Our service learning initiative was to volunteer with the Girl Scouts Junior Troop #10562 at Hope Station. Hope Station is a non-profit organization founded to “enhance the quality of life, health, safety, and economic opportunities for the people who live in the neighborhood it comprises” (HopeStation). They work to “lift up the entire neighborhood by tackling our most difficult problems through education, technology, job development, and most importantly, teaching our children to become leaders by learning to respect themselves and others” (HopeStation). One program that Hope Station hosts to teach and encourage children to become leaders through respect is the Girl Scouts. Girl Scouts is a national organization whose mission is to “build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place” (GirlScouts). The Girl Scout promise is to serve God, their country and to focus on helping others as defined by the Girl Scout law. The Girl Scout law is as follows: “I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout” (GirlScouts). The mission of the Girl Scouts reflected that of Hope Station, so it is important that their meetings are held there. Our task was to help the scouts earn badges by following the steps in their books, and come up with lessons to connect their activities to social justice issues in the community and ways to collectively solve them.
The three social justice issues that were most connected to the Girl Scouts of America at Hope Station here in Carlisle, PA were education, environment and civic engagement. All three of these issues intersect with each other and greatly impact the lived experiences of this group of girls. Education is important simply because the possession of knowledge entails a certain level of privilege and power. The environment is also important because your surroundings impact the things that you are willing and able to do for yourself and your community. For instance, learning about gardening and sustainability could be seen as a source of empowerment for some neighborhoods because it would allow the residents to be proud of their home and their community. Without the knowledge of things such as gardening and sustainability, a person won’t be able to take the necessary steps to try and enhance their community. The use of education and environment is seen as the civic engagement of people within a community. Civic engagement is defined as “the ways in which citizens participate in the life of a community in order to improve conditions for others or to help shape the community’s future.” After working with this group of girls we understand the importance of civic engagement for personal growth and the growth of a community, and believe that all these girls have the ability to be those citizens to make the difference.
Having Dickinson students work with the Girl Scouts to help earn their badges helps create conscious leaders that can use their skills to enact change and disrupt negative patterns that can be found in their community. Patterns such as high drug use, low high school graduation and college attendance rates, and high teen pregnancy rates were some of the issues mentioned as affecting the African-American community of Carlisle during our Hope Station Orientation. Additionally, providing social justice framed lessons to the Girl Scouts is especially important because of the age group that it targets. Middle school is a critical time when young women are in the process of shaping their opinions and views of life. Lastly, this project is unique and valuable because it uses an educational social justice approach, versus an intervention approach. In Monica McDaniel’s publication “Social Justice Youth Work” she explains the value of such programs: “Within these social systems, they are learning through observation and interaction with peers and adults how to engage and navigate these unjust systems. The youth development models of prevention/intervention and positive youth development are part of the problem, ‘because they assume that youth themselves should be changed, rather than the oppressive environments in which they live’” (McDaniel 44). The Carlisle community could greatly benefit from empowered, educated, and conscious young women that can influence the status quo of their community.
Environmental Justice and Sustainability:
To start, a major theme we focused on was environmental justice and sustainability. Hope Station embodies sustainability in itself as an organization, as they have created a partnership with M&T Bank who has committed a donation of $100,000 for six more years. Their strategic plan is to provide resources to continuously uphold their mission and overall impact the residents of Carlisle with an “improved quality of life” (HopeStation). The following statement taken from their website reflects the long term vision of Hope Station Opportunity Area. “Hope Station is not just a building. Hope Station is a place in our dreams; a HOPE for our future; a vision that addresses the issues of Memorial Park and surrounding community. The Hope Station Community has a commitment to unity and pride, and embraces the success and diversity of its families.”
Through working with the Girl Scouts to achieve their flower badge, we helped put both Hope Station and the Girl Scout’s visions into action. The main goal was to help the girls understand more facts about their environment and flowers in general, but this process reflected larger issues of environmental social justice such as how to keep a community sustainable. On a few occasions, we visited Dickinson’s campus to learn more about sustainability. By observing certain flowers, we explained that sustainability means providing for oneself for the long run. I used a dandelion as an illustration of this point, as the flowers blow their seeds around to regrow more to keep their species alive. We explained that dandelions have edible components, but the girls said they would never eat one and they were okay just buying their food.
