Monday, March 29, 2010

Movin' on up

Just wanted to post a quick shout-out to the Student Government Association of Miami University Hamilton for their $1500 donation to the Kits for Kids Campaign. Their generous contribution will purchase about 250 school supply kits for students in Hamilton, New Miami, and Ross School Districts. Thanks!

At our meeting today, they also expressed interest in planning a more permanent fundraiser, making this campaign a priority for years to come. How's that for sustainability?!

I would be remiss not to thank fellow VISTA Jessica Reading and Alex's sister, Jen O'Brien for helping to make this happen!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Welcome, new counselors!

On Thursday I had the pleasure of training 3 new OBB counselors at Warren County Community Services:

Meet Sharon, Mimi, and Sue, brand new WCCS/AARP volunteers with the Ohio Benefit Bank

I had a great time training this group. All were attentive, thorough, polite, and eager to learn--something that I have learned not to take for granted in light of more recent, disastrous trainings. WCCS and AARP provided breakfast, lunch, and drinks throughout the day, making my job even easier.

So if you're reading this, ladies, thanks so much for a fun, productive day! South Lebanon is lucky to have you on board.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Apartment living

I'm still a little fuzzy on the details, but it seems there was a fire in our apartment building last night.

Yes, apparently fire trucks and ambulances rolled up around 3:00 a.m. to respond to a small kitchen fire in one of the units above us. Taylor said that he saw EMS take a person out on a stretcher to be transported to a hospital via ambulance. I am somewhat surprised Taylor didn't throw on his jacket and boots and run outside to get in on the action. Of course, I slept through all of this, only waking when the fire department turned on their large industrial fan to blow smoke out of the building. I thought it was a garbage truck--imagine my surprise to find out that the building had been on fire and we were all still inside.

This morning there was no damage visible from the outside of the building, and I haven't seen any news coverage on the event. Still, it serves as a reminder of the inconveniences (and dangers) of apartment living. Had that fire been directly above us, I might be out of some of my possessions this morning. It is scary to think that, to some extent, my safety and personal property are in the hands of my neighbors. In apartment living, one unattended candle or electrical short can change the lives of dozens of people.

Fortunately, Taylor and I have renters insurance and a fire safe containing most of our valuables. Not to say that we have rubies and emeralds stashed away, but we have our birth certificates, social security cards, lease, insurance policies, etc.--all of the things we would need to start over in case of disaster. When we were purchasing our insurance, our agent said that he is always surprised by the number of renters who don't even ask about this kind of insurance. Many people think that the only insurance out there is for homeowners, or they believe that their small collection of possessions isn't enough to rationalize the policy's cost. All I know is that if all of our possessions (or even just one or two) were destroyed in a fire or other disaster, I'd want it replaced. The peace of mind is worth the investment to me.

After the events of last night, home ownership has never been more appealing to me. More on that later.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hometown visit

On this my first married Monday, I've been relaxing at home and catching up on my blogs and emails. Of course, this post from the Ohio Benefit Bank Mobile Express blog caught my eye. It's about a recent trip to my hometown, Urbana, that the van made last week. I find a couple of things interesting about this post:

1) A good number of the people who stopped by claimed that even though they were eligible for assistance, they didn't want to apply because someone surely needed it more than they.
2) Russell, the author of the post, described Urbana as a "whole 'nother time zone," complete with Southern hospitality and accents to match.

And so I must ask my faithful readers: do y'all think I have a Southern accent?

It's all in your perception, I guess. ;)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kaitlyn Baker Wessels

It's official--yesterday I married Taylor and became Kaitlyn Baker Wessels. I know this isn't a personal blog, but I couldn't resist posting this picture from the wedding:

We can't wait to see the rest of the images from the big day. Our photographer was outstanding!

I'm recuperating a little more on Monday, and I will be back to work on Tuesday. After all the craziness of the wedding week, I almost look forward to jumping back into GrantWorld.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More from Jason DeParle

Remember when New York Times reporter Jason DeParle came to SW Ohio for part of a series of stories on food stamps? Yes, it was very exciting.

I'm a little behind, but he has recently written more stories on the topic. Check out this one-- The Safety Net: Once Stigmatized, Food Stamps Find Acceptance. For this story, DeParle focuses on how the process of getting and receiving food stamps has become easier as stigma lessens--especially in places like NYC where people once had to register at JFS one day, and return the next day just to get an application. Still, many people incorrectly associate food stamps with "welfare," and the program certainly has its critics, including Republican candidate for governor in South Carolina, Andre Bauer. Just look out for his comments on the matter.

Oh, and how about a shout out to AmeriCorps member Juan Diego Castro, who was quoted in the article!

You might also like to check out a national briefing on food assistance and a national briefing on hunger in America, which also had an accompanying story.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Out of the office

Today is my last day at work for a while. I'm getting married on Saturday, so to keep up with all the wedding happenings, I'm taking the next few days off.

