Posts by Paul Costello1

The Power of Mindfulness


Today the AmeriCorps Team at Project Change are being trained to live and work more mindfully. Their teacher Gregory Robison, is an expert, having run the John Main Center at Georgetown University for the last few years.

AmeriCorps members are dealing with high risk and high need populations of young people, and every friday, when we meet for training, we share some of the challenges each member faces. Kids who are angry and distracted, kids who are battling the odds at home, and can’t really focus on school. When an AmeriCorps member seeks to make an impact on the troubled lives of young people, the risk is that Troubles spread like an infection to upset everybody. Members take the stress of their work home, and lose sleep worrying about that kid who get into a fight and was suspended, or concerned about that secret that that teen shared with her and not sure who else to share it with. Stress is part of the job description even if its not written in the formal contract. So there has to be ways that members can deal with it and be creative about how they care for themselves.

The old story of being a helper used to stress heroic self sacrifice, and that if one were to wear oneself out for others, that this was noble. Nowadays, we tend to see this old story as dysfunctional and misguided. What good are we to anyone in need if we are not meeting our own human needs? So the training today is meant to introduce and re-enforce some of the practices members can be encouraged to use and to teach others. Living mindfully means we don’t lose what is on offer in this moment, and refusing to allow the worries of the past or the fears of the future degrade the texture of everyday experience.

Social Styles- What is your Style of working with people

6271899Today, Project Change is treated to a chance to learn about Social Styles and how we each have a way or working with others that is quite distinct. Former Lockheed Martin Executive will introduce a new way of looking at our particular ways of interacting. Are we amiable or analytic? Are we driven or Driven? John has worked with our international programs for almost 20 years, where he was the mainstay Myers Briggs expert. We look forward today to another enlightening workshop.

Training this Friday-How Versatile Are You?


The Social Styles Profile has four quadrants that test whether you lean towards a personal style  of Asking or Telling, and spread across sectors named Amiable, Driven, Analytical, and Expres5793843_origsive. But there is more. Another critical self learning tool focuses on VERSATILITY – the ability to meet what Harvard Professor Ron Heifetz calls Adaptive Challenges.  Versatility, they say, is the best predictor of success and the key to interpersonal effectiveness.

The Team this Friday will fill in some forms that will reveal how they score on the Versatility Scale. When you work with someone, you have your own style, your own preferred way of working. If you are going to be successful, your team have to change and adapt to how you get things done. But that is only half the story. You have to adapt and change to how they perceive you. It is like a dance, and the moves that go with different kinds of music. If all you can do is waltz when the music suggests a tango, then you are literally out of step.

The Project Change team have already come up with work challenges and they are learning to adapt, learning to adjust their expectations and renegotiate some of their roles.  We are looking forward to sharing some of those experiences as our expert John Dold takes us through the workshop this Friday.

Making an Impact we can Measure

Deckert_LongEngagement_Kate_Noelle_Photography_andrewandmollysengagement212_low1AmeriCorps has a few short snappy sayings that sum up the spirit of the work. One is “Getting Things Done” which says that the Project Change Team are all about ACTION, rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in. Another that probably is used less but is just as important is that Project Change is about making an impact that we can measure. Too often, the NGO business relies on the presumption that, if ones actions are good,  you must be doing good. However, that is not enough. Unless we can measure it, and use the feedback to learn how we can do even better, we are actually working blind.

All this is to provide the context of today’s important meeting with Doctor Gila Shusterman who is our professional research scientist who guides Project Change in the process of measuring impact. The outcome that we have pledged to deliver is about academic engagement-(ED27)  showing that because of our work, students K-12 in our school and after school programs are doing better at school. They  have a more positive attitude towards school and are relating in positive ways to their teachers and peers and everyone else involved in their education.

Doctor Gila will be providing her expert training for the team after lunch on November 6th 2015 to prepare the team to deliver their Pre- Test to their students. Then she returns in the afternoon on March 11th 2016 to help us get ready for the Post Test of the young people we are working with.

We look forward to an exciting year where we are eager to prove that we are making a difference.

Supervisors Training This Friday

stockfresh_SupervisorsThis Friday, Project Change hosts the Supervisors of our 7 Partner Sites to come and share their experiences and learn more about AmeriCorps and the importance of the role that they play. Since many of them are graduates of Project Change itself, the meeting is also a sort of Alumni gathering too. We will share best practices and explore ways that the Supervisor Team can be the team that stands behind the Team.

Peer Coaching Helping AmeriCorps to GROW

Last Friday, the team were treated to a special training from Lynne Feingold, master coach and one of  the leaders of the peer to peer coaching network in the Federal Government. Lynne took the group through a series of exercises that began with centering and focusing on your breathing. It is a simple and yet fundamental skill that prepares one to be a Listener. We come to our meetings so distracted at times, that we aren’t even listening to ourselves, let alone ready to give attention to someone else.

Next Lynn demonstrated the power of the Question- how a problem or an issue has a context, or arises from a situation, and that if we are going to be helpful to one another, we need to ask the sort of open ended questions that draw out the salient details. Questions such as Why only invite interpretation, taking us into the mind of the member, rather into the situation that the member finds themselves. The goal of the first set of questions is to see what you see, hear what you see, feel what you feel. Its a basic of storytelling, to transport us there, give us your experience so we can walk around inside it and perhaps offer you a different or fresh perspective.

