Dominique Lopez-Piper Research Paper #2: Building Brains for Community Gains

Dominique Lopez-Piper

Dr. Martin

Building Brains for Community Gains

When you think about who holds power in society, you probably do not envision sweet little hyper kids from low-income families, but rather CEOS at huge corporations and popular political figures. That said, through my community engagement project, I worked with Brain Builders—a subdivision of Stafford Junction—in an effort to change these perceptions and redistribute power and resources to low-income kids by providing reading time, homework help, and a patient helping set of hands and ears. Stafford Junction is a faith-based non-profit organization that was formed in response to an assessment completed by the Stafford County Sheriff’s Department in a high-crime neighborhood in Stafford County. The report included several challenges such as poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, unsupervised children—which is especially relevant to Brain Builders—and high rates of non-English speaking Hispanic and refugee families. As a result, Stafford Junction was formed to improve the lives of low-income youth and families through programs like Brain Builders that were focused on education, nutrition, and healthy living.

To start off, Brain Builders is a school-year long program that seeks to foster intellectual achievement and help kids develop tools for success in their educational careers and lives. The program reaches 6 schools in the area, from kindergarten to 12th grade; it just recently expanded to include Old Forge High School. There are currently about 115 volunteers of all ages, but there is a great need for even more help. It is my hope that after reading this paper and listening to my presentation, several of my peers will be compelled to volunteer their time to helping this immensely worthy cause.

As far as the community I targeted, worked with 20 kindergarteners and first graders at Falmouth Elementary School, which is about a 12-minute drive from our campus. A typical day began with the volunteers arriving about 10 minutes before schedule to set up snacks and look through books to find some at the appropriate reading level for our kids. Then, the students arrived at 4 p.m. and we got them signed in and distributed snacks. After about 10 minutes, they would clean up and we would transition into homework and reading time; for kids who wanted alternative things to do, we had math and crossword puzzle worksheets. Depending on the day, the weather, and the general behavior of the group, they often got some time to go outside for a little while as well. Lastly, a few minutes before 5 p.m., we would get them lined up and ready to be picked up or walked over to the bus.

Now that I have given you an idea of this community and the program I worked with, I will address the power structure and flow of people and organizations within it that allow it to operate smoothly. At the top, with the most power, is Carrie Evans, the Stafford Junction Executive Director; she runs all of Stafford Junctions’ programs and makes sure each of the respective leaders within them are on task and making the right kinds of progress. Next, Brain Builders Program Manager Tegan Aguiñaga—who was especially kind and flexible in getting me started volunteering—falls right below her, with the authority to direct Brain Builders, check in on a regular basis, and manage the day leaders, who are next on the list. Michelle Vasquez and Lester Gabriel were the day leaders for Tuesdays and Thursdays, respectively. They gave the volunteers instructions each day and made sure we were spending time with the kids effectively. Since a consistent meal was a key factor in keeping the kids interested in the program, the local charities and churches that donated that food also wielded significant power. Finally, the volunteers are right above the students, as we worked together to develop critical thinking and reading skills to help them succeed, and they determined how the day turned out with their levels of attention and focus.

Since I have just described the dynamics of the power scheme, I will now explain some of the key issues of power within the greater community that create the need for this program. The kids we worked with lack certain resources that allow their more affluent peers to thrive, such as having the luxury of a stay-at-home parent to teach them to read and spend time developing their homework skills; kids on the other end of the socio-economic spectrum tend to spend much more time alone, as their parents often work long hours or multiple jobs to make ends meet.  As a result, their peers who come from more wealthy families end up with an unfair advantage for success in grade school, but also in the future when applying to college and for jobs. On top of that, upon realizing that their classmates understand things more quickly or do better on tests and assignments, their sense of self-worth and self-confidence diminishes, which was unfortunately very evident in the group I worked with; several students were embarrassed to admit that they “could not read” or felt that they were “stupid.” While this language gave me a heavy heart, I was grateful to be there to discourage these thoughts and reassure them that they were all intelligent and all capable of doing anything they worked to accomplish.