But before I go, some updates:
  • Yesterday I submitted two more applications for a $6,000 grant and a $4,000 grant to The Miriam G. Knoll Foundation and the Barnitz Fund of JP Morgan Chase, respectively, in the Middletown area.
  • I also submitted a letter of inquiry for another $10,000 in funding from the Charles H. Dater Foundation. If they like our project, they will request a full proposal. Fingers crossed.
  • I am collecting grant applications from the area Rotary, Lions, and Kiwanis Clubs. They're next on the list, as is the Community Response fund at Middletown United Way.
  • Parent Teacher Organizations--I'm looking at you. This is a county-wide project, meaning we have a LOT of PTOs in each district to work with. I'll be delegating these to other members of the Coalition, who will hopefully be more than willing to assist in this massive effort.
  • I am pretty sick. Lots of congestion, stomach ache, headache--the works. I think the stress of managing this project at the same time as planning my wedding has finally caught up to me. Well-timed, eh?
And with that, I'm off. I'll set some things to post over the next few days, but don't count on too much fresh, original correspondence from me over the next week or so. I'll be back in the office on Tuesday, 3/23 with a new husband and a new name: Kaitlyn Baker Wessels.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rookie Mistake

My inexplicable absence from the blogosphere is actually quite explicable. In a word: grants.

On Monday, the members of the Butler County School Supply Coalition met at Shared Harvest to write our mission statement, to set our goal for the year, and to identify fund-raising strategies. Initially, the Coalition set a goal to serve the 10,286 students K-6 on free lunch only. This is about half of the total 20,139 students K-12 identified on free or reduced lunch throughout the county, and seemed like a much more manageable goal. But when I sat down to knock out our budget, I discovered our projected revenue was greater than our projected expenses to serve solely the K-6 students on free lunch. Because we can't have a budget with more revenue than expenses (that's, like, anti-nonprofit), I decided to up our goal to serve all students K-12 (not just K-6) on free lunch. But then our expenses were greater than our projected revenue, so I had to find additional sources of potential revenue, and before I knew it, our goal was to raise $104,946 for the purchase of 17,491 school supply kits for every student on free lunch in the county. It's a big goal, but I really think we can do it.

For some reason, we never actually ironed out a mission statement as a group, so Meredith and I wrote one after everyone left. It reads as follows:
The mission of the Butler County School Supply Coalition is to provide low-income students with the school supplies they need to successfully start the school year through collaboration with school districts, agencies, and service organizations in Butler County.
Once I had a goal, a budget, and an official mission statement, I was ready to knock out my first round of grants. On behalf of the Coalition, I applied for a $5,000 grant from the Hamilton Community Foundation's Youth Philanthropy Committee, a $5,000 grant from the West Chester Community Foundation, and a $7,000 grant from the Middletown Community Foundation's Youth Council. The first two grants were due on Friday, March 12th, and the third is due on March 25th; fortunately, I finished all three by noon on Friday and I personally delivered them to their respective offices.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Almost. You see, I'm new to this whole grant-writing thing, and I'm learning as I go. First, you locate the grant application online, determine its deadline, and decide if the grant matches your project's mission. Check, check, check. I had some questions about the Hamilton grant, so I contacted them for clarification and was quickly back on track. The West Chester grant seemed clear enough; I didn't have any questions, so I neglected to contact them. That was a mistake. Like many granters, the West Chester Community Foundation highly encourages grant-seekers to contact them about the grant process before submitting an application. They even hold special workshops for grant-seekers to learn more about the process. Unfortunately, I didn't partake in any of this--not because I didn't want to, but because I just wasn't aware. I simply didn't research the grant thoroughly enough. I realized my mistake on Friday morning, which was, of course, too late. I submitted the grant anyway, and I'm hoping for the best, but I'm still disappointed by my oversight.

Not wanting to jeopardize any further grant opportunities, I called the other granters from whom we are seeking funding to introduce our project and see if our proposal would be warmly received. Of course, I also wanted to make sure there weren't any more details I'd overlooked.

So far, so good.

I've definitely learned from my rookie mistake(s), and I know that I am gaining valuable skills that I can take with me in my next position. Meantime, I am completely dedicated to providing thousands of kids with the school supplies they need for the 2010-2011 school year. In addition to grants from community foundations and local service clubs, I'll soon begin developing partnerships with Parent Teacher Organizations, businesses, and other community groups to take our fund-raising to a more sustainable level.

You can track our progress with the thermometer application I've added to the right hand side of my blog (and find instructions for how you can help, too!)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Poverty Simulation

Long time no see!

On Monday, I worked late to help staff a poverty simulation in conjunction with Miami Hamilton's "STAY-cation." My friend Jessica Reading (a VISTA at MUH) led this initiative, designed to give students the opportunity to learn about poverty and serve their communities during the school's spring break.

