(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)
It seems only yesterday when I was contemplating on my first blog post, gathering my hopes and concerns, and trying to figure out how to deal with all the challenges I have encountered at my placement. Yet having only 6 workdays left at Threshold, I realize that it is time to start reflecting on what I have stumbled upon and how my experiences in the past several weeks could help with my work in the UK. Sustainability, which has been emphasized as a main standard for our service since DukeEngage Academy, has become a major challenge to my efforts that eventually guides me to redefine the impact of my work and explore the perfect balancing point between intensity and longevity.
Keeping sustainability in mind, we decided that the best way of increasing technology literacy, job application efficiency and budgeting skills for members is to create tutorial videos, which could be easily accessed after we leave. Yet the result of the first screening of our videos turned out to be less than promising: members were not very engaged and did not show any interest in future videos. Realizing that videos were not the ideal way of getting members involved, the three of us (me, Connor and Carolyn) decided to start hosting daily skill sessions under the three major themes of technology, employment, and budgeting. With the help of snacks and advertising, the sessions have turned out to be a success. The attendance rate was much higher than our expectation, and more importantly, members showed genuine interest in the content of our presentation and tutorial. In fact, after our resume workshop today, several members have expressed the desire to work with us individually to look for jobs.
Yet while the result of our new plan turned out to be a pleasant surprise, sustainability remains a challenge. Since we cannot guarantee that our sessions could be continued by staff members after we leave, what are the options of making our impact sustainable? We could still make documentary videos, but we already know that they are not effective; while the idea of training members to become our successors seem tempting, the goal turns out to be unrealistic. We are still trying to figure out the best way of preserving our skill training sessions. In the meantime, we are collecting our teaching materials to prepare for future options.
Although we are still in the process of establishing sustainability for our project, the most valuable lesson I have learned is that, for a long-term change to take place, a “change” needs to happen in the first place. In other words, concern for sustainability should not be what blocks us from initiating a more meaningful impact. In other aspects of my work, including social media outreach, job search, and community event documenting, I often focused on what would bring the most impact in the beginning of my project, and adjust my plan towards the direction of higher sustainability after it was proven effective. My new understanding of the relationship between impact and sustainability would be a valuable guidance to my work in the UK, and hopefully could help bring us a happy ending to our skill training sessions.