When I applied to the Coro Fellows program, I was both intrigued and – truth be told – a bit skeptical about its model. From what I understood, I was going to be completing four short-term projects with a variety of organizations in Pittsburgh. Fresh out of college and hungry to experience a range of new work environments, this promise of exposure excited me. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my work’s impact would be limited. If each project was roughly 8 weeks, how much value would I really be adding to each organization?
Just two weeks before the Fellowship began, I received an email from Jenn Holliman, the Coro staff member who manages each Fellow’s placement. With what can only be explained by otherworldly mind-reading powers, Jenn asked me if I would be interested in completing multiple projects in McKees Rocks, a community just outside of Pittsburgh. Little of Coro’s model would change, Jenn explained; I would still work on different projects throughout the year and gain exposure to various work environments. What would be different, though, is that each project would be located in McKees Rocks, and they would all build off each other in some way. Seeing an opportunity to marry exposure with impact, I immediately took Jenn up on the offer.
To briefly trace my Fellowship’s trajectory, I started with a rotation at the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation (MRCDC), followed by a project with the Sto-Rox Middle School, then a project with the local workforce development organization called Ready to Work Sto-Rox, concluding the year back at the MRCDC. As is evident by the variety of my project placements, I was able to experience work in different sectors and environments – a key reason why I applied to Coro in the first place. But because I worked in McKees Rocks for the duration of the Fellowship, I wasn’t forced to stop projects that wouldn’t naturally end after an 8-week duration.
The best example of this – and the work that I am most proud of – was my development of the Sto-Rox Youth Partnership. In short, this Partnership is an organization comprised of local youth service-providers who want to improve opportunities for neighborhood kids. The Youth Partnership existed before I began working with the MRCDC, but after interviewing the majority of its members, it was clear that the Partnership lacked a coherent mission, vision, and structure to achieve its goals. Over the course of nine months, I was able to work closely with its 30+ members to create a self-governing and energized collective impact organization. A solid structure and articulated mission/vision statements were certainly critical to the Partnership’s development, but above all, progress depended on my ability to build relationships with the Partnership’s members. If I didn’t adequately understand what people wanted from this Partnership and what they could bring to it, how could I help structure it to be sustainable and effective? Time was the necessary ingredient in all of this, and since I worked within the community for my entire Fellowship, I had enough time to help get the Youth Partnership up and running.
As my time in Coro nears its end, I can unequivocally say that I made the right choice to work in McKees Rocks for the duration of the Fellowship. McKees Rocks, and the folks who live and work in the community, welcomed me with an enduring hospitality throughout this past year. Exploring new work – yet taking the time to see projects get off the ground – was a distinct privilege afforded to me by both Coro and McKees Rocks. I truly look forward to the stories of future Coro Fellows who get to experience this, too.