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Some of the keys to success

June 10, 2010

This post was written by Caritza Mariani of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship. In addition to coordinating the Youth Circle at the Jane Addams School for Democracy, Caritza coaches Public Achievement at Humboldt High School in the West Side neighborhood of St. Paul, Minn.

We started Public Achievement at Humboldt High School in February this year. Although I had been a Public Achievement coach at Humboldt before, this was my first time working with teens after school through the Junior ROTC program. Humboldt High School Public Achievement team and their coach

More than 20 kids came for the first four meetings. But when spring sports began, we lost two-thirds of our participants. That was our first challenge.

By the end of March, my team of four had made decisions on the parameters of their project, what their timeline needed to be, and who they needed to be connected with to carry out the work. They wanted to educate people about teen homelessness and raise funds to benefit a local resource for teens.

After researching the circumstances that typically lead to homelessness, and contacting local nonprofit organizations, they chose SafeZone Drop-in Center as the resource they wanted to support. They set up a tour of SafeZone’s space and met with the staff and young people that use SafeZone.

In April, at my suggestion, the team attended PeaceJam weekend and absolutely loved it.  They hooked up with local teens in Youthrive, the organization that hosts PeaceJam in the Upper Midwest, and continued meeting with them one evening a week at the Baker Center. The Youthrive teens agreed to help with the homelessness project by finding a donor to match whatever funds the Humboldt students could raise using coin wars—a competitive cash drive.

We only had four months to do our work, and by the end of the school my team had produced two video public service announcements but had not raised any funds.  In spite of recruiting J-ROTC cadets to help with the coin collection, they just didn’t have enough hands on deck.

In reflecting on their experience, my team named several lessons they’d learned. They’re the kind of lessons we all need to learn to be successful in school, in the workplace, and in public life.

  • Teamwork and cooperation is essential to getting things done
  • The team needs to hold people accountable for their responsibilities
  • Stay focused—fooling around wastes time
  • Get others involved in the process early and keep them engaged
  • Get the word out to the community you are working with early and often
  • Make a plan and stick to it—try not to change your timeline as you go along
  • Get the background facts on your topic so you are prepared to answer questions

The team made notes about their project in the hope that another team will pick it up next year.

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