Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Amrith: Versatility

           At times, a great strength can also be a great weakness. I would say that in my time with Unidad my greatest strength has been my attention to detail, which has allowed me to fully benefit and grow from the work I have been doing.

However, recently, my desire for every small detail to be perfect caused me to notice an enormous mistake in all of the files from last year’s New Generation Leadership & Workforce Institute.

My insistence on fixing the huge problem and delving into documents that are more than a year old and precede this DukeEngage program drastically increased my workload, but made my last days at Unidad the most rewarding.

I was able to take away more lessons from my last few weeks because in to my normal work with the youth program and fixing the filing disaster, I was forced to wear a number of different hats because of vacations and staffing changes.

First, I got to practice my Spanish/Spanglish a lot as the receptionist in the morning that greets all of the visitors and takes all of the phone calls for the senior program, as well as the youth program. With participants in both programs swarming the Coral Rock House Tuesday to pick up checks and get help, I learned a lot about universal communication and the impact that something as simple as a smile can have.

Having to balance my receptionist responsibilities with my other duties put a lot of pressure on me to still remain poised and eager to assist people as the first face they saw when entering the facility and the first voice they heard when seeking assistance on the phone.

Despite the pressure, I definitely feel as though my ability to adapt to new situations and problem solve under pressure got much better, and learning how to be a good receptionist and functioning member of an office that can scan, copy, fax and communicate clearly is something I will always trace back to this summer.

One of the other responsibilities I have had to juggle is working with two new volunteers—an older gentleman and a high school student—who have started assisting me with my work.

Getting the opportunity to train two other eager volunteers about the work I have been doing has been great, especially since my time at Unidad is coming to a close; my hope is that the pair can continue the projects I have started if I’m unable to finish all of them by the time I leave.

Additionally, with the youth program career advisors out of the office at different times, I got to act as a student advisor when their students came into the office to follow up on the end of the New Generation Leadership & Workforce Institute, or check in about their new jobs.

It was an odd experience to be the one advising students to remain patient and diligent at their new job sites and assure them that their work would get better and more rewarding when just a few weeks ago, many of our advisors gave us the same advice after our initial surprise at how Unidad ran the New Generation Leadership Institute.

I was pleased to be able to step in and advise many of the students because I think they appreciated someone nearer to their age advising them on the matter rather than the career advisors, who the students likely could not imagine being able to see the situation from their perspective. Being more willing to voice a different perspective was definitely another positive benefit I gained from my work.

Another project I was happy to complete before I left was a marketing project for Unidad’s senior program—the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). In the program, seniors older than 55 are placed at local nonprofit organizations and paid to give back to their community, in addition to going through various training sessions and classes to gain employment skills.

Since I have not worked with the senior program much, it was nice to work with different staff members to learn about how the program currently attracts new participants and give my feedback about how I thought the program’s marketing could improve in the future.

I hadn’t really done any presentations that were meant to represent a professional organization, so it was a rewarding exercise to have to put together a presentation for an undefined audience on a subject that I was not that familiar with. Unidad will now be able to use the presentation for years to come to both gain new participants in the program and train other organizations on effective marketing techniques.

The presentation reminded me a lot about how my sense of professionalism has changed, and how something as simple as remaining even-keeled even when things went wrong with the Institute could have an impact on the students and fellow staff members.

 Being part of a professional team that was going through a lot of changes made me much better at assessing a situation fully before reacting or taking action.

When one of our program co-directors came back for our last week after only seeing us in the first week of the program, she said that we all seemed like we had grown up a lot, and I definitely agree; because we all had to adapt so much, a heightened sense of maturity—professionally and personally—was required.

In addition to helping my personal growth, having to manage all of the projects I have been a part of and really integrating into all of the levels of Unidad’s programs these past few weeks has given me a holistic view of the organization that would not have been possible if I had left the organization; for this reason, I feel fortunate that I have had the privilege to stay at the Coral Rock House.

This experience has been vital for my development as a professional and well-rounded person, and I am excited to see what the higher-ups in Unidad have to say when Eric Mlyn—the head of DukeEngage—visits us Monday.

It is almost surreal that we will be leaving in a week, but I am hopeful after starting to mentor potential replacements that the future looks bright not only for Unidad’s youth and senior programs, but also for this DukeEngage program. 

Go Duke,

Amrith Ramkumar

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