Editor's Note: TPF Fellows Abby Rolland, Hannah Saeger Karnei, and John Ferguson invited seven curious, committed individuals—Clara Alvarez, Carolina Franco, Joni Hansen, Jake Hartvigsen, Kiarra Louis, Laurie Miller, and Ben Tollefson—to participate and engage in the Harwood Institute’s Fall 2020 Virtual Lab. After completing their final session with Harwood, each share how they plan to implement their learnings into their work.

Clara Alvarez is the education coordinator for Catholic Charities: Diocese of Venice, Inc. She works with Casa San Juan Bosco Education Programs in DeSoto County, FL.

First of all, I would like to thank Abby Rolland and The Patterson Foundation for thinking of me and inviting me to take the Harwood Fall 2020 Lab. It was an amazing experience. I had the pleasure of working with Jake Hartvigsen and Kiarra Louis in our small group discussions. The Harwood virtual lab taught us many tools to serve our community better and work with our partner agencies.

My aspiration to turn outward in my community focused on Casa San Juan Bosco, a farmworker housing community and Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice development located in Arcadia, Florida, that provides quality and affordable homes to area farmworkers and their families. As part of my job, I coordinate all of the activities for the children and adults in the community. We bring educational experiences to the residents to empower them to better serve their families. This past year with the Covid-19 pandemic, many children had to go to virtual school, and we had to close our community center.

Even before the Harwood lab, my aspiration has always been to serve my community. In the past, I have partnered with the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to participate in the Suncoast Summer Reading Challenge. Even with the obstacles of Covid-19, our children enjoyed THIS BOOK IS COOL! virtually.

I will implement the amazing tools I learned in the Harwood Fall 2020 Lab into my daily routine to better understand what my community needs. I will focus on turning outward to see what Casa San Juan Bosco needs while also developing shared aspirations with the families.

What does turning outward in motion look like? Currently, with the pandemic, everything has gone virtual, but a lot of our Casa San Juan Bosco community does not know how to use technology (desktop computers, laptops, etc.) I will be partnering with community agencies to educate Casa San Juan Bosco residents and help them learn the tools they need to support and empower their families. We move forward step by step.

I've also found other ways to turn outward and connect with these families over Zoom. I just started co-facilitating the Stronger Me, Stronger We — Power of Presence virtual workshop in Spanish with Carolina Franco of The Patterson Foundation. I taught Casa San Juan Bosco participants how to download the Zoom app, go into their emails, and click on the link to be part of our class. I'm looking forward to working with them and listening to their experiences and challenges.

The Harwood lab has been a fantastic experience, and I'm thankful for everything I learned.

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