W&J junior joins AmeriCorps to provide summer programming for children from low income families in Pittsburgh

Written: July 22, 2020
Last Updated: July 21, 2020

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Shayla Watkins

WASHINGTON, PA (July 22, 2020)—Staying connected during COVID-19 depends on more than a strong wi-fi signal.

Just as important is the strength of your community network, and Shayla Watkins ’22 is proving that through her work with the AmeriCorps KEYS Summer Program serving children from low income families in the Pittsburgh/Penn Hills area. The program provides summer education for school-aged children, connects families with resources to provide help navigating school programs including food assistance, and mentors students who are considered high risk in their school settings.

The psychology major faced some big challenges along the way. Her original plans for the summer were to travel to South Africa with funding from the Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership, which supports women in international travel that serves communities and develops their leadership skills. The limits COVID-19 imposed on international travel forced her to search for local opportunities.

“I had been searching for any internship I could find on such short notice and was lucky enough to stumble upon the AmeriCorps website where they were offering positions in their summer program,” Shayla said. “This program resembles much of my previous experience in community outreach, such as working with The Asservo Project, a non-profit organization combating human trafficking. I admire the work and morals that such programs uphold, which led me to my role this summer.”

But it wasn’t smooth sailing from there. When it proved unsafe to hold the program in person, Shayla and her AmeriCorps coworkers had just four days to adapt KEYS to an online format. Shayla helped lead that charge along with another worker at her post.

“We had to reconstruct the entire curriculum for the children to be able to do it from home, while also teaching our supervisors how to navigate connecting with students virtually in both academic and personal settings,” she said. “It was a huge challenge, but it pushed me outside my comfort zone and allowed me to fill a large role in the overall program.”

Since adapting the program, Shayla has been enjoying her experience working with kids and giving back to the local community. The position has allowed her to build on her already strong leadership skills, and she encourages anyone interested in volunteer work to consider getting involved with AmeriCorps.

Following her graduation, Shayla plans to attend a Ph.D. program for counseling psychology and work as a licensed therapist.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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