After realizing the need for drastic, meaningful change, the goal of my project was to enhance their reading and homework skills and help improve their sense of self in order to redistribute power in the long term. First and foremost, I went into each session with my mom’s philosophy about how to help kids prosper and grow: always treat them as equals, so that they feel the respect and ability to rise to the challenge and achieve more than they ever would have imagined otherwise. I also shared my knowledge base of hints and tips for pronouncing words and using context clues while reading and helpful tricks for doing math problems and other activities. In that way, I was able to give back from my position of resources in the academic world and transfer that power to these kids. Additionally, presenting and writing about this project and sharing it with our class will hopefully compel more students to work with Brain Builders to help meet their need and reach even more young people.

As far as the role of Brain Builders in affecting our broader community, it works to resolve inequality on a small-scale, but one that impacts future generations worldwide: the children that we are helping to develop these skill sets will be the future major power-holders of our society. Furthermore, this program bridges the gap between the generations in that several older people volunteer their time after retirement and are able to reach out to the younger populations. Both generations end up impacting each other in ways they may never have expected. All in all, the most meaningful takeaway for me with Brain Builders and Stafford Junction was their mission to “connect lives, build relationships, and foster understanding across socio-economic lines.” I sincerely hope I was able to contribute to this profound goal by helping the children realize just how important and capable of success each one of them is through the development of their critical thinking, reading, and deductive skills. Potential power lies in all corners of the world, we just have to seek out ways to distribute it evenly and make sure it ends up in the hands of people with the greater good in mind.

Community Involvement (Ashley J, Section 2)

I was very interested in the services that Micah provides to the community and chose to find a volunteer opportunity through them. After contacting one of the directors in the organization I learned about daily dinners that churches in the community provide. I chose to help out at the Presbyterian Church from 4-6pm on Saturday night. The environment was every friendly and everyone that attended seemed to be familiar with each other. The volunteers wanted to create a safe place where the individuals attending the dinner could work on socializing skills and make ties within the community. Instead of self-serve the volunteers would serve the individuals and also give many opportunities for seconds. There was also music put on by members of the church’s congregation. The Presbyterian church acknowledged the power difference between the volunteers and the people coming to the church for food. They made many efforts to learn names and leave income and housing at the door.

I was able to sit down with many people and talk about their experiences with the dinner and other dinners also run my Micah. A majority of the people I talked with encouraged me to attend more dinners to see all of the great dinners that the community offers. At first conversation was awkward and short, but once I shared that I wanted to volunteer people began to open up about their stories. I found that a majority of the individuals were either in the warm weather shelter or had housing that was simply not permanent or stable.

A police officer entered the dinner looking for someone and immediately, people were telling me of the police harassment that they face due to their financial situation. Many people I talked with were frustrated with the police and didn’t find themselves able to trust them. While we discussed racial segregation involving the police, hearing these experiences provided a lot of insight into social institutions, like socioeconomic status or race,  that continue to shape and run society.

The community involvement project gave me the experience to see power at work. There are many perspectives of power that can be viewed, but I saw power through the roles of the church. The local churches in downtown Fredericksburg take on the role of the provider for many individuals that are facing poverty. Most of Micah’s funding is from donations which keeps the power of these services as the responsibility of the local community. This takes the pressure and responsibility away from the government and works to decrease the poverty problem at a local level.

Research #2 Community Engagement Girl Scout Volunteer

Taylor Ford

Community Power Sec. 1

Research Paper #2

4 December 2015

Community Engagement – Girl Scout Volunteer Work

For my community engagement I am going to discuss my current involvement with a Girl Scout Troop in my hometown, Falls Church, VA.  I have been volunteering with this troop since my senior year of high school, and continue to help out occasionally on weekends and holidays.  Over Thanksgiving Break on Tuesday night when I got home, I attended a troop meeting, the girls were making gingerbread houses for an elderly community, Winter Hill.  This was just one meeting to make gingerbread houses they usually make houses a multiple meetings close to the holidays.  Closer to the holidays in mid December we will take the houses to the elderly and host a holiday party.  For now they are just making the house that will be decorated in the closer to the party date.  My involvement this year was helping make the houses and then once I get home after exams I plan to help decorate the houses and help them in hosting the holiday party.

