DA4A Experiential Learning Through Study AwayPosted on April 12, 2022 by Kiarra Louis, Initiative Support Coordinator with The Patterson Foundation
Being part of the Study Away experience as ten students from Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy engaged in experiential learning was invaluable! This fast-paced week was filled with insightful conversations, ongoing engagement, and fun! I enjoyed seeing TPF's tenets come to life through various activities, projects, and discussions. Four tenets stood out during Digital Access for All (DA4A) activities.
Willingness is one of the five characteristics that are critical to success. Throughout the week, I was grateful to work with individuals who were willing to conversate and collaborate. Two students from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Jumaanah Harris and Emma Rota-Autry, demonstrated their willingness to learn about TPF’s collaborative philosophy and tenets of change and Digital Access for All’s More than Money Approach. Ashley Coone, DeSoto County Commissioner; Linda Waters, DeSoto County Librarian and her staff; and Becky Sue Mercer, Executive Director of Arcadia Housing Authority (AHA) and her team, showed willingness too. Weeks leading up to Study Away week, each was enthusiastically open to meeting the students and helping them learn more about DeSoto County, their work, and everyday challenges.
Jumaanah and Emma engaged in conversations with these individuals and later with four AHA residents through a community conversation. It was meaningful to see the residents slowly open up and share challenges, especially regarding digital access.
Connectivity is an issue. Many DeSoto County residents experience slow and unreliable internet that makes it hard to accomplish tasks such as learning remotely. There is a lack of awareness of available resources for their children and a lack of transportation, making accessibility a challenge.
However, we didn’t bring our students to DeSoto County to focus solely on the challenges and resource gaps. We were on a mission to shape them into true passionaries and possibilitarians.
First, our initial convenings with various individuals helped them understand the landscape and realities of the counties’ residents to position them better to accomplish their primary assignment. We tasked them with identifying and brainstorming opportunities for anchor institutions such as AHA and the library to leverage resources and neighboring organizations through collaborative partnerships to offer residents needed resources.
This particular assignment reflected how TPF strives to strengthen the efforts of people, organizations, and communities.
On Friday morning, Jumaanah and Emma provided an insightful virtual presentation on Zoom to Linda, Becky, and TPF consultant Josephine Eisenberg. In person, Cheri Coryea, DA4A’s initiative lead, and I observed them share their findings and recommendations with positivity and zeal.
During the presentation, they identified gaps, organizational strengths, and opportunities for AHA and the DeSoto County Library to leverage their resources and address the mutual aspirations of Desoto County residents, especially when it comes to digital access.
One of their ideas was improving communication and relationships between local trusted resources to facilitate the exchange of information. As mentioned before, a lack of awareness is a barrier to residents using available resources. Often, they don’t know or hear about opportunities that could benefit them and their families. Since word of mouth, newsletters, and some social media, are the primary forms of communication, Jumaanah and Emma shared ideas to revamp these efforts to get the word out to the community.
Another key idea was the future development of one or more pilot programs between the AHA and Desoto County Library to offer virtual learning opportunities for both adults and children.
Lastly, given a real need for residents to have digital access, there was an idea to develop a digital navigator pilot. Through the pilot program, digital navigators would help people obtain low-cost home internet service, affordable computing devices, and foundational digital literacy training to fully benefit the internet and its opportunities.
There were only positive reactions at the end of the presentation. Linda and Becky both saw the potential for Jumaanah and Emma’s ideas to strengthen the work they do and their impact on the people they serve. As leaders in their community, they understood the value of collaboration and the willingness to try new efforts to accelerate change and impact.
The weeklong study away was a remarkable experience for me. I visited the TPF office more in one week than in almost two years of being a consultant. Learning and sharing were underlying tenants to the entire week. Seeing that in person was meaningful because of the joyful stewardship that I witnessed as TPFers engaged in collaborative philanthropic work with IU students!