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From a USC degree to food stamps: my upcoming years in service

Who Am I?

The name’s Liz Warden. I grew up in Half Moon Bay, a small town 20 miles south of San Francisco and 50 miles north of Santa Cruz. I went to school with the same people from elementary school to high school, which urged me to get out of the small town bubble and see other people and cultures. I am also an only child from a itty bitty family (think what stereotypes you want to think, I’ve got enough of that throughout my childhood already). These are just some of the factors that made me decide as far back as elementary school that I wanted to be a journalist. Meeting all different kinds of people, always on-the-go, not staying in one place for too long, working with people with a similar – dry – sense of humor and writing for a living – what could be better? You also can’t forget that journalism, historically, has been a “public service” profession: Exposing injustices to the greater public, being a “watchdog,” holding politicians and others accountable for their words are just a few ideas that intrigued me about the profession. But most of all what inspired me to go to j-school at USC was that someday I could draw attention to social issues – especially those underrepresented in the U.S. and internationally – through my reporting. And sure, I can do that. I already have with some of my work. But the real question is: Does drawing attention to social issues actually motivate the readers to take action and do something about them? Maybe, maybe not.

That’s why I’m eager to put my reporter’s notebook on my bookshelf for good, ditch objectivity and actually fight social issues I’ve reported on previously or learned about (I was an international relations minor). The next three-four years of my life will be dedicated to national and international service. This blog is going to follow my journey as working in the U.S. with AmeriCorps for a year then abroad with the Peace Corps.

During my time in college as a student journalist I became very interested in public education and a lot of my stories ended up featuring the Los Angeles Unified School District in some way. Let’s not forget the school district’s $408 million deficit and its ongoing reduction of its teaching force in the past two or so academic years to help alleviate its budget crisis. Add on top of that reform attempts and the teacher’s union and you get one hell of a mess that could fill up more than one post in this blog.

So, What’s Next?

That’s what inspired me to work for City Year, an AmeriCorps program that places recent graduates into urban schools with high dropout rates in cities across the country (I’m obviously serving in Los Angeles). We basically are assigned a group of kids that are at risk of dropping out in an elementary or middle school and mentor them all year. We live on a next-to-nothing monthly stipend for living in Los Angeles, a metro pass and food stamps. I’m living in a house with 13 other guys and gals that are part of the program too (more of this to come later).

City Year recently established a partnership with the Peace Corps that encourages alumni of both programs to switch to the other program. I plan to submit my Peace Corps application by October, then we’ll go from there!

Follow me these next couple of years as I detail the life of a former college student living off a small government stipend trying to make a difference in this world. Idealism at its finest.

Food for Thought:

“Break your mirrors! Yes, indeed — shatter the glass. In our society that is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourself and more at each other. Learn more about the face of your neighbor, and less about your own.

I suggest this: when you get to be 30, 40, 50, or even 70 years old, you’ll get more happiness and contentment out of counting your friends than counting your dollars. You’ll get more satisfaction from having improved your neighborhood, your town, your state, your country and your fellow human beings than you’ll ever get from your muscles, your figure, your automobile, your house, or your credit ratings.

You’ll get more from being a peacemaker than a warrior. I’ve been both, so I speak from experience. Break the mirrors!

Be peacemakers of the community, and you and your family will be happy.” –Sargent Shriver

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. It is so awesome that you are doing this! I mentored 8th grade girls in LA for 3 years while at USC and it inspired me to go into Teach for America. For the last 2 years, I taught 9th graders in Washington, DC. The unique challenges and stereotypes that inner city students are confronted with everyday can make dropping out seem like the easiest option. At the high school level, it was so hard to have students repeating my class for a third time due to a lack of effort exhibited in the classroom. Despite encouragement from their teachers, not all of the students can see the lasting impact of completing their work in school. For many, the pressures outside of the classroom are overwhelming. They have no place to complete homework, can witness abuse other strains at home, and show up to class exhausted from taking care of siblings, parents, cousins, or grandparents.

    As a teacher, it can be hard to keep track of the needs of 150 students. Despite best efforts, students can start slipping through the cracks. Its easier to focus attention on students that are struggling the most, but these students are often the hardest ones to hold onto. In the process, you can miss the students that are beginning to struggle and starting to slip away, until its too late.

    It is wonderful that you are taking the time to help these students. I know that the students will gravitate towards humor and your relatable nature. Sometimes simply having someone there to tell them that they can do this and that school is important, can make a world of difference. You are going to learn so much from them, and I am sure it will change your life. Best of luck as you start this journey!

    August 11, 2011
  2. Vicky, thank you!!! I remember you did WYSE. I worked in a couple of schools while at USC as a journalism mentor, but definitely didn’t experience it on the level you did with WYSE. We each get assigned 10-15 kids that are designated as students that might dropout so we get to watch them all year, so luckily for us paying attention to them won’t be as hard as it was for your since you had so many students. I know the DC public edu system is similar to the demographics/problems/reform problems in LA so I’m sure I’ll face a lot of the similar difficulties you did. I hope you had a great two years with TFA and thank you for your encouragement!

    August 12, 2011

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