The simulation lasts one hour and is based on real situations that people in poverty experience during the course of a typical month, which is divided up into 15-minute "weeks." Participants are grouped into "families" and each person has a role to play, from a child attending school to an adult going to work and securing benefits. As a "staffer" in the simulation, I played the teacher. My job was to make sure the students stayed in school for 7 minutes each "week" and that they completed their homework (quizzes on poverty statistics). I also had to hand out cards requesting that their parents send the students back with money for school supplies, art projects, and field trips. By the end of the simulation, only half of the students had brought back enough money to cover these costs. I found this part of the simulation a bit ironic, especially in light of my newest project to raise money with the Butler County School Supply Coalition. For me, it made our mission to purchase school supplies for low-income students that much more serious.

Here I am, waiting for my students to arrive at school!

Many families were "evicted" from their houses for not paying their rent. Turns out, these were illegal evictions, but the families were so consumed with meeting their basic needs that no one fought the legality of the situation.

I think the poverty simulation is a good exercise in exploring the issues that many people in poverty face: living paycheck to paycheck, meeting transportation needs, balancing family and work and benefits. But it's important to keep a couple of things in mind. First, this was a simulation and simulations aren't perfect. My background in disability studies has taught me that simulations aren't always the best educational tools because they tend to focus on only one or two aspects of reality, often the extremes, and can skew one's perception of the issue. Simulations can result in pity for the group whose experience is being simulated, which not only doesn't feel very good, but usually doesn't result in much action. In this case, though, the participants took time to debrief on the simulation, which was facilitated by OASHF. From what I could tell, many of the participants engaged in meaningful, quality reflection that focused on the issues of poverty, not just on "winning" the simulation. Overall, it was a good day and I hope that the participants came away with a deeper understanding of poverty that will result in future changes to policy to help people in poverty.

For more pictures and insight on the simulation, check out Alex's blog!

Even though this is the last weekend before my wedding (yikes!), I hope to post more updates from this past week, including victories and lessons learned from adventures in grant-seeking. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 8, 2010


With only one post from last week, some of you must be wondering, "Kaitlyn, what's going on?! Where are your blog posts?"

The answer: I do not know. I have lost them among the pages of my grants, the heaping piles of tissue paper and gift bags from my bridal shower last Saturday, and the ever-growing lists of things to do in preparation for my wedding.

Don't worry--I am not abandoning you, and I am not a Bridezilla. I am as focused as ever at work. It's just that there's a lot on my plate right now and sadly, my blog is experiencing a little neglect. Blog posts should resume as normal in about two weeks or so. In the meantime, I hope to provide brief updates on all sorts of fun stuff going on around here, such as:

Butler County School Supply Coalition Meeting, Today 11 a.m.
Poverty Simulation at Miami Hamilton's campus, Today 1:30-5:00 p.m.
Ohio Benefit Bank Tax Training in Dayton, Thursday 9:00-4:00 p.m.
First round of grants due, Friday by 4:00 p.m.

Still, don't be surprised if you don't hear from me for a while. I'm just saying.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

This just in...

It's official--this is our worst year yet for the Kits for Kids Campaign.

At least, in terms of need, that is.

The Butler County School Supply Coalition has worked to provide school supply kits for children on free or reduced price school meals throughout the ten public school districts in Butler County. In years past, there have been about 15,000 students deemed eligible for the program, but even in the best years of the program, the Coalition has only been able to meet about half of the need.

For the 2010-2011 school year, I've been put in charge of organizing the Coalition and finding additional sources of funding. In order to demonstrate our needs in grant proposals, I have called each of the ten districts to get their most recent counts of students on free or reduced lunch. And today I made the final tally:

20,139 students in Butler County access free or reduced price lunch every day at school.

These students range in age from Kindergarten to 12th grade, and come from Hamilton, Middletown, Fairfield, Ross, Madison, Edgewood, Lakota, Talawanda, Monroe, and New Miami School Districts.

Did I mention there are 20, 139 kids in need this year?! In other words, 34.54% of all students enrolled in public school in the county live in a household whose income is less than 185% of federal poverty income guidelines. For a family of four, that's under $40,793 annually to qualify for reduced price, or $28,666 annually to qualify for free lunch. With unemployment at 10% in Butler County, we know that many families are barely able to keep up with their bills as the cost of living outpaces their incomes. By providing a free school supply kit to their kids, parents have one less thing to worry about covering in an already over-extended budget.

As compelling as it is, the project won't pay for itself. Historically, school supply kits in the past have cost about $5 a piece, but we might see a slight increase in pricing this year. Even if we can get the kits for $5 each, we would need to raise $100,695 to completely cover this project. As optimistic as I am, even I know that just isn't going to happen. The Coalition will be meeting next week to set a realistic goal for this year.

Meantime, these grants won't write themselves! I'll be back to let you know how you can help.