I became involved with this form of community engagement through my own Girl Scout troop, this was an activity we use to partake in, and before graduating we helped a younger troop get involved in making houses and hosting a holiday party, passing the baton essentially.  I felt it was important to continue my involvement with the troop and have been able to help out on some weekends and holidays since coming to college.  I loved my time as a Girl Scout and I am still good friends with most of the members of my old troop.  I feel that the Scouts promote good values and provide great opportunities to young girls.

This involvement and community outreach allowed the girls and I to impact the elderly in our community.  Providing them with a little holiday cheer is wonderful especially at a time of year that can often be harder for older individuals as they may not have family or friends in the area to celebrate this joyous time of year.  It also allowed me to show the girls just how important giving back to the community can be!  I hope my involvement not only brought joy to the elderly but also to the young girls in the troop.

This experience showed they different power structures involved: the Girl Scouts organization has the most power is this case, that organization is the governing body for troops, then there is the actual troop (leaders, girls scouts, and other volunteers like myself) I worked with has power to make decisions in how they involve themselves with the local community, they had the power to decide to work with the elderly.  Beneath the troop is the elderly population at Winter Hill, they are receiving the outreach from the troop and have the decision as to whether or not they partake in the holiday party.  This is the power structure I have seen from my experience in volunteering with the local Girl Scout troop.

My UMW Community

Janaye Evans

Section 2

As a junior on the Mary Washington campus I have made connections with several students and faculty through my role as an Orientation Leader/Peer Mentor. This campus has become a central location in my community. A community to me is a place that carries a sense of identity. When a person steps onto UMW they are automatically given a role, either as student, professor, resident, commuter, guest, etc. My role in making this community better is to blur the lines of this divide. To create connections between commuter students and resident students, between transfer students and their faculty.

I was able to make this possible through my role as Peer Mentor this fall semester. I have been working with two freshman seminar classes and helping them navigate the waters of UMW. One of my freshman classes is comprised of a 50/50 split between commuter and resident students. The other was 99% resident 1% commuter. Throughout the semester I made myself available to my students via email, text, calling, and events. I hosted game nights, study parties, and passed out snacks on holidays.

This was made possible through the office of Students Activities and Engagement. An organization on campus that heads the Orientation crew. The power that was been given to me is from the title they created. Without it I simply become an upperclassmen with a lot of freshmen friends. The power dynamic enabled by SAE creates the appearance that I help my community because it is my job and not because I want to. The fact that I get paid to help others gives me not only power but position.

The impact of my role on campus and that of my employer is mixed. For some of my students (transfers) my role was unnecessary and a nuisance while for others I was a crutch to rely on (first years). However, just the presence of Orientation Leaders/Peer Mentors on this campus gives incoming students a sense of security in their community that other college campuses fail to create.

How the Moss Free Clinic empowers the uninsured community of Fredericksburg

Lorna Begg

With the community engagement project in mind, I set out to the Moss Free Clinic in Fredericksburg to find out how this non-profit benefits the Fredericksburg community. What I found was a series of power distributions that has left a community, specifically the uninsured, disempowered. This community within Fredericksburg has exclusive disadvantages in terms of access to health care for the greater Fredericksburg community. Dissimilarly to my first research project, which examined broad gentrification for the city of Cork, Ireland, I intend with this project to examine a clinic program that targets a direct community, and how it works to empower them.

research project 2

Racism Still Isn’t Funny: A Cultural Content Analysis of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Hannah Hunter, Section 1)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a new series on Netflix, and is critically acclaimed. It has an all-star cast, with characters from both The Office and 30 Rock. The show even has Tina Fey as one of its main writers. But even with all of those accolades, it has a serious problem: a race issue. The show is a comedy with an interestingly weird plot, amazing and relatable characters, and a lot of freedom to do whatever with, but still finds an excuse to use lazy, poorly executed racism as humor. I decided to write about this to analyze the use of blatant racism, the acknowledgement of white privilege, and racist stereotypes and why there is absolutely a race problem deeply rooted in the new series.

