Monday, December 15, 2008

Buenos dias amigos! My name is Amanda La France and as one of newest volunteers to the Club Acorn family, I am both honored and very excited to share with you the current ongoings of the center! At the center we just started "Nuestro Barrio es tu Casa" which means "Our Neighborhood is your Home", a multi-media project that combines self identity and environmental exploration to demonstrate the importance of community and the vital role each and every member contributes to a neighborhood that make it a home. The components of this project include Photography, Theatre, Painting, in addition to Writing short stories and poems. All of these mini-workshops will be pieced together to culminate into one final presentation to be held in January for family, friends, and the community of La Boca. With this project we hope to instill, even if just a small part, a feeling investment to the community in which these amazing young minds are a part of. And that in turn, down the road, will surface again as these children become the future leaders of their communities! Week 1 started with a discussion about our group's families, likes/dislikes, personalities, characteristics, homes, neighborhood and also what they envisioned as their perfect place. This week we will continue the theme of their unique identies as well as apply that theme as we go out into the barrio to take pictures of the aspects of La Boca that make it so special as a home. We will also begin creating short skits that will tie in messages of tolerance, anti-drug use, and community togetherness. Whew! We have a lot to get done in the next coming weeks! We'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hello to all the Club Acorn family, friends and supporters! I'm John Reece, the new Director of Club Acorn. First and foremost, I would like to introduce myself and express my happiness of being part of not only a fantastic club but also an amazing international community.
I have been working with the previous director, Lenore Matthew, since July and although sorry to see her go...I'm looking forward to this experience and hope to follow in the footsteps of Ali, Sara and Lenore. If I have achieved half of what they have, I will be happy.
Back to the latest developments of Club Acorn...we are approaching the summer months, which means a turnover in volunteers. Although we are going through a transitional period in terms of staff, the good part of this is we are getting fresh ideas!
Last week, the children of the centre worked together on producing a huge flag, representing various different countries. Each child was given a black and white copy of a flag from a different country - The first task was to find out which colours to use, with the aid of a book (which helped the staff as well as we did not know all of them either!) then once painted...they produced a huge banner, with all the flags together. The idea was to get the kids to think about equality. We didn't tell them at first what our aim was...which made it more pleasing for all of us when one of the boys who was not particularly keen on the painting, decided to write a title to our display...NO A LA RACISMO! No to racism.
The banner along with title now hangs proudly in our centre and everyday they see their work on the wall. We are planning an anti drug campaign once we have the materials to produce placards and an exciting photography workshop where the children talk about their community using visuals (this you will hear about in more detail  two weeks from now, as one of our volunteers will tell you all about it!). We have some great ideas for our club and we strive for the funds to be able to give the children the materials to showcase their work and give them something to be proud of, while they are learning in a safe environment.
Any contributions and we are entirely grateful!!! Monetary, paint, paper, name it!! Ok, that's all for now folks!!!


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Update Time!

Hello to all of Club Acorn's friends and family! A lot has happened with our center since the last post! Please read on for a quick overview of what the Club Acorn students, volunteers, and community members have been up to. Also, don't forget to log on to our Facebook page. There are new photos up now!

*We have had our third fundraiser, "Una Noche de Mitos Argentinos y Vino." Community members and international expats came together to listen to an hour-long discussion on Mitos Argentinos, or Argentinean urban legends, as well as enjoy local wine and tango music. The evening was a great success! Stay tuned for details on our next fundraiser, which will be happening next month.

*A group of students and volunteers headed to the zoo in Palermo for Club Acorn's first field trip. The day was loads of fun! We spent one Saturday exploring all of the exhibits and learning about various types of animals. The highlight of the day was definitely the Aquatic Show, where we saw what tricks the very talented sea lions could do.

*During the kids' winter break, we held an Intensive English Camp. For two weeks, our students learned various basic English concepts. Each day had its own theme, such as the Environment and Recycling, and Television and Film. Volunteer collaboration on this project was phenomenal!

*We have added another new class, Art for Adults. This course is designed to teach basic art skills to community adults. The class will be held on Thursdays at 5pm, during the same time as the Kids' Cooking and Nutrition.

