The Apartment Association of Kansas City honored Rainbow Housing Assistance Corporation (Rainbow) with two of its coveted Crystal Merit Awards. The Crystal Merit Awards were designed to honor those in the association who have made significant contributions to the multifamily housing industry. The winning categories were “Best Property Activities” and “Best Youth Activities”.
Congratulations to Rainbow Resident Services Coordinator Breanna Ney whose dedication to the residents of Waterstone Apartments has helped build a vibrant, stable community. As a special treat, Breanna conducted interviews with some of the volunteers she has brought onto the property to enhance the program offerings to both the adult and youth populations. Below is more information about the award-winning programming taking place in Kansas City.
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Crystal Merit Award for Best Property Activities. This award was judged on overall programs designed by the community to support resident retention efforts. When Rainbow transitioned to full-time, this allowed the program offerings to expand to the adult population as well as the youth. A major focus for the community were English as a Second Language courses to aid with job readiness and interacting with the youth’s teachers at the adjacent elementary school. Rainbow has acquired the services of ESL teacher Ted Wilson who is volunteering his time onsite every Monday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., helping the adult population learn English. Mr. Wilson was kind enough to provide a write-up of his involvement with the resource center at Waterstone and the services he provides.
Rainbow: How did you learn about Rainbow and the center at Waterstone?
Mr. Wilson: The person who got in contact with me originally was a woman at Avila University named Susan Wulff. She works in the Counseling Department. At any rate, Vanessa Perez had written her a letter asking for help in getting volunteer ESL instructors. Vanessa was wondering if Avila could supply Rainbow Housing with volunteer ESL instructors from its ESL faculty or its TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) master’s degree students. I am a graduate of Avila’s master’s in TESL program, so that’s how Susan Wulff got a hold of me.
Rainbow: After the introduction was made, when did you start classes?
Mr. Wilson: My official start date was October 10, 2011.
Rainbow: What has been the best thing you have gotten out of the program?
Mr. Wilson: My friendship with the students over at Waterstone–people like Saul and his wife, Teresa; and Margarita; Marlen; Rosa; and Cristina (all from Mexico, originally).
Mr. Wilson was also kind enough to supply the below letter for inclusion in the Crystal Merit award submission:
Advantages of Learning English as a Second Language at Waterstone Apartment Complex and Rainbow Housing
My name is Ted Wilson, and I have been teaching English as a Second Language at a Rainbow center for one month. I teach at Waterstone Apartments in Kansas City, Kansas, Rainbow’s first facility in the midwest. During the time that I’ve taught at Waterstone, I have noted a number of advantages that a Rainbow facility’s language program brings to its resident/students.
First, there is the advantage of convenience. Most ESL programs require their students to furnish their own transportation to and from school; however, since Rainbow offers its language program right at the apartments where its students live, the problem of transportation is taken care of. Rather than having to take public transportation or drive a car to school, Rainbow residents can walk to school, since the school they attend is in the apartment complex where they live. Proximity to school offers other less obvious benefits. For example, on the first night of school, I brought homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to class. A couple of evenings later, one of my students brought atole—a popular Mexican hot beverage made of cornmeal, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon—to class. Obviously, it was much easier for this thoughtful student to bring her hot drink to a classroom which has an accompanying kitchen in which she could warm up her atole, than one far from her home.
Another advantage to learning ESL in a Rainbow facility is that a program can be tailored to the specific needs of learners. For example, if a resident is having trouble helping her children with their homework, she can bring the books that her children are using to class and have the ESL teacher formulate some lessons on how to help with homework using the children’s school books. On the matter of residents’ children, often such children are more adept at understanding and speaking English than their parents and can therefore act as translators for their parents in class.
Along the same lines as tailoring lessons to a specific audience, if a teacher discovers that the materials that he or she has provided are too easy or too hard, Rainbow can purchase materials that are at a more appropriate level.
So, Rainbow provides its resident students with convenience and appropriateness of learning that more traditional programs for newly arrived immigrants cannot.
Crystal Merit Award for Best Youth Activities. This award was judged on overall programs for youth activities designed by the onsite staff. Youth programming was Rainbow’s original focus at Waterstone when inserted into the property early 2011. Activities focus on educational programming, community involvement, and healthy lifestyles. Events include:
- Story time with the Kansas City Public Library
- Season specific events such as Easter egg hunts, Thanksgiving dinner, and back-to-school backpack drives
- Starting both Girls Scouts and Boy Scouts of America programs
- Harvester’s Kids in the Kitchen Nutrition class
- Free flu shots
Having the right kind of help when providing quality youth programming is critical and Rainbow has been fortunate to forge a partnership with the Youth Volunteer Corps of Greater Kansas City. The Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC) is a national nonprofit network that offers youth ages 11 through 18 the opportunity to improve their community through volunteering. In the 2010-11 school year, over 930 volunteers from the Youth Volunteer Corps of Greater Kansas City (YVCKC) completed nearly 17,000 community service hours with 77 local nonprofit organizations and agencies. The youth volunteers come from all over the Greater Kansas City area, including students from public, private, charter, and home schools. YVCKC volunteers help out at the property every Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Below is a question and answer session that was conducted with team leader Joshua from the YVCKC.
Rainbow: How did YVCKC come into contact with Rainbow originally?
Joshua: In June 2011, YVCKC was contacted by Rainbow. It was too late to begin an afterschool program at that point, but YVCKC would keep Rainbow in mind for the fall semester.
Rainbow: When was your official start date?
Joshua: I began working with AmeriCorps in early August, and our first volunteer day with Rainbow was September 7, 2011. Since then, we have been volunteering at Rainbow every Wednesday, with only a few exceptions.
Rainbow: What has been the best thing you have gotten out of the program?
Joshua: I’m a diversity fanatic, and love to see cultures intersect. I have enjoyed seeing the boys on my volunteer team grow and mature as they encounter kids and families that come into the Resource Center, and I’ve seen how we’ve all gotten used to one another despite what appears to be external differences. The more differences that we confront, the smaller those differences seem to become. That has probably been the most valuable lesson I’ve learned so far.
Over the course of the last six months, I have seen the Rainbow Resource Center bloom into a well-run facility equipped with a homework room and computer lab for fostering educational skills with the youth who show up after school, a fully stocked food pantry, clothing closet for those in need, and enough learning space for extracurricular programs like the Boy and Girl Scouts to hold regular meetings. As a person passionate about community development, it has been exciting to witness this beautiful change unfold first-hand, and to contribute in any way I can.
My volunteer team, a group of 4-6 white boys who all come from middle-class families, had never encountered things like public laundry facilities, food pantries, or clothing closets, even though several of them live just a short distance from people who rely on all of those things on a regular basis just to get by. But the more time we spend at Rainbow, the more comfortable they seem to become with their surroundings. They feel good about volunteering and feel like they are helping out. Everyone likes to feel like they are helping others. In small increments, I have seen them mature and grow to care about people who on the surface appear different from them and become enthusiastic about learning more in the future. At the end of the day, I think Rainbow has given us far more than we have contributed. But then again, that’s the way things work with volunteering.
I have really enjoyed the time that I have spent working at the Resource Center and I sincerely hope that YVCKC continues to work with Rainbow long after my own service term with AmeriCorps is over.