Reaction Project 2

Engaging at the Goodwill

Through engaging at the Goodwill I was able to interact with members of the community that lack resources and possess many barriers that prevent them from receiving opportunities that people more well of have access to.  Engaging with disadvantage members of my community has made my interest in addressing the disproportionate distribution of resources that is prevalent in marginalized communities.

Community Engagement

Working At the SPCA

Lauren Wood

Community Engagement

Dr. Martin

December 2, 2015


Volunteering At The SPCA

For my final research project, Julia and I decided to team up together and get involved in some community engagement! We chose to do our volunteering at the SPCA, which is a non-profit, no-kill humane organization dedicated to the principle that every life is unique and worthy of protection. Julia and I decided on working with the SPCA because of our shared love of animals. While we were there we learned a lot about the SPCA and what goes on around the organization. We also got first hand experience at what the volunteers do everyday.

Being that the SPCA is a non- profit, self-regulatory organization, the government has no say in the decisions they make because there is no government funding. The SPCA is completely independent from the government. With that being said the SPCA has their own say and power. Some things that they have the power to decide are who to hire, whether or not they are a kill shelter, how much emphasis goes into the screening of families who are adopting, and how to decide to run the facility in general.

Julia and I’s work with the SPCA did not directly impact the community but it did help us get a better understanding of how much the SPCA relies on the community and volunteers. Since the shelter is non- profit, the organization relies greatly on the volunteers. The Fredericksburg SPCA has about 15 different volunteers working with them right now. Some tasks that they do on a day -to -day basis are laundry, clean the kennels, do dishes, feed and walk animals, and host events around the community. Another thing that the SPCA relies on is donation. They get donations at least once a day. The range of things that people donate is very large. Donations can vary from small things like food and cleaning supplies to big donations of money.

Another way the SPCA makes up for being a non profit organization is holding many events around the community to help fundraise and also to spread the word. For example, one event that they hold annually is the “Walk For Animals” which is a 5k walk/run to help fundraise for the organization. While these events are happening they bring the animals out and set up a stand so that the cats and dogs could be adopted right then and there. The worker who spoke with Julia and I noted that most of their animals get adopted from events like this. The SPCA also holds educational classes for children to help them become more aware of the organization. This is a great method because the children are our future and it’s important to be aware of what’s going on around their own community.

Working at the Fredericksburg SPCA was a great experienced. I learned that since the SPCA has no government funding they have all the power to do what they want and make their own decisions. This experience had a great impact on my life.

Research Project 2 – Sequoi Phipps, Section 2 – Letter to Dining Services

Alternative Research Project – Sequoi Phipps – Section 2

For the alternative research project, I chose to present student opinions of dining on campus to UMW Dining Services staff. I circulated a survey among students that contained questions about dining on campus this semester. The survey inquired about topics regarding what type of dining plan the respondents had, where they most frequently ate, their opinions on the changes to dining this semester, what they felt is working well and what they felt needs attention or improvement. There were 61 student responses to this survey from 1st to 4th year undergraduate students.

In order to use this information to make some type of community impact, I sent the data to dining services with explanations and analysis of each diagram. I also included some of the free responses to questions regarding what each respondent thought is working well and what needs improvement. I also attached a letter explaining what I was sending them and why I wanted to share this information with them (that letter is attached to this post).

In relation to power, I wanted to take this opportunity because I believe that, though I often feel as a student of the University of Mary Washington that my voice and opinions are not heard, that decision making departments do not often consider the opinions of the students, and that I do not have much pull as an individual student. However, I decided to use this survey to harness the voice of as many students as I could, and present those responses as one concerned voice. Though I do think that we, the students, fall very low on the ladder in reference to power on our campus, I do also think that we have a unique experience to express our opinion to those higher up and at least get some recognition.


LettertoDiningServices (1)

Power Structure of Expansion/Relocation of Teams in the NFL

Abstract: This paper will look at NFL expansion and will look at in depth roles of owners, players, and the community. This paper will outline the power structure of the NFL, especially in regards to relocation of teams and expansion of the league. There are some proposals on the floor and we will dive into both the pros and cons of these proposals.

research 3