Thank you everyone for your continued participation and support! See you in Boca soon!

Lenore Matthew
Director Club Acorn Argentina

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My First Month with Club Acorn

Hello Club Acorn friends and family! I can't believe it, but my first month as Director of Club Acorn has already flown by. A lot has changed over the last several weeks, all helping Club Acorn to grow and become an important member of the Boca-Barracas community.

One of the most exciting developments is the addition of several new classes. For our kids, we have introduced Nutrition and Cooking, which involves a lesson on good-for-you food, as well as a cooking project, in which the students actually create a healthy merienda for the day. We have had a computer donated to the center, and are introducing a Computacion class to utilize the machine. We also have added Reading and Writing in Español for adults who have not previously learned how to read and write in Spanish.

Additionally, our Theater and English classes are still going strong. Sadly, our Dance teacher has left Buenos Aires. If anyone is or knows another person who is interested in taking over the Dance class, please do let me know!

Another development at the center includes the introduction of the color-coded identification card system. Each student has a card with his or her name on it. To encourage good behavior, they have the opportunity to earn points for the days they have behaved well. Once they reach 15 points, they may trade in the card for a prize. Once the first card has been completed, they graduate to the next color. We are working hard at Level One Blue, and soon enough, we'll have some students at Level Two Red!

As we head into Winter, everyone at Club Acorn is bundled up and ready to go! We have a few new twists in the works, including a field trip to the Zoo and an in-center concert. The volunteers and I are constantly brainstorming ideas to introduce new projects and lessons to the center, but as we all know, the more brains, the better! If anyone has any input, please do contact us. We appreciate all of the contributions!

In the meantime, stay tuned for more words from Club Acorn! Mucha suerte!!!!

Lenore Matthew
Director Club Acorn Argentina

Friday, May 2, 2008

Passing the Torch

First of all, apologies for not having updated the blog sooner- to be completely honest, we have had so much going on with Club ACORN we have not had time! We have a lot of wonderful and exciting new developments:

• We have hired a director, as Ali and I are unfortunately ending our time here in Argentina. However, we and Club ACORN feel extremely lucky to have found Lenore, an energetic young woman from San Francisco who is not only amazing with the kids but understands the importance of community and wants to not only keep the program going but help it to grow.

• We have found new friends in BA Pub Crawl! On Friday, April 25, 2008, they held a benefit fundraiser for Club ACORN and gave us 50% of all their profits. Thanks again to the hard work of our volunteers and supporters, the event was a huge success and we have funds to keep going for a couple more months.

• We also held a parents meeting last week to formally say our goodbyes and officially welcome Lenore into Club ACORN. It was truly an amazing way to say goodbye- we had one mother tell Ali and I “no hay palabras”, (there are no words) for what this center has meant for her and her son. That was all we needed to push us to bring this home to the states and stay involved from there- something we will be doing by starting to work to gain legal NGO status for Club ACORN and by having Ali and I remain on the board of directors- checking in monthly with our director here in Argentina.

• Lastly, as always, where would we be without our volunteers? They truly amaze us every day. We were going to have to shut down the center next week due to overlapping travels- Ali, myself and Lenore are all back in the States at the same time- but one of our volunteers stepped up as an substitute director for the next week to keep the center going. Another volunteer collected cell phones from his abroad program to donate to the center. Another volunteer organized a resume workshop for adults. We feel lucky to have had the chance to meet and work with all these caring and hardworking people- we can never thank them enough.

Sadly, this may be the last blog entry from Ali and myself for a while- but let us just say that we are so grateful for all that Club ACORN has done for us- as we told the parents at the parent meeting, Club ACORN has made us feel like we had a home here in Argentina, and we cannot imagine not coming back to see it. We are sad to go, but at the same time extremely excited for the future of this project- thank you to all who have helped our dream become a reality.

