McKenna Tingle, Engaged Citizen Corps member

Through the Engaged Citizen Corp Program, I have been given the opportunity to serve at Polk County Iowa State Extension and 4-H. Iowa State Extension is an amazing non-profit organization that works to engage Iowans across the state in research, education, and extension experiences. The goal of this is to not only educate Iowans but to also provide them with the resources they need to address the challenges that they see emerging in everyday life. Rather than trying to fix problems for the people, Iowa State Extension teaches others how to fix problems themselves, and then empowers those individuals to teach others! 

Photo submitted by McKenna Tingle

What I do at Iowa State Extension:

  • Programming at Monroe Elementary School:
    • Each week I teach lessons to two elementary groups. These lessons are centered around the four key 4-H focus areas: STEM, Civic Engagement and Leadership, Healthy Living, and Communications and the Arts!
  • 4-H Food and Supply Drive Competition:
    • I organized a Food and Supply Drive in which all of our 56 Polk County 4-H Clubs competed to donate the most items. We had such an amazing turnout and were able to donate over 1,500 items to the Iowa Homeless Youth Center! 
  • Social Media Content Creating:
    • I’ve been working to expand ISU Extension and Polk County 4-H’s social media by creating new content. Having frequent and engaging social media posts helps nonprofits to gain more support for their cause. One idea I have come up with is impact stories to showcase the positive impact that 4-H is having on youth and families!

Having the opportunity to lead a program at Monroe Elementary, create and direct programs like the food and supply drive, and manage the social media content has taught me many lessons. At Monroe, I’ve been able to see how much of an impact Iowa State Extension can make through education and empowerment. I’ve been able to form positive relationships with many of the children in my program, and I’ve seen how those relationships can make a huge difference in the lives of these kids. 

J’s Story:

In one of my sessions, I worked with a child who had been labeled by some as a “problem child”. This child (who I am going to refer to as J for privacy reasons) walked into my program on the first day and refused to do anything but glare at me for the entire hour. The next day he walked in angry because of a confrontation with a teacher and chose to throw his backpack across the room. Instead of getting angry, I told J that we would love to have both him and his backpack join us at the table as soon as he chose to pick it up. Clearly surprised by my calm reaction, J reluctantly picked it up and sat down. As the program went on that day, I made an effort to get to know J, and his entire attitude shifted. As the weeks continued, J began to get excited to come to the program, and even cried one day when he was unable to come to the program. By investing in each child and consciously working to form a relationship, a child who was previously given the label of having “behavioral problems” is provided with an opportunity to show a different side of themselves. 

A’s Story:

In another program that I lead I have a child named A. Every day that I lead program, we begin by saying a rose, which is a good thing that happened during our day, and a thorn, which is a bad thing that happened during our day. This provides the children with an opportunity to vent about any negative things that happened during their days while also helping them to see that even during bad days we still have good things that happen. When it got around to A’s turn, the other little girls quickly informed me that A doesn’t speak. As A lowered her head looking embarrassed, a staff member informed me that she chooses to not speak at school. I told A that she didn’t have to share, and we continued on. Throughout the rest of the program that day, I noticed that A didn’t appear to be having fun or interacting with the other children because they were all talking. The next week, I decided to lead an activity that A would enjoy participating in. We worked on pantomiming, which is telling a story or showing emotions without speaking. This put A in a position where she was able to engage with her peers without feeling left out or embarrassed, while also showing the other children that speaking isn’t the only form of communication. 

What I’ve learned during my internship and ECC: 

  • The importance of relationships should never be underestimated:
    • Not only does ISU Extension excel at forming relationships within the programs that we lead, but ISU Extension also works to connect Iowans. 
  • Many nonprofits are overworked and understaffed:
    • Coming in as an ECC student I was able to see many opportunities where I could make a huge impact. Every staff member at my non-profit is working extensively and passionately, but an extra team member coming in allows the non-profit to function so much more efficiently.
    • Independence and Interdependence are intermixed: During my internship, I learned to be both independent and interdependent. While many view these terms to be opposites, I quickly learned that in a workplace you need to be both of these things. My supervisor and coworkers have a lot to do already, so they don’t have time to constantly guide me. Instead, I learned to be independent in coming up with and completing work that would help Iowa State Extension. However, while doing this work, I have to be conscious to ensure that what I am doing aligns with and helps my coworkers. In these ways, it became clear to me that professional workers need to be both independent and interdependent. 
  • Education and Empowerment can be just as beneficial as direct service, if not more:
    • Oftentimes, when people think of service they think of direct service because you can see more of an immediate impact. However, through my work at Iowa State Extension I have been able to see that although education and empowerment don’t show immediate effects, the lasting impact that they have on society is extremely important. Educated and empowered people have the resources, motivation, and knowledge to go out and change society. By educating and empowering Iowans, we are creating a chain reaction to help solve problems all over the world. 

How the Engaged Citizen Corp and ISU Extension have prepared me for the future:

  • Fueled my passion for social justice:
    • By providing me with an opportunity to see different social justice issues and form relationships with people who come from different backgrounds than mine, my passion for social justice has significantly grown. This has encouraged me to continue my service differently after my college education. I plan to continue onto law school, and then I am going to become a social justice lawyer to help improve some of the problems that I have witnessed during my internship.
  • Provided me with skills to work in a professional setting:
    • Not only am I able to confidently create and direct my projects without needing guidance, but I have learned other skills that are crucial to working in a professional setting. For example, I have learned skills such as how to better communicate, whether that be in an office setting, over email, or during a presentation. I have also learned the importance of individual responsibility. If one person in the office doesn’t fulfill their responsibilities, it can make the entire office run less efficiently. 
  • I’ve learned how to be a positive, impactful, active member of my community:
    • I’ve learned this through both ECC classes and my internship. Seeing first-hand the impact that non-profits can make, as well as all of the people that need assistance, has encouraged me to be an active member of my community. ECC classes have provided me with the knowledge of how to do that effectively. For example, during our Toxic Charity class, we had the opportunity to learn that not all charity is good, and how to avoid unintentionally harming the people you are serving. 

Overall, my experience with the Engaged Citizen Corp program has allowed me to make a positive impact on the community around me while creating relationships with people from many different backgrounds. In addition, I have been provided with the motivation, knowledge, and resources to have a positive impact in the future. Iowa State Extension and Outreach not only greatly impacted my life, but continues to impact the lives of many by educating and empowering everyone they come in contact with!