On a cool August afternoon, in the middle of a global pandemic, Aisha* took her little sister’s hand and walked out their apartment door to an event at a nearby park. “I actually wasn’t planning on going,” said Aisha. “My mom was going to take my sister there, but she was running late.”
A fortunate turn of events for Aisha and the City of Plymouth.
The event was organized by Interfaith Outreach’s Neighborhood Program and Wayzata Public Schools Early Interventionist staff. This collaborative team invited local partners to a community event where resources such as books, activity bags, park passes and life jackets were handed out and program registrations made available. Beth Van Orsow, Wayzata Public Schools Achievement Intervention staff, explains, “Every time we add another partner, the circle just widens. And now we’ve got the City of Plymouth, Three Rivers Park District, the Hennepin County Library and others.”
One of those partners was Katie Yandell, Aquatics Supervisor at Plymouth Parks and Recreation.
Katie handed out free life jackets that day to people who wanted to be outside but may not know how to swim. And, Katie’s other goal? To recruit teens to fill open aquatics program positions.
Aisha smiles as she remembers, “Katie came over and said, ‘Are you looking for a job?’” At the time, Aisha tried to tell Katie she did not even know how to swim. How in the world could she teach swimming?
Despite her reservations, Aisha applied, interviewed for and was offered a swim assistant position. Her maturity, leadership potential and intelligence impressed Katie. Katie helped train Aisha and encouraged her to design her own classes, teach younger children and continue to grow her skills.
“With Katie, I just know she’s here for me. If I have a problem, she’ll listen. It’s important that we [teens] know there are people who care about our well-being and where we end up in the future.” – Aisha, recently employed 15-year-old
Neighborhood Program Coordinator Becca Weber reflects, “Aisha is a mature young person. She is someone who didn’t know how to swim and is now teaching swimming. Amazing. That takes courage.”
From a chance meeting at a small local park, Aisha got a resume-building first job. The opportunity for connection was powered by the Great Expectations Initiative, our community’s collaborative response to educational inequities anchored by Interfaith Outreach and the Orono and Wayzata School Districts.
*We thank Aisha for sharing her story. Some identifying details have been omitted to protect the privacy of Aisha and her family.