Con carino, Sara Gips y Ali Morris

Friday, April 11, 2008

Volunteer Observations

Volunteer observations by Cameron Ling 10/04/2008

I’m starting to think that the aliens are sending down UFOs packed to the rafters with volunteers for Club ACORN. A more convincing explanation for their proliferation eludes me. Every five minutes a new volunteer walks in the door with a shy smile painted on their face as outside, little green men wave through the windows of a rather large, circular craft that then proceeds to vanish.
Really though, it’s a great thing to have met so many people there in these last few weeks. Every day more people come along who have, for whatever reason, decided to offer some of their time to the project. They come for a variety of reasons, but clearly money and fame are not among them: the money is non-existent and the fame limited to this blog and a few kids who can’t pronounce your name. But still they come, people from all countries, united by bad Spanish and the motivation to do something decent.
I’m an English teacher at the centre. Numbers in my classes vary from zero to a dozen. The classes of zero are my favourites because this means I put on my second hat: soccer player with the kids. The soccer-playing kids are fairly young, so when they kick me – and they always have at least a tap – it doesn’t hurt much. They are Argentine kids, however, so six years old or not, it’s not uncommon to have one wipe the floor with you, scoring screaming overhead kicks, diving headers and the like.
The building we use is owned by an Argentine Uruguayan Association (ARUBA). Plenty of framed photos and paintings of important-looking Uruguayans crowd the walls. When we play soccer, occasionally the ball strikes a frame and the frame falls to the ground. I then run over and pick it up, apologising to all and sundry for trying to drive a thirty-yard strike through the heart of the eight-yard indoor pitch. I usually apologise to the guy in the picture, too, just in case.
The soccer games are facilitated – mandated, I would argue - by the shape of our space. Imagine long fluorescent light globes like you see in schools, then the box said light might come in. Inflate the box but maintain its shape. Now you’re talking! Long, it is. Very long. The roof is quite high, too. Giants are welcome therefore, as are those who walk on stilts.
It’s early afternoon and the kids are painting some posters that are to be put up around the barrio to try and make surrounding streets safer. More on that in a sec. The concentration spans of the kids, however, are as limited as any kids’, anywhere. So soon we are on to a memory game, or chasing them up and down the space or just trying to decipher what they say when they talk to us in silly voices and change seats for no reason.
A kid walks in. It’s good to see him. He has a heart of gold, as all do, but he can be explosive and non-compliant all the same. We are mates through soccer and the small amount of time I have spent with him trying to decipher his homework. Today he has tears in his eyes and he is late. We don’t know why. We won’t know why. His behaviour is erratic and at times destructive. I don’t know how it will be today. The way he acts sometimes suggests that he has grown up around violence – too much. You don’t know these things, of course, but there is enough to lead one to wonder. He has progressed though. It is a joy to see him walk in and a pleasure to help offer a space such as this.
The street outside the centre is always busy. People walk past and their curiosity sometimes drags them inside. A thousand buses, trucks and alien spaceships pass by each minute, regaling us with their cacophony and making the centre seem a sanctuary. Another kid comes in, then another volunteer. Green men wave the volunteer goodbye and are gone. The boy however, is followed closely by his mother, and there are hello kisses all round. Our next visitor is the grandmother of one of the kids. She was here ten minutes ago. She has some soft drink and biscuits for us to use at afternoon tea. She is not a wealthy woman, undoubtedly, but she has gone to the supermarket because she knows the club has little money, that the workers are there of their own accord. Various members of the community donate things now: small, but useful things. They give what they can.
Last night there was a neighbourhood meeting that took place in the centre. Local residents, mostly older, came along to participate and support the process. Their immediate campaign goal is to stop trucks using local residential streets as Formula One practice tracks. Trucks are prohibited in the streets in question, but circulate through them with impunity. This has resulted in the deaths of various locals in recent years. As the footpaths around the barrio are in such a poor state - and many are raised with steep steps - the elderly, in particular, are forced to walk on the road itself. Thing is, the roads aren’t so wide, and the trucks, like all traffic in Buenos Aires, seem to go as fast as they can whenever they can. You get the picture. Local residents certainly do, and the kids at the centre have been painting signs to put up around the area to stand up for their rights.
The people who come to the meeting understand that governments, particularly theirs, will only offer any change to the status quo when impelled to. It’s inspiring then, to see people of scarce resources, many of them elderly, all of them aware of the myriad other problems they face both individually and collectively, coming together to work towards such a humble goal. Reminds you of the Margaret Mead quote - one of few universal truths, to my mind: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’
Today I went around the barrio knocking on doors with Rossi, the supervisor for the centre. The idea was to get some support for an upcoming protest action around the truck issue and simultaneously spread the word about the centre and what we offer.
Rossi lives two hours away. She works full-time, travels two hours each way, each day, and has three boys, one only two years-old, who is currently sick and had her up until all hours the night before our doorknocking. Undaunted by the barriers placed in her way, she knocks on each door with a spring in her step and a genuine smile, and before people can brush her off delivers a speech about the upcoming action, the centre, the volunteers, the local kids. Most of them know her because it is not the first time she has come around to ask for their support.
In her spare time she is one of the students in my Tuesday night class, keen to learn, and always keen to have a laugh. We talk a bit about her time in Lima, Peru, and she tells me about the volunteer work she did there with homeless kids. She wasn’t involved with any organization, just helped homeless kids for years, in her own time, off her own back. This doesn’t surprise me. She tells me that she sometimes takes homeless kids around here for a coffee or something to eat, talks to them about their lives. When she goes to leave they hug her like you wouldn’t believe, she says. But I do, because I have seen some of these kids, asleep on the side of the street in their dirty rags, often out of their brains, in a world that would prefer they did not exist. I can understand their surprise, that she would take the time where the rest of us do the opposite.
Back in the centre, some new volunteers have come in, as has a certain five-year-old girl who, without fail, runs into the centre every day throwing her arms in the air and screaming, ‘They’re open! They’re open!’ I am giving a one-on-one English lesson at the front desk with one of our regulars, a teenage girl. The desk is close to our only permanent piece of furniture. Atop it sits a small vase that holds a small bunch of flowers. I don’t know how they came to be there, whose thought, whose few pesos brought them here, but they seem entirely appropriate.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Over a month and still going strong...

