TEAM Graduate Embraces Leadership Role in Visionaries Program

October 1, 2015 | Chicago, IL

Roxana OsorioWalking through the doors of Erie Neighborhood House to partake in the summer Visionaries program felt a little different this time around for Roxana Osorio.

A Visionaries participant since the eighth grade, Osorio was already well-accustomed to the specifics of the program. She even served in a leadership role as an intern over the past several years. This summer, however, the nineteen-year-old college sophomore was hired as a member of the YOU Productions staff at Erie House and assigned the task of overseeing a group of student interns and apprentices.

“It was different,” admits Osorio. “But as an intern in Visionaries, I didn’t realize how many different skills I was gaining along the way. So it was just a matter of figuring out how to teach those concepts to other students.”

Participants photographed four shuttered elementary schools—Overton, Bontemps, Armstrong and Goldblatt—and their respective neighborhoods using DSLR cameras in a continuation of So Close to Ghost, a project documenting school closures in the Chicago Public Schools. They also collected testimonies from community residents, which both informed their photography and provided the backdrop for a documentary-style short film.

“Roxana clearly has talent, and she throws herself into a project—she takes it on and pours her heart and soul into it,” says Riza Falk, digital media coordinator at Erie House and director of the Visionaries program. “She led a group of apprentices and one intern last summer,” she adds, “and they produced a fantastic video.”

“Roxana’s a great fit for this sort of role. She’s a very calm presence, she’s thoughtful and intelligent and relates well with other people,” says Falk. “During her summers as an intern she started to take on a leadership role and build self-confidence, and that was really evident this summer.”

An additional challenge Osorio faced was translating the project vision to the student apprentices and interns under her direction. “For some of them, it was the first time they were hearing about the school closures,” she recalls. “They were quick to learn what it was about and what we wanted to do: Share the neighborhood stories and show how the school closings affect them.”

Effective partnership invests in community
Funded year-round by Erie House partners Comcast and After School Matters, the Visionaries program empowers youth to develop skills—and, in the process, a voice—through the graphic arts. Falk also tries to ensure there is a social justice component to the projects whenever appropriate. “I want students to think about their world and their role within it and how they can be change-makers.”

According to Comcast representative Debra Marton, this is precisely why the Comcast Foundation has invested in programs like Visionaries. “The Comcast Foundation grant supports the Visionaries program technology needs so that Erie House youth are able to tell a story through visual arts and digital technology,” says Marton, senior manager of community investment and national partnerships for Comcast. The Visionaries program learned this month that a $15,000 Comcast Foundation grant was renewed for the 2016 fiscal year; in addition, Comcast funded the creation of the state-of-the-art computer lab at Erie House that is now utilized by youth program participants.

Comcast’s support is part of a larger effort to invest in communities where its customers and employees live and work, particularly in the areas of digital literacy, youth education and empowerment. Since its founding in 1999, the Comcast Foundation has distributed more than $163 million in cash support of programs implemented in the communities it serves.

Marton was present at an August reception to celebrate the completion of the summer Visionaries project, where she was able to meet Osorio. She was so impressed with the leadership the former Erie House participant has provided to the Visionaries program, she lobbied her colleagues to award the Osario family access to Internet Essentials—a Comcast initiative designed to bring affordable high-speed internet to low-income households in an effort to close the digital divide—free of charge for one year.

“Roxana spoke to the parents and attendees at the open house with such confidence and pride,” explains Marton. “Once I met her and found out she didn’t have access to the Internet at home and her brother was still in high school, I knew Comcast needed to help in some way.”

"Our education system is becoming more and more reliant on technology for communication and homework assignments," she adds. "Families need the Internet so that their children can be successful in school."  

A summer of opportunity
The Visionaries program convenes throughout the calendar year, but the summer months provide space for more in-depth learning through projects like So Close to Ghost. An additional grant from After School Matters also expands opportunities for summer interns participating in the Visionaries program.

“The Visionaries program was where I learned everything: photography and videography principles; interviewing skills; how to use design programs like Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator; and using video editing software,” explains Osorio, who is currently studying graphic design at Dominican University in River Forest. “That’s an advantage and an opportunity that not many people get, and I’m very grateful for that.”

She credits Falk with planting the seeds for a future career in art and providing her with the support she needed as a student. “Riza is kind and caring toward everyone, and she wants to make sure everyone is doing alright,” says Osorio. She joined Visionaries not long after Falk became director of the program, so the two share a special bond. “She’s become a mentor over the years.”

As Osorio reflects on her summer involvement in Visionaries, she knows it won’t be her last point of contact with Erie House. “I’ve been a part of Erie since I was two or three years old,” she says. Her brother is currently a senior in the YOU program, and she possesses a great amount of gratitude for the agency where she spent much of her formative years. “Anytime I can come back and contribute to Erie House, I do. I like giving back to the place that helped shape me as a person.”


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