Youth Voices: My Volunteerism with Eastside Community Action Center

February 14, 2020 | National

This blog was written by Travis Ambrosio, an intern with the Children’s Defense Fund for the Spring 2020 semester.

During my recent semester at Michigan State University, I was presented with an opportunity to volunteer at an afterschool program called Eastside Community Action Center (ECAC). In light of my interest in education, coupled with my enthusiasm for community engagement, I was eager to contribute my time and energy to the local organization.

As a child, I was fortunate enough to receive high-quality afterschool care through my public, and later private, schools. During the summertime, my parents would send me to camps that continued to stimulate and reinforce my learning. Growing up in a relatively affluent community, the afterschool programs I attended were well funded, staffed, and organized.

As a consequence of this, I came to ECAC with a somewhat misinformed preconception. Upon arriving for my first day of work, I was caught off guard by the surrounding neighborhood – nearby houses had shattered windows and peeling paint, roads and sidewalks were filled with potholes and discarded rubbish, and many of the houses themselves were barely standing. I was expecting the afterschool program to resemble the one I had growing up – a clean and new facility in a warm and welcoming neighborhood. Instead, I stumbled upon an organization operating in an old, worn-down church in the middle of an impoverished community that was managing to do the best they could despite their circumstances.

Almost as surprising was the extent to which the students were academically underperforming – virtually all were behind in their literacy and mathematics comprehension. To make matters worse, the afterschool program itself was unorganized with scarce resources and funding. With only one employed staff member and upwards of 10 children, it was a challenge giving more individualized attention to each child.

This unique experience with ECAC provided me with an authentic perspective on how the socioeconomic status of a student influences their educational opportunity. The unjustifiable and inequitable truth is that disadvantaged students, like the ones at ECAC, face educational and economical hurdles that severely limit their opportunity and potential for growth.

My experience with the Eastside Community motivated me to join the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools® team as an intern this semester. Witnessing the impact poverty has on educational outcomes was a powerful and sobering realization that prompted me to seek out an organization tackling the issue head on. I am thrilled to contribute to CDF’s mission and I am confident that my work with ECAC will forever remain an informative and impactful experience on my life.