Thursday, April 4, 2013

VISTA member helps Raleigh colleges and community connect

As a VISTA hosted by NC State University to support the Raleigh Promise, Brianna Roach is developing new programs that prepare young people to access higher education. A key to her work is the time she spends each week visiting community partners and the kids they serve. "Brianna is our 'boots on the ground' in the community," her supervisor Dr. Kelly Laraway explains.

Since she began her VISTA service in August, Brianna has learned about the network connecting the six colleges and universities that make up the Raleigh Colleges and Community Collaborative, and the many resources those institutions can bring to bear in her work setting up the Raleigh College Center. The center is conceived as resource for community residents, especially young people, who want information and preparation that will lead them to access higher education. As the community liaison, Brianna spends time each week at the Chavis Heights Community Center, home of the first College Center. She also regularly connects with other key partners serving Raleigh youth, including Neighbor 2 Neighbor and the Hope Center.

So far, Brianna has organized college and career fairs and scheduled presenters from partner campuses to provide regular monthly programming at Chavis for the Insight Series. For example, on March 28th, Brianna hosted an etiquette dinner for 60 youth and 10 adults. The young people wore professional dress and had the chance to gain etiquette and interview tips, and they received items such as a portfolio to prepare them for professional settings.

Brianna at Chavis Community Center.
Brianna has also organized arts and science enrichment programming in at the College Center, and she is excited about a plan to offer mini-tours of several local colleges, including NCSU, Peace University, and her alma mater, St. Augustine's University. The tours will give up to 25 young people a chance to both visit the campuses and participate in fun activities like spray painting State's expression tunnel or playing a game show at Peace.

A New Jersey native from a large family, Brianna says working with the kids at Chavis has been the best part of her VISTA experience. She has tried to find ways to make College Center programs "down to earth" and fun - presenting financial aid information in a game of College Access Jeopardy, for example, rather than droning on about completing the FAFSA. "I learned that every kid doesn't need saving... they are smart, they have challenges, they want opportunities. I also learned that if you are not genuine with them, they will pack your bags for you."

When her VISTA year ends, Brianna hopes to move into a teaching position. Until then, she says, "I'm excited that I have the chance to be here" to help develop the programming calendar and make connections for the College Center. Her focus on presenting college information in ways that are fun and engaging will continue to influence future College Center offerings.