Running programs on Zoom can be really different than meeting in person, and our students have handled our transition in various ways. Some students seem more hesitant to speak up, especially in larger Zoom rooms. But when Connie Powers enters the room, everyone lights up. Connie’s warmth, energy, and enthusiasm have brought joy and confidence into our virtual programs. Encouraging students to feel comfortable in an online space is her superpower.
We first met Connie in 2012 when she reached out to us about partnering with Wolverine Pathways, another group she volunteers for. Our paths crossed again a few years later at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). In partnership with UMMA, 826michigan runs a special field trip for Ypsilanti third graders. Through this field trip, students come to 826michigan and create stories and survival guides imagining that they’ve jumped into a piece of art. After writing, the students visit UMMA and see the artwork in real life, guided by highly-trained docents. Luckily for us, one of our docents was Connie. In her second year participating in the 826michigan-UMMA partnership, Connie asked about volunteering during the story-writing portion of the field trip. From then on, she has become an integral and unparalleled member of our volunteer force.
Since going virtual this spring, Connie has volunteered in every single program we offer, from Virtual Schoolwork Support to Virtual Field Trips to Lunch Poems to Writers Club to Writing for Wee-bots. Inspiringly, she shows up with 100% energy, 100% of the time. Her positive attitude inspires students, fellow volunteers, and 826michigan staff members alike, bolstering spirits on the gloomiest days. Connie draws on her background in education to encourage students to talk to each other, not just to the adults in the room. The way Connie asks questions and connects students’ ideas is a beautiful reminder that students learn best when they’re talking to each other. Connie provides space for students to make connections, think in new ways, and feel like their voices are heard.
One of our favorite memories with Connie took place this spring. Connie was working in a breakout room with a student who typically stays very quiet during sessions, and has gotten even quieter during virtual programming. Connie’s gentle and supportive questions eventually encouraged the student to feel comfortable sharing more than they had ever shared in our in-person programs!
Connie has made a huge impact on our programs this virtual season. On behalf of our staff, volunteers, and students, we want to say a huge thank you to Connie for her amazing contributions!