I’m Maggie and I’m Here

I'm HereBeing a part of the FIT Team couldn’t have come at a better time for me.  Midway through our grant, my office moved into the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center (CEC) on the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) campus.  Omaha Public Library (OPL) is one of 30 community or UNO organizations housed in the CEC.  The CEC’s purpose is to inspire and support collaborative efforts that benefit the community as a whole.  It is also “the only stand-alone, comprehensive, engagement-specific university facility in the country” according to UNO’s website.

I can’t imagine this experience without having been a FIT Team member for a year.  The learned facilitator skills became part of my day-to-day life.  I immediately sought out other CEC groups to learn what they do and to see what could be possible if we worked together.

Cheryl Gould gave us key points about facilitating collaborative efforts during our early FIT Team training.  They were:  Be Present, Listen, Support your Partner, “Yes, and”, and Everything is an Offer.  I was able to collaborate with WhyArts?, a local youth non-profit at the CEC, by keeping these five points in mind.

One facet of my job is designing and running the library’s After School Program (ASP) in five different Omaha Public Schools.  I meet at each school once a week to run a youth book club for an hour.  We discuss our current read, participate in games and activities that enhance the story, and tie the book back into services or resources available at OPL.  Carolyn Anderson, the WhyArts? founder, assigns artists to work in the same ASP throughout the city.  When I first began in the ASP, I wanted to collaborate with WhyArts? but didn’t feel I had the tools to make that a reality.  However, with FIT Team training to back me up, I was ready to make things happen!

My manager, Jody duRand, and I met with Carolyn one afternoon to discuss what we currently do and to look at ways we could work together.  It was an enjoyable and ultimately fruitful conversation.  We worked together to find a project that would enhance the student’s reading experience by creating art projects that reflected the themes found in The Giver by Lois Lowry. This is our final week with the artists before a reception later this month to display the student art and celebrate all their hard work.

The process has been, in no uncertain terms, career changing.  Working with a different artist at each school once a week has been a fantastic exercise in using the five Applied Improv principles.  Being present, listening, and supporting my partner has made each day productive and positive.  But it’s been the “yes, and” and “everything is an offer” that has made this project successful and useful in looking toward our next future collaboration.  These are things I wouldn’t have fully realized without the FIT Team or the support of my OPL family.  Seeing how other excited FIT Team members seek out ways to support and better out community motivates me to work even harder.  I want to make our three- year stay at the CEC as productive as possible.  Every day I go to work at the CEC is a day where I repeat to myself another exercise we do as the FIT Team to firmly state that we’re present and part of the process.  I’m Maggie and I’m here.

Posted by Maggie Rasmussen, Facilitator-in-Training

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