A Day in the Life Program Adapts to Maximize Community Education and Activation
Since 2005, the A Day in the Life Program at St. Stephen’s Human Services has created space for individuals who have accessed and utilized services to share their personal expertise with those who want to learn about homelessness and channel that knowledge into action. Trained Community Educators with lived experience of homelessness have guided groups of students, professionals, or other community members on unique itineraries to various shelters, meal sites, and service centers throughout Minneapolis.
Last spring the A Day in the Life Program took a pause in response to the onset of COVID-19 impacts. It was difficult to determine how quickly it might be safe to return to in-person programming in the Twin Cities. Though the power of the program has always centered on the Community Educators sharing their personal experiences and invaluable perspectives, it was tough to imagine how this program – which normally takes place on foot with participants covering several miles in a session – would translate to a virtual setting.
As the A Day in the Life team brainstormed ways to continue the work from a distance, groups started reaching out to St. Stephen’s Community Engagement Coordinator, Abby Abele, inquiring about virtual offerings. Some of these contacts were longtime program hosts. Several higher education programs incorporate the A Day in the Life Program into their syllabus year after year. A number of these requests, however, were from new organizations. The death of George Floyd activated workplaces and professional groups to seek learning opportunities related to social and racial justice. Many found the A Day in the Life Program a great option to incorporate within ongoing organizational trainings.
Abby and the Community Educators got to work to design an impactful and effective virtual program. They knew that it wouldn’t be possible to fit everything that normally happened in a four- or eight-hour event into a shorter video session. The team set out to identify the core components of the program that would deliver comparable impact: education, community engagement, and advocacy. The A Day in the Life team discussed which parts of the experience needed to happen “live,” and which could happen asynchronously.
The team developed materials and a discussion guide for participants to cover in advance, as well as a series of follow-up emails focused on specific action steps, opportunities for continuing education, and ways to recuperate from the intense learning experience. Through trial and error, the A Day in the Life team determined that a 2.5-hour live video session sandwiched between these additional resources achieved the program goals of creating a more informed, empathetic, and activated public around the issues of homelessness without drifting into “Zoom fatigue” for participants, and without stifling the opportunities for self-expression and community for the Community Educators.
"This new format is super convenient,” says Arthur White, Senior Community Educator in the A Day in the Life Program. “Because people are able to tune in from the comfort of their own homes, it allows more people to attend than ever before -- we are spreading our message to far more participants than was possible in-person.”
Alongside the process of optimizing the program content for virtual delivery, the past year has included a technology learning curve for all involved. Community Educators have learned their way around Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other platforms to accommodate the various ways that groups may be comfortable communicating with each other. Through PCs for People and Minnesota MicroGrants, Arthur and another Community Educator have received new laptops with Zoom capabilities. Other Community Educators call into video meetings from their phones, and others from computer labs. Amelia, a student at Visitation School, says that although the current program is online, “it felt more intimate as there was more time to hear [the educators] stories and ask them questions.”
As a result of developing this virtual programming, the A Day in the Life Program is expanding its reach. A recent program day for a group of students from St. Catherine’s University had participants calling in from multiple continents. The experience is also more accessible now to those who may not have been able to cover the itinerary comfortably on foot. Most notably, the program has also been able to create a powerful experience for a greater number of people. Nearly 50% more people participated in the A Day in the Life Program from July through December of 2020 than through the same time period in 2019.
Jessica Mathias, Executive Director of Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless, has now experienced the program in person and in the virtual format. Jessica says “I can confidently say that the value is not lost in this new format.” While the team looks forward to the days they will be able to resume face-to-face programming, they won’t be leaving the lessons learned from these virtual sessions behind. Sarah Lee, a student at Metropolitan State University, calls the program “absolutely necessary.” “What an incredible thing,” Sarah says, “not only for people to be able to tell their stories, but for people to be able to actually hear them.”
If you are interested in bringing the virtual A Day in the Life Program to your group, please visit https://ststephensmpls.org/learn-advocate/day-life for pricing and other logistics. Community members may request a list of upcoming programs to join as an individual.