This week was an interesting one- due to strikes and protests in Buenos Aires, the center was shut down on Tuesday to ensure the safe travel of our volunteers to and from the center. Although we were not sure whether we needed to shut it down, the safety of our volunteers is one of our primary concerns, and so we listened to our ACORN leader’s advice and closed the center. However, other than that, things ran pretty smoothly this week!

We are now offering theater and dance classes in addition to our art and English classes, and a community member also expressed interest in offering adult literacy classes, something we would definitely like to pursue. We still have amazing volunteers coming in every day with new energy and ideas… something we truly feed of off and are starting to rely on.

The kids have had their good and bad days- discipline is still an issue, and the time out chair has not only been implemented, but been well-used. One of the hardest things for me is that it can be very difficult to make kids work and sit quietly and do educational projects after they have already been in school for either the morning or all day. At the same time, if they do not want to do work and instead want to play soccer, I would rather that they were playing soccer at Club Acorn than on the streets with cars rushing by. To combat this, we have started to give more free time and then compliment that free time with work time- we try to create games and projects that will be fun and interactive and different from the regular monotonous schoolwork they encounter each day. Our classes are also amazing in this respect, because we can offer something different for the kids yet it does not seem like school to them. And once again, our volunteers make all the difference- if we can get kids sitting and working one on one, they not only behave ten times better, but they want to work and work harder.

We remain optimistic and excited- working on sustainability continues to be a priority, but with new friends in the BA Pub Crawl, we have new fundraising potential and things seem to be falling into place. We are feeling like we are ready to start reahing out in the neighborhood once again, knocking door to door to be able to reach even more children- we have our basics down, we know how to do this and we want to make sure we are offering Club Acorn to as many children who want to take advantage of these opportunities. So we think on multiple levels- thinking about how to ensure that this program is running in a year, thinking about what to do for new classes, how to reach out to new volunteers- and what art project we should do tomorrow. And who knows what tomorrow will bring— each day is different; each day brings its own challenges, but each day brings its own successes.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

