Ever wonder what it’s like to be a member of Philly Fellows? In the ‘Meet Our Fellows’ series, we’ll introduce you to our current fellows, their projects, and how they are benefiting from the Philly Fellows program. This post features Christine Dignam, who is serving as the Youth Services Fellow at JEVS Human Services.

Christine Dignam

Name: Christine Dignam

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

University: St. Joseph’s University

Major: Psychology (minor in Managing Human Capital)

How did you decide to become a Philly Fellow?

I was involved in a lot of service throughout my college experience and wanted to continue that in some way after I graduated. My sister works in the nonprofit sector of Philly and suggested that I look into Philly Fellows. It seemed like the perfect fit because it would help me to develop professionally and become a self-starter but would also be fulfilling and enable me to build relationships with other recent graduates who shared my passion for giving back to a city that I love so much.

Let’s talk about your project. What’s your site like? What are you working on?

I work at JEVS Human Services as the Research Associate for GED Acceleration. JEVS is an amazing organization with a ton of different programs, but I work primarily with their GED programs at E3 Power Center City and Project WoW at Orleans Technical Institute.

In 2014, a new version of the GED test which was considered vastly different from its predecessor was released. The general consensus on the new GED is that it is much more difficult to pass than the old version due to a major shift in standards and a current lack of resources on how to best prepare for this new test. According to an article from Cleveland Scene Magazine, the annual number of GEDs earned in 2014 was about 350,000 fewer than that of 2012 and about 500,000 fewer than that of 2013.

A recent study by the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy found that almost 50% of adults in Philadelphia lack the competencies necessary to maintain jobs that will sustain a family. 67% of adults they assessed scored at literacy levels between 4th and 9th grade. Without a high school diploma, most of these individuals will fall into the category of low socioeconomic status along with any dependents they have. This not only affects their income, but a wide variety of factors including access to health care, social and human capital, and stress and mental health.

My project is to create a resource manual and an implementation plan for best practices in GED instruction of adults at low literacy levels in order to support individuals seeking to obtain their GED in building a better life and future for themselves and their families.

Community living is one of the most important aspects of the Philly Fellows program. What’s this like? How have you benefited?

I have loved living with and having the opportunity to get to know my roommates. We had a few initial infrastructure issues with our house that have since been fixed,  but our trials necessitated that we work together as a team and caused us to become close and comfortable quickly after moving in together. As a result, I can easily say that I have gained 5 new, fabulous friends who have taught me a lot in a relatively short period of time.

With fellows Catherine and Samyuktha

Having fun with fellows Catherine and Samyuktha

What’s your favorite part about being a Philly Fellow so far?

My favorite thing about being a Philly Fellow is that I am not only able but encouraged to take this year to learn as much as I can. At JEVS, my supervisors have given me the freedom to attend events, to network with other professionals in the nonprofit world, to explore the research and literature on my topic, and to ask questions, observe, and make suggestions whenever I have the chance. Philly Fellows extends that by providing us with opportunities to take classes, to learn about Philadelphia and nonprofits through leadership development events, and to explore Philadelphia by alerting us of things that are happening all over the city. Besides this, my community members and the other Philly Fellows have enabled me to get to know a new group of incredible and motivated people and encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and make the most of this experience. I feel so enlightened and eager to continue to grow in knowledge throughout this year.

Have you had any major successes since starting your Philly Fellows term?

When I first started, I really wanted to build relationships with the members we serve in our GED programs, but it was initially a total flop. I tried to dance to the music coming from one girl’s headphones, and she laughed in my face! I couldn’t find the water fountain or the refrigerator during my first week, and everyone thought I was a complete joke. As time went on, I tried to let things happen naturally. I made it a point to remember people’s names and gave out doughnuts to people who would fill out my surveys or come into my office. Last week, a few students in the property maintenance class at Project WoW taught me how to install a toilet. Some people at E3 call me the “sweets girl,” and I have a secret handshake with one of the members. One of the instructors here told me I was “terrific despite being blonde.” So I would say my biggest success so far is building relationships and proving to our members and staff that I’m here to learn their stories and support them in any way I can and not looking like a complete goof while I’m at it.

What’s the most challenging part of being a Philly Fellow?

I think that being a Philly Fellow, and even just working in the nonprofit sector, can be really difficult because you are devoting every day- 40 hours a week- to trying to alleviate one issue that is so much bigger than you, your organization, and the people it impacts. It can be incredibly frustrating because it sometimes feels like you are not even making a dent in the large scheme of things. You have to remind yourself every day that it will take time and effort and a whole lot of committed people to make a difference, but change does happen, even if it is difficult to see.

Hanging out with other Fellows

Hanging out with other Fellows

A huge plus to this program is getting to live & work in Philadelphia’s vibrant communities. What do like about living in the city? Where have you explored?

Philadelphia is the bomb! I’ve been living in Philly my whole life, and I thought I knew a lot about it, but living and working in the middle of everything has opened my eyes to so much. I’m obsessed with food so I’m all about the Night Markets and street festivals with food trucks! My favorite restaurant right now is Underdogs. They have every type of hot dog you could dream of and delicious fries, and I’m shamelessly plugging it because I have had my heart broken with a hot dog place closing once before (RIP Hot Diggity.)

I’m also in love with the Schuylkill River Boardwalk/trail. I run along there a few times a week and am tempted to stop and Instagram a picture every time, but I don’t want to be too “basic”.

Do you hang out with other Philly Fellows in your free time?

DUH! We have the coolest cohort! We do a bunch of different things in Philly or at our houses and open things up for everyone! “Yuk” (Samyuktha- she’s in my community) took a bunch of us salsa dancing at Cuba Libre the other day, and I’ve never had more fun. She will never tell you, but she is a local celebrity there. We skipped the line!

With Fellows Samyuktha and Adrian

With Fellows Samyuktha and Adrian

If you were a super-hero, what powers would you have?

I would want to be able to speak every language! Christeenmom, uniter of all peoples! It’s a work in progress.

What three items would you take with you on a deserted island?

Chapstick, gum, and my mom. I promise you we would survive. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]