experience with the youth group and seeing them use the tools we have shared to make their own products. I wish them the best in continuing the important work they are doing for the community.

Camp Explorer

From July 30 to August 3,  I supported Camp Explorer, a youth camp run by the Vermont Folklife Center in partnership with the Sudanese Foundation of Vermont. The camp was a week long and the youths’ ages were varied (from ages 5-13). I assisted in youth engagement, and I did so by talking to the youth the first moment they walked into the camp, making them feel welcome, and getting to know them. For example, during the breaks before activities, I played board games with the youth so they knew I was there for them.

I had the opportunity to mentor, during the course of the week, one of the campers who needed extra support. That experience allowed me to understand him one on one. As I worked with him and became a friend to him, I noticed him becoming more open and engaged with his peers in group activities and camp activities. On the second day of camp, the staff demonstrated an interview and the camper I was mentoring ended up being the first to volunteer to interview when the demonstration was over. The camp had various activities focusing on photography, interviewing and storytelling skills. I think the youth enjoyed learning about and doing interviews most, as well as doing the photo scavenger hunt. It was a great experience for me to observe the group becoming more engaged in activities throughout the camp. I also enjoyed meeting campers’ parents at the end of the camp during the celebration where parents got to see their kids’ work through the camp - their video projects, musical performance, photographs, and maps.

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