(Laticia trying a dandelion.)
(Journals we made to write reflections of the flowers.)
To show the girls the differences between growing food and purchasing, we visited the cafeteria. There we showed the girls how Dickinson is sustainable because it provides its own locally sourced food from its own farm, therefore, the students’ vegetables and meat comes from right down the road. Orrin Williams article, Food and Justice: The Critical Link to Healthy Communities” speaks of the negative effects of industrial agriculture, which our farm strays away from with sustainable practices such as free range chickens, and slaughtering meat as needed, not on mass scales. “Food and farming offer a unifying point for a movement that is multicultural, anti- racist, and anti- sexist and that embraces all aspects of the environmental justice movement” (Williams 127). The girls also said their school has a garden and they plant watermelons and pumpkins but right now “it is just a pile of dirt.” We mentioned that locally produced, organic foods are beneficial for the local community, and overall healthier than other producers and options. This reflects the issue of a food desert, and keeping our community sustainable on its own. To further show this point we planted wildflower seeds to teach the girls about caring for the environment as they have the opportunity to nurture their own plants. We hoped that by planting flowers and perhaps in the future through planting food, we could lead to the community having the independence to choose their local produce over others. We asked the girls what planting flowers represents to them, and a few responded with “Life”, and “taking care of mother nature”. The girls also contributed that we plant flowers “to make people happier and to help the community”. They also noticed that there is a difference between places that do have flowers and ones that don’t, as “places that don’t have flowers look dull and that people don’t care about it”
(Sarah picking flowers to press in her journal)
Some activities we included in their meetings were to make necklaces and flower arrangements. The girls’ creativity came out with the projects and I think they enjoyed it overall. Through the crafts and activities, we hoped that when they look around the classroom they are reminded that they worked together to brighten up the room, and take pride in their accomplishments. I believe that they did take pride, as whenever they were done with a project they would announce that they were excited to give their flower arrangement or necklace away as a gift. I think that without even realizing, they have engaged in sustainability by passing the flowers on to others to keep the trend of brightness and growth in their community.
The second major theme that we engaged with was education. One of our very first outings with the girls was a tour of Dickinson’s campus. It was really interesting to see their different reactions to all the things that they saw around campus. Some of them were really inquisitive about the college experience, and others were set on the fact that they would never come to Dickinson for college. Another important aspect of that trip was the fact that most of them had never been inside of Dickinson’s facilities. Some of them had been to rector once or twice, but they had never gotten a tour or explored a college campus that is located right in their backyard. After finding out about how little they were exposed to Dickinson’s campus and college life in general, I felt like it was my duty to be that link between them and a college campus.
Understanding the connection between service learning and academic instruction has been one that is really meaningful because it has shown the ways in which education is a social justice issue and is one of the main factors in uplifting black people as a whole. During the days of slavery, it was illegal for black people to learn how to read and write. This one time in history impacted the way that black people would be able to learn and participate within society for the rest of their lives. For instance, once it was legal for black people to vote the had to pass literacy tests, which were reading comprehension tests administered by voting polls in the south (RAASJ). Most of the black people in the south had never learned to read or write because they had never had the opportunity and they had been working job to provide economic support for their families. This disenfranchisement that they experienced impacted the way that they were able to participate within society, such as voting for the people who would be in their government. I think this is important history that children like the Girl Scouts need to hear more about and understand so that they can realize the importance of receiving an education. By learning about their histories and their current experiences they will be more equipped to uplift their generations and the future generations to come within their families and neighborhoods.
One specific moment where I was able to use the education that I was receiving here at Dickinson to reach the girls happened when one of them used the word ratchet to describe a character she was developing. I asked her why she thought that ratchet was the word she needed to use in order to describe the character that she had developed, to get her to think about the reasons that she used that particular word instead of other adjectives. I then went on to describe the ways that ratchet is used primarily to describe the societal undesired actions of black women, and pointed to the fact that she was a black girl herself (Gomez). I had prior knowledge about the term, so I was privileged enough to get her to think about the ways in which her using that word was ultimately detrimental. That is knowledge that she would now be able to take back to her friends and her family to get them to think about the words they use and the ultimate impact that they might have (Gomez). The more knowledge that these girls are exposed to, the more that they can continue to grow and be informed and difference making citizens within their communities.
