As an alternative spring break experience, my nine classmates and I traveled from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Sarasota, Florida. As graduate and undergraduate students studying at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (LFSOP), we applied for and secured the opportunity to participate in an immersive learning experience with The Patterson Foundation (TPF).
During our time in Sarasota, we encountered a few cultural experiences, participated in community service, and consulted on TPF's initiatives. Another student and I were assigned to the Digital Access for All (DA4A) team. DA4A explores how to enhance access and quality of digital technology and training opportunities for asset-limited, income-constrained, employed (ALICE) individuals and families.
We were tasked with assessing current challenges and opportunities related to digital access in DeSoto County. We conducted key informant interviews with several trusted partners, including those at the DeSoto County Library, Arcadia Housing Authority (AHA), AHA residents through a community conversation that we led, and DeSoto County's longtime resident and County Commissioner Ashley Coone.
At the close of our listening and learning process, we formed several short to long-term recommendations. Some ideas focused on how the AHA and library could leverage existing resources and partnerships to strengthen the community. We shared our learnings with the TPF team, AHA leaders, and the DeSoto County library and learned that similar ideas were already being implemented or considered.
As a graduate student, I have managed projects for a consulting firm and served as a consultant on several projects. The experience with TPF provided me with new ideas and insights on how to improve professionally. It was interesting to consult with an organization that is still on its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) journey, and as a Black woman, it helped me to understand a lot of what still needs to occur to have our work environments reflect our goals as leaders in philanthropy. I will take what I have learned into my future as I help organizations live into their DEI vision.
Another remarkable experience was the opportunity to volunteer in support of local residents at one of Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading's Pop Up Neighbor Through Laundry events.
I received immense joy from that experience and was connected back to the reasons I study philanthropy. My career is dedicated to identifying strategies and solutions that support the formation of an equitable and just world for all. That experience reminded me of my mission and reminded me to continue pushing forward. I am grateful to the LFSOP and TPF for a valuable experience that will stay with me forever.