Anna’s Place NOLA, a non-profit organization, seeks to improve the lives of citizens living in the Tréme/7th ward of New Orleans. This district is plagued by poverty and violence—both of which Anna’s Place seeks to stop through their children’s program, health outreach, and food bank. I primarily worked in the children’s and the health outreach programs. I learned a lot about the institutionalization of poverty and the organizations fighting poverty.
I assisted in running gym and health classes for the summer camp. For each of these classes, we had to be cognizant of the population. The families of children growing up in poverty cannot afford exercise equipment and sports gear, and eating healthy is difficult because they cannot control their meals. During gym classes, my co-teacher and I tried to show the children games and exercises they could do at home for free. Health classes consisted of us trying to teach the kids how they could make unhealthy meals healthier while staying on a budget.
In addition to the children’s program, I assisted with the health outreach program. I maintained records and performed screenings for high blood pressure and diabetes. Anna’s Place was challenged with persuading adults to come to their medical center. The population Anna’s Place serves typically pursues medical services when there is an issue, rather than as a method of prevention. Anna’s Place primarily offered preventive healthcare services; although these services are crucial, it was a contributing factor towards the small number of medical visits they received.
I’m not original in recognizing that poverty is institutionalized. However, I found aspects of this institutionalization shocking. As a nation, we put pressure on parents to know how to raise a child and how to be a good parent—we think of parenting as common sense, and it is not. Many children in the Anna’s Place program do not have a supportive family, live in a dangerous neighborhood, and study in a failing school system. There, they learn behaviors needed in the neighborhood, but not in the classroom. Oftentimes, the school system—or programs like Anna’s Place—are the final resources to help students get back on their feet.
America’s school system is viewed as a safety net: where all children have access to education, they have the same chances, no matter their home lives. However, that is inaccurate—children also need consistency between their home and school to learn how to act appropriately and develop. Many schools and programs were created to address these issues, but their success rates can be misleading. These schools and programs can be highly selective programs, which often excludes students from disadvantaged schools (trying to switch schools), students with disabilities, and students from neglectful home environments.
Many children in this population struggle with learning disabilities and/or behavioral or emotional disabilities. Connecting with them was one of my biggest challenges because I had to enforce rules the students constantly broke. I learned that when kids have behavioral/learning difficulties, you have to work extra hard to get to know them. When we have this relationship, talking about how to behave is not viewed as a personal attack—it’s trying to help them.
Anna’s Place is a church-based organization determined to support struggling youth. The program is affordable for parents and accepts the first kids to sign up, which is somewhat unusual. Too many programs meant to help at-risk youth in New Orleans screen the children before accepting them. Rather than giving all children a fair chance, these programs bet on which children will be more successful.
Anna’s Place successfully develops students’ musical and reading abilities. I loved working at Anna’s Place because they gave children safety, emotional support, and consistency—influences that some of these kids desperately needed.
In addition to academic support Anna’s Place, provided as much social support as possible. The organization continuously sought to get parents to come to their children’s plays, and in some cases, sought social workers or counselors for the children. Anna’s Place understood holistic education. When parents become involved in their children’s education, it can vastly improve the child’s situation. The principal struggle was helping parents support all aspects of their kids’ education.
Anna’s Place does amazing things, but it does not have all the resources it needs. The main issue was that the majority of the children needed more sophisticated help, tailored to their needs. If Anna’s Place brought in special education teachers, or behavioral specialists, I think it would help some of the children and parents exponentially in developing the students’ academic and social skills. However, bringing in specialists requires finances and physical space Anna’s Place does not have. By providing education tailored to the individual, the education system could reduce poverty in locations like the neighborhoods Anna’s Place serves. Despite this issue, Anna’s Place still provides critical stability and resources to their parents and students.
Working at Anna’s Place has shown me new directions I can take. I have always wanted to be a clinical child psychologist; I still do. For some of the families, living in poverty can be traumatic, which is often ignored by the general public. I want to focus on developing programs that integrate and support the family, in addition to ensuring that children have been given the best institutional education they can have. I want to learn how to approach and support these families in a way that they feel comfortable participating.
Anna’s Place has not just helped me learn more about my career choice—it has taught me how I can support kids and everyone around me. Interning at Anna’s Place taught me that, by believing in the kids and encouraging them and their parents to think critically, you can give them something they need: hope.