An Ode to the Volunteers

The past few days have confirmed the fact that this project will continue after we leave solely because of one reason: our volunteers. With time, we’ve noticed that each week brings a new development: the first week we focused on finding students, the second week on finding supplies and materials, the third week on solidifying a stable group of students, and the fourth week on American volunteers. The ad we posted on Craig’s List has brought an overwhelming influx of emails into our inboxes—we have had over 40 responses of those who want to volunteer for us, and of those 40, at least 25 have already started. It has become an amazing place for the kids to rush to after school ends each day, and equally as fun for volunteers to hang out with one another. In fact, Thursday night we had a volunteer gathering at our apartment that lasted until 3 a.m.! The volunteers who have come to us through either ads or by word of mouth seem to have so much in common --- four of the new volunteers are actually fellow alumni from neighboring colleges of Bates (Connecticut College grads and one Williams grad). It really feels like such a small world, even though we are thousands of miles from home.
One of the most amazing things about Buenos Aires is the people that pass through. As a city that tops the charts for international tourism, we’ve noticed that it has become a “fad” for many college grads to move down here during times of transition. There are quite a few who are here “killing time” before law school, medical school, or fall employment start dates—and we have been fortunate enough to have such an educated and capable group of volunteers as there is such a high rate of skilled members of the workforce down here! Because of this, we have had musicians, theater professionals, artists, dancers, soccer coaches, and English teachers drop by during their free time (and with traveler’s schedules, many of them have extremely flexible and generous hours). It is such a talented group that whenever any child has a request for a specific type of activity, we are almost certain that there will be a volunteer with experience in that area to lead a class.
By talking to so many of our volunteers, we’ve realized that Club Acorn has filled a space that was lacking in Buenos Aires. So many people pass through who want to be involved in a volunteer program, but find no place to go. Many of the other volunteer groups here in Buenos Aires require volunteers to pay, while other organizations that are free of charge for volunteers are often criticized for their poor management and handout/charity mentality. As time has passed, Sara and I have realized that we founded Club Acorn for that very reason—we were looking for a place like this but couldn’t find it, so we created it ourselves.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Our Third Week: Sara's Reflections

This week we realized that we have a true community center. We were much more organized (thanks to the help of new and fantastic and energetic volunteers!) and the kids are responding well. We have formal English classes three times a week now, for adults and kids, as well as a new formal art class once a week taught by a Argentine professor! Add to this we still have new kids and adults coming by every day.

This week was really special for me because neighborhood members really started to get involved in the project, We had donations of old paper clips, a bag of sugar, notebooks, erasers, pencils, empty glass jars, old ribbons, cookies, crackers, and thankful mothers sitting with us and their kids all doing homework together. We had a group of elderly women from the community come in with materials for the kids to make hand painted signs to ask trucks to stop illegally and recklessly driving down our street, (a problem that has resulted in deaths of children and adults alike in Boca), and amidst macaroni necklaces, paper mache balloon eggs and Spanish story read alouds Ali and I looked at each other and suddenly realized that this is working and can only get better. That is not to say there have not been rough moments- kids out of control, a lot of Spanish swears, kids coming in without shoes and stealing from others… but we knew this was not going to be easy and we are not giving up on the kids or the project.

We rely on our volunteers, and there is a lot more we need to do. We had one woman come in and generously give her time and photography skills to take pictures of the center and the kids, and we have had countless other volunteers offer their skills and energy in various fashions. We had a meeting with ACORN and realized that to make this project sustainable for a year, we need to raise roughly $6000… a big goal but one that we think is possible. I do not want to see this center shut down after we leave- and I know the kids do not want that either. We will be having meetings this coming week with community members, ACORN, and volunteers and friends to brainstorm fundraising ideas and sustainability projects- any input is more than welcome!

