(Laura graduated from Millsaps College in May 2011 with an honors degree in Sociology of Religion and English, and deferred acceptance to Boston University’s master’s program in Community and Global Engagement and Non-profit Management to stay in Mississippi and work with AmeriCorps for a year.)
Through AmeriCorps VISTA, a program that builds the capacity of non-profit organizations to work towards the alleviation of poverty, I am the Project Coordinator of Educational Initiatives for an organization associated with Millsaps, called 1 Campus 1 Community. We aim to engage the inner-city community called Midtown, which is adjacent to one side of our campus, in a mutually beneficial partnership model instead of a traditional “us-serving-them” mentality. Midtown has a vibrant arts district, engaged residents, and a lot of soul, but is extremely poor and like the rest of the state, has unsettlingly high drop out, teen pregnancy, and obesity rates.
Last year (my senior year in college) the wife of Millsaps’ new President and I began teaching bi-weekly ballet and creative movement classes at the single elementary school in the community. This year, one of my major projects with AmeriCorps has been growing that initiative to create a sustainable arts outreach program, as well as target obesity through dance. This includes dance classes during the school day for all pre-K through 1st graders, with the hopes of including an additional grade each new school year. It’s been tricky to stay relevant within the public school system. The school we’re teaching at is in the process of trying to convert into a STEM-focused magnet school, but given the success of our program and the pushed importance of the arts, they have changed their proposal to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math). This year, we took the first graders to see the Nutcracker, and are currently working toward a small performance on the stage of the auditorium in the spring, as well as a National Endowment for the Arts grant to bring more opportunities for dance and arts outreach in this community.
My time with New Ballet Ensemble definitely instilled in me a passion for working for arts outreach as well as the importance of bringing people together in a community of equal opportunity regardless of background. I didn’t realize it until trying to pick a major in college but working with the company and performing shows and workshops in Memphis-area schools influenced my path not only in college, but what I plan to pursue in graduate school and my future career, by teaching me the vital role hands-on work with people, especially youth, in the community plays in eliciting social change.