Written by Carole Trevey and Carolyn Jeppsen of BroadFutures
BroadFutures is revolutionizing the way young people with learning and related disabilities prepare for the workforce through an innovative training, mentoring and paid internship program. Like most organizations, COVID-19 threw us a hefty number of curveballs for our summer internship program. Our program is founded on community, peer to peer learning and interaction, both in our training and at the internships.
No longer able to meet in person or to engage our participants in internships, we could have easily foregone our summer program completely. However, in so doing, it would have been the young people we serve who would have lost out. Not being able to help them realize their potential and abilities would have been contrary to the very heart of our mission. We therefore made the important decision to move forward with programming – only this time, it would be completely in the virtual setting and focused on training and mentoring. In early June, we introduced our first-ever virtual Summer Strengths Program with participants from all over the country. The program consisted of a five-week intensive and interactive program focused on college and career readiness. From 9:30am to 2:30pm, Monday through Friday, each day was filled with interactive workshops, thoughtful discussions, and curriculum-reinforcing games. Our curriculum is focused on ensuring that our participants learn their strengths and where they need support, as well as strategies for success. We cover a wide variety of topics, including developing professional communication and self-advocacy skills, mastering effective time management and executive functioning skills, building and refining resumes and LinkedIn profiles, practicing how to ace a job interview, understanding financial literacy, and so much more. Our online curriculum mirrored our in-person curriculum and stayed true to our mission by integrating the arts, as well as mindfulness and yoga.
Our curriculum stressed the importance of accommodating alternative learners and ensuring that our program was fun, engaging, and relevant to our participants’ future success. With the use of virtual breakout rooms, direct instruction limited to short periods of time, the incorporation of drama, yoga/mindfulness sessions, and games, the participants successfully remained engaged throughout the entire day, making the program an overwhelming success. Our biggest success, however, was the cohort itself. They created an incredible community of diverse learners. They all grew together with compassion, empathy, patience and earnest appreciation of each other – in just five short weeks.
On the first day of the program, one by one the participants clicked the program-assigned Zoom link, immediately throwing them into a virtual space they had never experienced before as a community. Unsure of how to navigate the virtual world in a Zoom meeting with people they had never met, everyone was hesitant at first to speak up. They were even perhaps a bit nervous because this was new territory for everyone, including our own BroadFutures staff. By the last week the picture of our cohort was very different. They happily engaged in conversations and helped each other out when needed, an incredible testament of how far they came in terms of navigating the virtual space and building their own community.
It has been quite extraordinary to witness how relationships can develop so quickly in a virtual setting. Even though the participants are not having the in-person internship experience, they are still taking something equally valuable from the BroadFutures program. Ultimately, our participants were given the space to connect with young people who were experiencing similar struggles, successes and triumphs; these shared experiences bringing them together as a community. This especially came to light when we challenged the participants to reflect back on their experiences within the program and our BroadFutures community. Their responses on a piece of gratitude they would take with them from the program were awe-inspiring. Here are just a few examples:
- “Learning in spaces with other people”
- “Everyone’s unique outlooks and insights”
- “How we work as a team”
- “How we communicate with each other and the bonds that we have – I will miss this a lot when I go back to school”
Responses like these helped to validate that BroadFutures’ value holds strong even with the program being held virtually. To continue creating spaces for individuals with learning and attention issues to come together, we have decided to hold a virtual Fall Program as well! The fall program will be much like the summer program – held entirely over Zoom, providing an inclusive and interactive college and career readiness curriculum that integrates the arts as well as yoga and mindfulness. Participants can also opt to sign up for an additional four weeks where they can work on an independent project or portfolio of their choosing with the support and guidance of the BroadFutures team.
To learn more about the Fall 2020 Strengths Program, download our flyer here. In addition, we are holding two virtual information sessions:
- July 21st, 10:00am EST
- August 18th, 10:00am EST
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the Zoom link.
If you are interested in signing up for the fall program, please fill out this form. We are looking forward to continuing to serve our community and unlocking the potential of the amazing young people who drive our mission.