Understanding virtual service-learning: the Board in action
Amizade Board member Julia Posteraro shares her thoughts on her recent Amizade VSL experience. After several years of trying to find the perfect time for an in-person Board service-learning program, we were thrilled to make this virtual experience work!
As a member of the Board of Directors for the last five years, I have been honored to help support Amizade’s mission to inspire empathy, catalyze social action and link diverse communities through life-changing global service-learning programs. I have been a part of the organization’s strategic planning process and have worked closely with the Board and Pittsburgh-based staff at annual retreats. I’ve been fortunate to meet site leaders like Mr. Brown (Jamaica site director) at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Arts Festival and at Amizade’s 25th-anniversary celebration. My Board experience, however, has always been missing one key experience: I’ve never participated in a service-learning program at one of Amizade’s many sites around the world.
Earlier this month, our Amizade Board of Directors participated in a virtual service-learning program that connected us to community leaders in Italy, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and Bolivia.
I was approved to join Amizade’s Board of Directors the same weekend I became a mother to my five-year-old daughter, Margaret. Working full-time at a Pittsburgh nonprofit and raising two young children hasn’t left me with many opportunities for international travel these last few years. Before moving to Pittsburgh and starting a family, I was based in Washington, DC with a career in international development. It was common for me to spend more time overseas than at home in those days, and I have really missed the opportunities I once had to develop friendships and increase my understanding of the world around me while visiting new places. Our Board of Directors has long been committed to finding a time when we could travel together and participate in this service-learning model we all believe in, but coordinating schedules for a Board spread out across the country and the world presented us with some challenges. The global pandemic added yet another barrier, delaying any chance of a site visit for Board members.
The Board’s inability to plan a group site visit certainly paled in comparison to the operational threats Amizade faced as the pandemic’s reach became global in scale. Amizade worked quickly to modify its plans for the year to ensure the safety for our partner communities and our students. As a Board member, I knew the team was making one tough decision after another to cancel the in-person programs that were already planned. As we all adjusted to staying home and staying apart, I think many of us wondered how we would stay connected within our communities and beyond. It became clear pretty early on in the pandemic that the world continued to need more empathy and more social action, but what would that look like while we all stayed home and perfected our sourdough bread recipes? It did not surprise me to see the Amizade team quickly pivot to online programs to facilitate dialogue and connect communities during this time. It began with the Amizade Talk Show, and before too long, Amizade launched their first virtual service-learning programs to safely connect sites and students.
“I learned Bolivian dances and daydreamt about getting my 1-year-old son Gino a passport and showing him where our family is from in Italy. And I did this all safely from home.”
Earlier this month, our Amizade Board of Directors participated in a virtual service-learning program that connected us to community leaders in Italy, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and Bolivia. I got to spend an afternoon thinking about age-old agricultural systems, the challenges we’ll face to sustain our environment, and how my identity impacts my perspective and place in this world. I learned Bolivian dances and daydreamt about getting my 1-year-old son Gino a passport and showing him where our family is from in Italy. And I did this all safely from home. I have appreciated Amizade’s mission and programs for a long time but am grateful for the organization’s ability to help me feel connected just as we marked a year since the start of stay-at-home orders in the United States. I want to thank Amizade for showing me that it’s possible to connect and learn and be culturally humble, even when we’re far apart.
Thanks, Julia, for sharing your story! To readers looking for ways to stay connected, start planning your own VSL program with us today.