I’ll leave you with an anecdote… one of our youngest regular kids is four years old. At the end of every day, we let them have a half hour of free time, during which most of the kids choose to play indoor soccer. Ali and I and Fabrizio, our four year old, were on a team against the older boys. In the heat of the game, Fabrizio turned to Ali and I and said, in Spanish, “muéstrelos quienes somos!” (Lets show them who we are!) Out of nothing, with the help and collaboration of too many people to list, we have created something truly special, and I think we should show people who we are, and show them that this is a project that is worth something and that can truly make a difference. We start and end all our emails the same way, saying how excited we are, so I hate saying it again… but we are excited and cannot wait to see what each week brings.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Our Second Week: Ali's Reflections

Our second week at the community center felt much more organized and controlled! We are getting used to seeing familiar faces, and have a core group of about 12 kids who we now see on a daily basis. Students are starting to get accustomed to the set-up of the center as they know they can’t move onto the arts and crafts/English lessons until they finish their homework. This week, the arts and crafts activities alternated each day…Monday we made play-dough, Tuesday we worked on potato impressions, Wednesday we made collages out of scrap paper, and Thursday and Friday we worked with paints.

On the volunteer side of things, we had 10 U.S. volunteers circle through this week, meaning that at some points, we had a ratio of 3 to 1 kids to volunteers! While we would like to expand on the number of kids we receive, it is nice to be able to give each one personal attention at this phase.

The response from parents and community members has been unbelievable. Thursday night we had a community meeting with a great showing! All the parents commented on a change in their children’s attitudes already—each day after school, the core group of kids now race to the community center. We always have kids waiting for us at the doors of the building before we open! Parents and neighbors are also starting to bring in snacks and small contributions (like notebooks, pencils, erasers, etc.), something we’ve been hoping for since the beginning. A local artist has also offered to give a painting class each Thursday afternoon! Community outreach is an integral part of ACORN’s mission, and the recent progress with the community has instilled in us a sense of optimism that the program has the potential to remain sustainable long after Sara and I return to the US in May.

We also posted listings on Craig’s List Buenos Aires, Ex-Pat Connections and other online forums about our need for volunteers and have already had many responses and inquiries about the positions. The response has been overwhelming- we have new volunteers coming in this week and we are excited to be able to expand and offer more individual one on one time for the kids and also get more volunteers in to the center to allow us to go out into the community and reach out to even more children.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Excerpts from the children's journals

We decided that we would give each child who came to the center their own journal- to write or draw in every day, either with exercises or free write/draw. They keep the journals at the center but it is a good way for us to learn more about them and for them to be able to express their thoughts, feelings, and hopes. We have included two examples, both of which were written in Spanish, but which we translated into English.

The first couple days, we had the children doing a variety of projects, one of which was creating an acrostic poem with their name and adjectives describing themselves. This is from one of our ten year olds.

Yo Me Llamo Ignacio.

Nariz Bueno
Orgulloso de Boca Juniors

Yo Me Llamo Ignacio.

My name is Ignacio.

Good Nose
Proud of Boca Juniors (the Boca neighborhood’s soccer team)

My name is Ignacio.

This is from an exercise we did with the children on what they wanted to be when they grew up. We asked them to pick a job, illustrate it and give us some reasons why they chose that profession. This is from one of a seven year old who has not missed a day of Club Acorn yet.

Cuando sea grande, quiero ser policia. Porque querio salvar a la gente. Quiero atrapar a los ladrones. Quiero proteger la puerta de la entrada.

When I grow up, I want to be a policeman. Because I want to save people. I want to capture the robbers. I want to protect my front door.

Our First Week: Sara’s Reflections

It was an amazing first week filled with energy and hard work, and we still have a long way to go, but this project has potential. We have realized, after seeing boys and girls aged 4- 16 come in on a daily basis that they are all hungry to learn, all hungry for attention, but that their attention span is limited and their aggression ample, and their Spanish slang considerable!