Stay tuned for the next excerpt about this special Project Change process.

Getting Ready for Guest Faculty- Peer-to-Peer Group Coaching

Project Change20150918_095946  got off to a great start, with four Friday meetings during the month of September to get everyone into the AmeriCorps groove. The highlight was our trip to Camp Letts, on a beautiful day where the team braved the dreaded zip wire in the morning and  lazily canoed the river in the afternoon, and concluded with a camp fire and stories. Thanks to our guides Meredith and Richelle and a big shout out to the Supervisors and staff from our partner sites who joined us in a fun day.

October is a special month of guest trainings which begin on October 9th with M20150918_103613aster Coach Lynne Feingold introducing the formal practice of Peer to Peer Group Coaching. The team have already started this activitity with the Bells and Whistles check-in time that starts every meeting. If a member has a challenge and they want more feedback, they request time from the group to have a conversation. During that time, the group acts as a coaching team,  and asks questions to unfold the situation, then deeper questions to expose the assumptions behind the dilemma, and then to help the person come up with a positive plan of action that they are willing to hold themselves accountable for at the next meeting.

This is the specia20150918_121312l practice that grew out of last years team, and something that members enjoyed and learned to practice as a life skill that could be applied to other areas of their work.

Sometimes we get so enmeshed in our own problems, we lose sight of the wider possibilities that a discerning listener can help us tease out. The process is not meant to be about giving advice, or replace therapy. Rather the process is meant to help a person listen to more deeply to what they are intending underneath what they are saying. The one critical axiom for group coaching is, except in exceptions, never to to ask Why. Why? Because Why is a question that invites people to get more into their head, rather then laying out the situation for others to observe.  Why invites interpretation when what coaching asks for is observation.


Orientation for new Project Change Completed Today

Today marked the end of the Beginning for the new Project Change team. Director Paul Costello has been explaining the unique Storywise map of their AmeriCorps journey that they have all embarked on and whose goal is to create memories that will last a lifetime.

Aristotle maintained that for a story to feel whole, it needs a beginning, a middle and an ending. Using that ancient wisdom, the Project Change team are learning to recognize the connection between place and possibility, and to grasp that there is only one beginning, where the energy is charged with so much possibility and creativity. This is a precious time, and can’t be taken for granted.

We asked them- What do they want their AmeriCorps journey to be?

They can decide to make it anything they want it to be. As  friend Karl Hebenstreit likes to say, we can all make Awesome Things Happen. And what if they have already started?

After four weeks, it was time to convene the story circle and share some of the many stories of the beginnings, the Genesis of Team 2015-16. What we heard were amazing testimonies to an auspicious start-

Like the lad at the YMCA who is known as DJ and how he watches the supervisors desperately searching for the cues that would win him acceptance. He’s been in trouble before and the AmeriCorps team are not sure if he is ready to turn his life around or not. But he is paying attention to the Project Change team and they might be able to influence positive change.

Like the four year old boy who seems not to be able to pay attention in class- always standing up,  but the AmeriCorps member suspects that he can’t see the Blackboard. The teacher has his hands full and is not ready to entertain the possibility that the kid can’t see properly. How will the Project Change member advocate for this kid? And how did he come to see that its not about attention but perhaps about an obstacle that even the young student is not aware of. Yet.

Like the member who thought she had the best idea- Innovation Day, giving the grade Eights their equipment of newspapers and tape, and instructing them to build the tallest structure they could. Well, that was not cool, and they sat down on the floor as a protest that this was too boring. The Team member decided to press on, and ignore them and work with the girls who seemed eager to have some fun. When it came to judge the tallest structure, the Grade 8 boys who were so bored had somehow changed their minds and delivered a Tower of Babel that almost hit the roof. They were so excited and proud and ready to rock for the next innovation day the member is running next month.

What did the member learn? That enthusiasm is infectious, and that with boys, once they get competitive, its amazing how creative they ca become.

The Beginning, we all decided, is a process of letting go, of trusting that the experience will provide the test and the answer so long as one is willing to be a learner, to have what the Buddhists call the “Beginners Mind.”

Here’s to Project Change and a great new Beginning.


AmeriCorps Member visits service sites in Belfast

The international outreach of AmeriCorps Project Change continued this month with the visit of graduate David Payne to Dublin and Belfast over the week of September 6th 2015. David was eager to get acquainted with the community service sector in Belfast and spent a week meeting with various young leaders who had previously worked with Project Change director Paul Costello.

One of the hjighlights of the trip was spending a day at the Stormont, the Northern Ireland parliament, and shadowing Chris Little, the member for East Belfast, and a member of the Alliance Party. David saw first hand the challenges of a divided community and the work of leaders like Chris to bring people together despite the history, ancient and recent, of enmity.

David returned with an idea to set up a week of service back in Belfast at the 174 Trust and invite Americorps members past and present who are interested in this cross cultural experience of service to get in touch with him.