Guest post by Shana Heilbron, Chief Development & Communications Officer, YWCA NCA
The YWCA National Capital Area could not have been more excited to win the 501cTECH Technology Impact Award earlier this month. This award, to us, is the Emmys or Grammys of the nonprofit world. It’s not often that you get recognized for something like this, so we were honored to participate and be considered—even happier to win!
So, you now must be wondering why we won. What fabulous technological innovation put us on the top of the list? It’s called our Campus Pack Distance Learning Portal. About a year ago, our Chief Program Officer met with her team of instructors and volunteers to find a solution to an ongoing issue we were having with some of our adult students – attendance. We serve about 125 adult learners a year at our YWCA headquarters on the corner of 14th and Florida, Avenues, NW, but we were finding that even though many of our participants were committed to their education, they were challenged by daily work schedules, childcare, transportation and finding the balance between struggling to make a living wage, and getting their GED.
Enter Campus Pack, our customized online distance-learning portal. We really had five goals outlined when we decided to upgrade our internal technology, so that we could push out a system and program that could be accessed from any computer, anywhere in the city, the state (wait, DC is not a state – there’s my push for statehood), the world! Those goals included: improving communication, integrating our classroom and assessment procedures, promoting social advocacy, preparing the workforce, and encouraging personal development.
What did we do? We worked tirelessly with our tech team to build a system that incorporated the curriculum we were using, a few new online tools, and an online space for dialogue where anyone with a program login could add comments and post information. We have found that this distance learning initiative has helped to promote increased participant retention, overall achievement, and has created pathways for further vocational and career opportunities.
We are constantly adding to the portal, and learning what works best for our population. Many participants can initially be intimidated by the new technology, but after providing the digital literacy training, and working one-on-one or in small groups, participants appreciate the flexibility, resourcefulness and opportunities for self-paced learning that the program allows, and their level of fear diminishes.
In a region where almost 65,000 women of color, ages 16+ are earning less than $20,000, and the DC graduation rate is only 54%, we must come together and find solutions that will work, and will make a difference. I believe this distance-learning program is a step in the right direction, and say thank you, once again to 501cTECH, and the panel of judges for choosing us as this year’s winner. This will help us reach our bold goal of ensuring that a majority of women and girls of color, in high need communities across the national capital area have the resources and support necessary to achieve personal, educational, and professional success.