Winter 2004-2005

One Economy VISTAs in NYC
by jaebi
AmeriCorps VISTAs Dan Wood, Carette Perkins, jaebi
AmeriCorps VISTAs Dan Wood, Carette Perkins, and jaebi

The New York City office of the national non-profit One Economy welcomed its first group of VISTAs in September 2003. I joined Dan Wood, Juliana Schwartz, Kristina Kennedy, and Lamar Howell as enthusiastic advocates of One Economy’s mission to increase the presence of information technology in the homes and lives of people in underserved communities.

Our work began with a focus on improving the content of the New York City Beehive (for other local Beehive sites, go to and click the drop-down menu under “local”), an online resource and information center for New York City residents. The Beehive already provided a wide range of information on important resources from financial and professional matters to immigration and family issues in an easy to read and navigate format, ideal for individuals new to the Web. Some of the challenges the VISTA team faced included expanding on those resources, localizing them to the New York City area, and strategically organizing new material with related topics while keeping within the guidelines of well-written online content.

The Beehive logo

The late nights and weekend work paid off with over 200 pages of fresh content generated, building on the online resources for Money, Jobs, Schools, Health, and Family. Unlike a “Field Of Dreams” scenario, however, we learned that building an online information and resource center does not necessarily mean users will come. Understanding this, New York Program Director Kawi Mailutha and the VISTA team set out to develop outreach and projects using the Beehive, through local partnerships and good old-fashioned guerilla outreach tactics and local partnerships.

After a few months, the original OE VISTA “Beehive Evangelists” team,though decreased by two, began developing new projects in each of the city's five Boroughs, including training sessions for other non-profit staff and. Other efforts included attendance at events where end-users can be reached, such as the Community Food Resource Network’s Money Central, where people get help with Earned Income Tax Credit, and the NYC Breastfeeding Promotion Conference.

E Learning Students at Brooklyn Covenant Ministries
Student working on E Learning through Esylvan learning systems, hosted at Brooklyn Covenant Ministries

Led by Carrette Perkins, a VISTA who joined OE in January 2004, a collaborative effort with a Brownsville shelter that transitions families into affordable housing resulted in the transformation of a computer room with one PC running a dial-up Internet connection into a fully networked 15-machine DSL lab—New York’s first fully networked Beehive Resource Center.

“The Beehive Resource Center,” said Carrette, “provides a vital resource for shelter residents to connect to many of the services they need such as affordable housing, after school programs, and job information.” Especially when catalyzed through training sessions, such as the one offered in April 2004 focusing on the Beehive’s Resume Builder and Job Resources.

I led OE’s Digital Connectors program in partnership with an organization in Washington Heights. Bringing extensive experience in computer and information technology to the team, Fellow VISTA member Dan Wood and I added a more skill-based training curriculum to the original Digital Connectors model. Each week, the VISTAs spent Monday and Wednesday evenings leading the two-hour Digital Connector sessions with nine students, ages 11 to 16. The program went beyond basic computer training to incorporating hands on workshops, interaction with IT professionals, and field trips to places such as the Sony Wonder Technology Lab. This approach allowed the students to see computers and technology in action and the many ways technology is a part of their everyday lives.

Most of the Digital Connector students don’t have access to a PC at home or school, so this curriculum serves to better position them academically and professionally. Students receive a computer when they complete the program.

Holding up the back-end, Dan Wood put serious emphasis on the sustainability of the BeehiveNYC, making sure that every link on every page remains accurate and functional. He piloted a feasible system for updating and maintaining the BeehiveNYC to be in place for the next round of OE VISTAs to implement. Building infrastructure and sustainable programs within organizations are what the AmeriCorps VISTA service year is all about.

jaebi is a now a former One Economy VISTA and currently serving as MOUSE (Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools and Education) Squad Program Coordinator, also in NYC.

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