(Jena reading to the Girl Scouts about the connections between Social Justice and photography)
The last major theme we focused on was civic engagement. Developing civic engagement was important to focus on in this service project because being a good leader is a key component of being a Girl Scout. One of the activities we did combined civic engagement and photography through looking at activism and the role of photography in social justice movements. This was beneficial so that the troop could learn about one way of being engaged in their community, along with working to earn their photography badge.
We began with looking at a book titled, Road To Freedom Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement 1956-1968. When asked if any of them knew about the Civil Rights Movement, one young woman talked about the bus boycotts and Rosa Parks. While looking through the book, we talked about different civil rights leaders. The girls quickly identified Martin Luther King Jr., but asked, “Who is that?” when we reached the page with Fannie Lou Hamer on it. This was an important moment in which we were able to teach them about women that were influential in the Civil Rights movement, and not just men. By teaching them about influential African-American women of the past their narrative of the Civil Rights Movement was widened and they were able to see a leader that resembled their racial and gender identities.
This is important because of the past marginalization of women in social justice movements, such as what the creators of the #BlackLivesMatter movement experienced. In an article written by one of the creators, Alicia Garza, she says, “Perhaps if we were the charismatic Black men many are rallying around these days, it would have been a different story, but being Black queer women in this society (and apparently within these movements) tends to equal invisibility and non-relevancy” (Garza). As a Black queer woman, Garza was marginalized in her own movement when men appropriated her work and did not give her credit (Garza). Because of the perpetual discretization of women in movements, it is important that the girl scouts see a leader that looks like them, so they can envision being a leader themselves.
(“road to freedom”, Fannie Lou Hamer, ca. 1964)
Before connecting activism to photography, it was important to first define what an activist was, because none of the girls were familiar with this word. By teaching them about activism, hopefully they can feel empowered and realize there are methods of changing the injustices around them, such as protesting. Then, we talked about the role of photography in documenting past social justice movements, so we can learn more about the movements and see evidence. Leigh Raiford connects this to the Civil Rights Movement and says about images from Birmingham, “These images have shaped and informed the ways scholars, politicians, artists, and everyday people recount, remember, and memorialize the 1960s freedom struggle specifically and movement histories generally” (Raiford 1130). Not only do photographs document what happened for future education and analysis, photographs have the power to shape the discourses in one way or another.
An example of this connects to the marginalization of women in social justice movements. We may understand certain men as the leaders of a movement because of their overrepresentation in photography, when there are various other identities such as women, that were equally influential. Raiford goes on to explain that photographs provided an opportunity for activists to interrupt dominant narratives provided by news networks about the civil rights movements, by allowing them to take photos themselves (1139). The impact of this is that the marginalized groups fighting for justice in various movements have the opportunity to tell their own story have their truth be heard, through photography.
Additionally, we explored the connection between photography, social media, and activism. When pictures or videos are recorded, knowledge about incidents are available to more people. Kimberly Crenshaw says about this, “Currently, society has embraced social media as a primary tool for communication, especially within communities of color” (23). The use of photography and videography has been influential in modern activism by allowing ordinary citizens to hold perpetrators accountable for crimes against African-Americans, and share that evidence with others. When I asked how many of the girl scouts had iPhones or phones, many of them raised their hands. To provide an example of how efficient photography and activism can be through social media, I asked how many of them had recently heard about Beyonce’s new album “Lemonade”. They had all seen her video which had just been released a couple of days prior to this lesson. Their affirmations that they had seen her video were useful in illustrating the effectiveness of photography and video in reaching people, by connecting it to something from their own lives.
After the discussion I gave each scout a digital camera to use for the hour. They were assigned to take a portrait, candid, landscape, something they would change if they could, and a picture of something they found beauty in. For the picture “something beautiful”, many of them took pictures of trees or flowers, which goes back to the sustainability lesson and the impact flowers can have on someone’s perception of their environment. For the picture of something they would change if they could, one Girl Scout whose life has been deeply impacted by her parents’ use of drugs commented on her wish to stop people from smoking marijuana.
