Tuesday, January 17, 2012

DC SCORES staff members visit youth-serving organizations in Ecuador

This past December, a pair of DC SCORES staff members got the opportunity to spend a week in Ecuador learning about youth-serving organizations in the country and sharing DC SCORES’ best practices with community leaders.

It was an action-packed seven days for Senior Program Director Katrina Hochstetler and Volunteer and Soccer Manager Sean Hinkle, who observed 11 different programs, many of which were funded by umbrella organization Fudela; played soccer with youth soccer teams; and met world kickboxing champion Edison Omar Jiménez, who created two youth-serving organizations, including the Fundación Sin Fronteras Ecuador.

The trip was part of the Youth Sports Management Exchange, put together by the Partners of the Americas -- a program that involved youth-serving organizations from Ecuador and Colombia visiting the United States to gain best practices to implement in their home countries. The final stage of the program had leaders such as Hochstetler and Hinkle traveling to Ecuador -- and others to Colombia -- to take in the programs.

It wasn’t just a working trip, either. Hochstetler and Hinkle also got a large taste of Ecuadorian culture, doing everything from visiting the Equator, to taking a hike in the jungle, to sampling all kinds of Ecuadorian cuisine.

The locals were extremely accommodating and welcoming, especially their host family the Andrades.

The pair of DC SCORES ambassadors sat down recently to discuss their trip

KH: Earlier in the year, people who had programs in Ecuador and Colombia came to DC and Kentucky to learn about other programs and then they went back and implemented new ideas in their own programs. So we were going back to kind of learn about how they had implemented what they learned in the States.

SH: They came to the States in two groups. The first group came in June. So I went to speak on a panel (then). The focus of the day was coaching and teaching techniques for improving connections with at-risk youth. And then (Executive Director) Amy (Nakamoto) spoke on a panel where the topic was fundraising.

What were the main goals of the trip for you?

KH: Our main goals were to learn about their programs, learn about what they implemented, and then learn about their culture.

What did you notice about what they had implemented and what kind of success it had had?

SH: We were impressed with the programs that we visited. We were most surprised by the amount of community involvement in every program, from community members and family members cleaning up fields and public spaces that the kids were using, to the relationships that the coaches had with the parents. The community involvement was really impressive.

Besides just observing, how did you participate in the community?

SH: We played soccer at a few of the programs  we visited, mostly with the older kids, but we even jumped in with some of the younger kids. There was obviously a language barrier since neither of us speak Spanish very well, which restricted a little bit of what we could do, but the program leaders were very patient with us and did their best to describe their programs and answer our questions.

Are there any programs at all similar to DC SCORES over there?

SH: There are only a few after-school programs. Most of the programs that we visited were  not affiliated with schools. But the positive relationships between kids and coaches/adults was very evident there and something we feel makes DC SCORES very strong as well.

What did you take away from the experience that you can or might apply?

SH: I think it reinforced a lot of the things that we know make programs successful, which is keeping the older kids involved with the program and in some type of leadership capacity and really getting a buy-in from community members and parents and families.

KH: We saw two programs that were really strong. They were community-based and neighborhood-based. And (our host) Magali Andrade’s program especially, they used older kids to lead sessions for younger kids. It was really nice. It looked a lot like our program.

They also emphasized character and value training, which was a little bit like the components that we add in to ours. They wanted to hear a lot about poetry, service-learning, because they weren’t sure how that all fit together.

SH: Yeah, it was tough for them to understand the concept of combining an academic component with sports. Most of their programs focused on character development and values.

About how many programs did you visit?

KH: We visited a daycare, public elementary school, a high school for girls, and four community-based programs with kids from 4 years old to the older kids that were high school age who came back to help them.

SH: It was a variety of programs. We saw everything from just strictly soccer, we got to experience their classroom settings, we got to see their recreational soccer, we got to see some of their more competitive club soccer, we even got to visit a school for children with special needs.

KH: And a unique woodwork program for people with special needs.

SH: And the last we visited was a program called A Ganar that teaches job training and character development.

What besides the community involvement within these programs kind of stood out to you about the culture?

KH: The language barrier was really challenging. We were able to see a variety of programs with different age groups. … We had a great opportunity to meet lots of different people and to do things to learn about Ecuador. We went to visit El Panecillo. We went to the old city (in downtown Quito) -- it’s very beautiful, all Spanish architecture. So learning a little bit more about their history, that old city part of Quito was really beautiful.

We went to the Equator. We received a guided tour of a museum there. We saw people living in the jungle. All kinds of different aspects of Ecuador’s history and groups of people that are part of Ecuador's diverse culture.

SH: And the thing that was really nice is that everything we did was first-hand with the locals from that community, so not only were they showing us their favorite parts of town, but they were also giving us a lot of their history, historical facts, cultural facts, taking us to experience the food in each part of town, driving from Quito to the jungle.

They were really considerate about showing us their country.

SH: Overall, I think the most refreshing thing was to see the people who really care about their work.

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