Monday, March 17, 2014

VISTA Elizabeth McIntosh helps Appalachian girls dream new stories with PAGE

Elizabeth McIntosh
Though originally from sunny Winter Park, Florida, NC Campus Compact VISTA Elizabeth McIntosh is no stranger to the Appalachian mountains. Elizabeth's mother runs a summer camp for girls, Camp Glen Arden, in Tuxedo, NC, where Elizabeth has spent every summer of her life. Now Elizabeth works just 70 miles from Tuxedo in Madison County, and is following in her mother's footsteps.

In partnership with the Madison County School system, Elizabeth works with PAGE, the Partnership for Appalachian Girls Education, a project with a mission to foster 21st century literacy, social equity, and economic opportunity for Appalachian girls and young women. PAGE was founded in 2010 and has since hosted 50 girls (grade 6-9) in their summer camp program. Elizabeth officially began her year of AmeriCorps service in August of 2013 as PAGE's first VISTA member, but she had previously worked with the organization's summer camp through a Duke University internship in 2012, and then as part of the strategic development committee from 2012-2013.

Though the learning curve for institutional development is steep, Elizabeth's educational background has made the road much more navigable. Elizabeth graduated from Duke University in May of 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy and minor in History. Now as the PAGE VISTA, Elizabeth wears many hats, but all with the goal of building capacity and long-term sustainability for the PAGE program so that it can meet the educational needs of students in rural mountain communities.

Elizabeth with PAGE participants
Elizabeth's work so far has been quite prolific. Since PAGE is currently a project of Duke University's Social Science Research Institute, she has been working with a Duke Research Fellow on a community needs assessment. Elizabeth has also had a hand in developing a strategic plan for PAGE with a goal of helping the organization become an independent, 501c3 non-profit within the next 5 years. She has designed and implemented a marketing approach that includes building key stakeholder relationships, securing grant funding, and creating a social media and communications presence. Elizabeth has already garnered over $18,000 in support from funders since she began her work in August. As a relatively new program, Elizabeth says, "It is important to take the time to get the word out [about the program] and develop community relationships."

Currently, she is spending a large majority of her time recruiting. Partnered with Duke Engage, she is looking for both Duke students to intern with PAGE during its 6-week summer program, and also looking for middle school girls from Madison County to enroll in PAGE's summer program. Though summer is still several months away, these middle-schoolers are jumping at the opportunity go to camp, and -- eventually -- to college.

Elizabeth recalls a conversation one mother shared about her daughter Laura's recent visit with the college counselor. The counselor asked the ninth-grader (and PAGE participant) to list ten colleges she was interested in, and the girl said firmly, "I want to go to Duke." According to Laura's mom, when the counselor laughed and encouraged Laura to add nine other schools to that list, she "looked straight at the man and [said] 'No! I don't need any more schools. I am going to Duke!'"

For Elizabeth, this story embodies PAGE's mission. This program, she says, is "allowing [these girls] to achieve their dreams, even in the face of much adversity. It would not have mattered to me if this girl said Duke or the local community college, as where she wanted to go. The point is that she is following her dreams whatever they may be, full force ahead."

As a strong advocate for following your dreams, when Elizabeth heard about the NC Campus Compact VISTA position, she didn't hesitate to apply. "Few graduates get to say they have a hand in developing and running a nonprofit organization, while also making a difference in a community, and I get to say I do both!" she exclaims.

She enjoys spending her time outside of work simply being outside. All outdoor activites -- from exercising to rock climbing to sitting on a porch with friends -- are favorite past times. Water sports, especially scuba diving and water skiing, also hold places close to her heart. "I am a Florida girl after all!" she jokes.

For Elizabeth, the draw of working outside during the summer at camp, was also particularly enticing. If the PAGE program also sounds like something you would be interested in, you can check out their website, follow them on Facebook or Twitter, or send Elizabeth an email to provide you with more information and add you to their e-newsletter.  Also, if you are interested in volunteer opportunities, please feel free to reach out. As PAGE has grown they are always searching for more and more people to help with various aspects including counseling middle school girls and fundraising, all to provide the best educational enrichment program to middle school girls possible.

Elizabeth hopes to extend her VISTA service for one more year with PAGE. After that, she plans to go to law school and then either continue her work in the non-profit world or work to make change at the government level. She states, "My passion is making the world a better place; I am just undecided as of now, the best place for me to do this."

What she does know is that PAGE serves an area that is near and dear to her heart. "I am...a firm believer that any child can accomplish whatever they set their mind to regardless of circumstance and I want to be a part of an organization that help[s] children know that." These young girls at PAGE are dedicated, creative, and bright. Through Elizabeth's own dedication to this program, she has not only acted as a role model for these girls, but has developed the groundwork for their future successes.

Elizabeth says that Laura's story is becoming wonderfully common, and offers some wisdom about their future: "Watch out world, here they come!"