By having the girl scouts take these photos, they were encouraged to think about their environments and what they see, through a technique called Photovoice. The benefit of Photovoice is, “It empowers community members to engage actively and critically with such concerns, using photography to identify and advocate for changes they feel necessary for their communities to survive” (Peabody 252). In future meetings with the girls, I would like to delve into Photovoice theory even more. The benefit of incorporating Photovoice into the Girl Scout lessons is that it follows the social justice work approach McDaniel talks about, and teaches them to look at their surrounding environment and think critically about it. Through this lesson they were able to learn about a couple of different types of pictures, use a real camera to take some, and learn about the role of photography in social justice movements.
(Averiel’s portrait of baby cousin.)
(Laticia’s photo of something she finds beauty in.)
In “Justice and Grassroots Struggles” the author states, “Therefore, as activists engage in the process of demanding justice, they are also developing their own understandings of justice and building their own processes for expression of justice” (Capeheart 160). One understanding of justice I gained from my time at Hope Station was that a social justice issue can be something as small as the lack of resources for one organization in one city. During my involvement at Hope Station and hearing about other students’ projects, I was able to understand how this could be an injustice because of the various ways the limited amount of resources constrained the choices of Hope Station activities and programs. The Kid’s Cafe for example received donations that were not edible. At Hope Station there is one layer of injustice that there are children that do not have equal access as others to food, and a second layer that an organization that seeks to alleviate their hunger is also constrained by unequal resources. I realized from working at Hope Station that a social justice issue does not have to be as large as the mass incarceration of millions of African-Americans, but that it also exists on a smaller scale.
Additionally, I learned about how intervention programs for youth, a common social justice approach, can be problematic as McDaniel explains. I had never thought about the implications of these programs in perpetuating the blame placed on African-Americans for their plight, when in reality it is their environments and structural oppression that are the problem. Now, after working at Hope Station I realize the importance of approaching marginalized-youth programs with a goal to teach social justice.
We believe it would be beneficial to continue having Dickinson students volunteer with the Girl Scouts at Hope Station. One benefit of this is that Dickinson students can extend their resources to the Girl Scouts. Through working with them, we realized the impact of the availability of resources on programs and education, and hopefully by offering some of Dickinson’s resources there are more options for activities. For example, we were able to check out for free, four digital cameras for each girl to use while working to earn their Photography Badge. Another example for the future is that volunteers could make it a goal to incorporate a field trip to the Dickinson farm and utilize Dickinson vans free of charge.
This project could be expanded by continuing to work through the Girl Scout Guide Book and help the Scouts to earn all of the necessary badges. The first step will be to find a way to ensure that we will have the necessary resources to complete the activities, as a lot of activities required purchasing outside materials. We attempted to find ways to keep the activities free and encourage the following volunteers to do so as well. In addition, a merging of programs such as the The Kids Café and Girl Scouts would be beneficial to Hope Station overall. We could work with other groups like The Kids Café to plant their own plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers and perhaps fruit. There are overlapping interests between the two groups and Hope Station could benefit from their joint collaboration on bigger projects such as a community garden.
Another way for Dickinson students to further develop this project would be to document how to interweave social justice into the steps to get a badge, and make a lesson book of those steps. A critical part of this process is connecting the steps they must take to earn their badges to topics from their everyday life. We found that they were much more interested in the tasks they had to complete when they found similarities within their personal lives. For instance, when we went around Dickinson’s campus looking at and drawing flowers, they were invested because they talked about the garden that was developing at their own school. Seeing the connection made them more excited about doing the work.
Making a social justice lesson book would allow for other Dickinson students to do this project without having to come up with social justice lessons themselves. This would make the project more successful, because finding ways to connect social justice issues to the badges was what took the most time and energy. If it was done carefully and created as a whole book beforehand, we believe it would improve the quality of the lessons.
Lastly, we think it is important to have the volunteers represent diverse backgrounds so the Scouts can be exposed to different perspectives and experiences at Dickinson. Overall, I think it is important to maintain the relationship that has been created between Dickinson students and this group of Girl Scouts, as well as the future girl scouts to come. By having Dickinson students volunteer with them each week week the Girl Scouts can have steady role models in their lives who are committed to helping them achieve their goals.
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Edwards-Underwood, Kimberly. “#Evolution or Revolution: Exploring Social Media Through
Revelations of Familiarity.” Black History Bulletin 78.1 (n.d.): 23-28. Moodle. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.
Garza, Alicia. “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement by Alicia Garza.” The Feminist
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