That being said, we truly did have an amazing week. We have had more than 30 children come in through the center, looking for homework help, tutoring, English classes, art or dance programs, or perhaps simply for a place to sit and draw… (or run around and play soccer indoors.) Add to this that we had six adults show up to our first once-a-week adult English class! We also had some volunteers join us which proved to be incredibly helpful- I think what works best at the center is allowing the kids to have one-on-one time. They are already in crowded classrooms in school where they seem to do a lot of copying off the board, so it makes sense that they are responding to personal academic stimulation, and I hope to continue to offer even more of that as our volunteer base grows. We have been introducing new small projects every day, ranging from drawing and labeling the body parts to practicing writing numbers and letters to writing poems to playing endless games of rock paper scissors and “semaforo” (stoplight). Many of these children are tough to work with- they come from homes where they may or may not live with parents and where drugs and jail time are often present. We have some kids who live in conventillos- abandoned houses where numerous families squat, each family claiming a single room. Our first day, we watched as seven kids walked out the door, only to reappear an hour later. They told us that it was time to “take their milk”, and since we didn’t offer it, they had to walk down to the politically based community center that passed out milk for free. We now serve milk every day.

At this point, we seem to be okay on materials, although we are quickly running through Global Education Funds 60 donated Spanish books- the children love reading and are hungry for stories and pictures. What we need now are money and bodies- both more volunteers and more community members. We are trying to accomplish this by continuing to walk through the neighborhoods door-to-door, yet we have also been successful in this endeavor by simply keeping the center doors open… new neighbors walk in every day and return the next with more children. We have had women stop by to donate notebooks, parents come in to have conferences with us about the learning needs of their children, and an art professor from Mexico ask if he could teach formal art classes (of course we said yes!)

Even though we only have one week under our belt, we want and need to start thinking about how to make this project sustainable for the future- I already know at least twenty children and additional adults who will be let down if this program does not continue when Ali and I head back to the states in May. We have some ideas already- two important ones being coming up with a grant-funded position to allow someone else to continue doing our work on a daily basis, and raising enough money to move ACORN into their own center so that the offices and community programs can co-exist more easily. This would be an amazing accomplishment- there is actually a space available two doors down from us, but at $2000 USD a month, it is currently out of our budget. But, as Rossi told us two months ago when we started this project, the fight will be tough, but the results will be all the better for it. For me, seeing children waiting for us to open the doors to the center when we jump off the bus is the result that makes it worthwhile.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

To Catch You Up To Speed….

Just to let you all know where our project stands, we are now sharing a building with ARUBA, (Asosiacion de Residentes de Uruguay en Buenos Aires), with an official start date of March 3rd 2008!

Due to our current budget and timeline, this is the most economically feasible option. The hope is to open a community center just for ACORN where they can move their offices, but this is a good space to initiate the project and begin to gather support in the neighborhood without having to spend extra costs on furniture or full rent. The center is centrally located on Avenida Patricios 566 (the street that divides La Boca and Barracas) and is also directly in front of multiple bus stops— ensuring easy access for commuting volunteers and community members.

In addition to the ACORN staff members (a.k.a. our “boss” and mentor Rossi, and the ACORN Latin America director Ercilia), we are now two full time Americans staffing and working this project. We also have many more American and Argentine volunteers who have already signed up for alternating shifts at the center.

For the past couple weeks, the two of us along with Rossi and other volunteers have been canvassing the neighborhood and walking door-to-door to talk with community members (all in Spanish!) about the project and their potential to be involved. Community members could not be more excited about the project- we have even had kids memorize the start date and location to spread the word to their friends. We formally presented the program to the community during a recent ACORN meeting in La Boca, and received an excited and positive response.

For the week of February 25th, we held double shifts by canvassing the neighborhood in the morning and holding open hours at the community center in the afternoon. While we only had one kid show up on Monday, we had 10 by Friday, and many more told us they would be there the following week! At our inaugural party for the neighborhood on Thursday, over 50 community members came together to learn more about the new center. Excitement has been building and we have realized that this project has the potential to be much bigger than we expected. Our expectations have also shifted a bit- we have realized that instead of just offering formal classes, we also need to adapt to the population we are serving. Many of these children are coming in off the street and just want a safe place to relax and have the chance to talk to someone. To meet those needs, we have decided to split the community center into 3 stations: one volunteer will always be on hand to quietly read and draw with the children while the other two will divide up between games and informal classes.

Wish us luck for our first day tomorrow!