Last year, the pandemic forced us to rethink our annual Albany advocacy efforts. Instead of traveling to Albany as we have in years past, our External Affairs team planned a Virtual Albany Week of Action. Sixty Network staff volunteers facilitated meetings between 45 New York State elected officials and nearly 300 SA parents on Zoom. They played an integral role in the event, helping parents speak their minds and advocate for an increase in the charter cap — the limit on the number of charter schools that can operate in New York. Not every lawmaker saw eye-to-eye with our parent advocates, but our volunteers understood the importance of driving a dialogue on the topic, especially when there is disagreement.
Kimberlye Worth, a Program Manager in our Creative Agency, volunteered last year for her first Albany Week after joining SA in May 2020. Here, she shares some of her reflections and takeaways on the event to give everyone inspiration as we kick off this year’s Virtual Albany Week of Action!
What did you think of your experience volunteering as part of Albany Week of Action last year?
It was rewarding. I met with amazing parents, got a chance to hear their concerns, and saw how the work we do on a daily basis at the Network supports the needs of the parents and scholars in our schools.
What motivated you to volunteer?
I felt like I had an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself. That always motivates me, specifically when it’s about educating underserved communities.
What did you think of the training you received beforehand?
It was very useful. I was lucky enough to sit in on a call with someone from External Affairs and an SA family before Albany Week. That video helped me to be more comfortable with the parents, gave me ideas on how to start the conversation, and lead the parents into the “big ask” to elected officials about supporting lifting the charter cap.
Did anything stand out from your Zoom meeting?
We were told that the elected official would not be available to hop on the call, so someone on his staff joined instead. I remember seeing the parents feel a little disappointed so I encouraged them to continue to talk about why we were there and take the opportunity to be heard. As they began to open up, the elected official unexpectedly jumped on the call. The parents were able to share their stories and ask for support in lifting the charter cap.
The elected official did not ultimately agree, but he was very kind in explaining why not, and what other steps he could take to support charter schools. Overall, the parents walked away with a better understanding of what that elected official could do, and how important their advocacy can be.
How did the experience match up with your expectations?
I didn’t know what to expect beforehand, but I was in good spirits after volunteering. We didn’t get the answer we wanted from our elected official, but we had a good conversation and I was able to play a role in assisting these parents as they spoke up.
Do you have any advice for first-time volunteers?
Be yourself. If you find that the parents are scared to talk, feel free to ask general questions to break the ice. Get the parents to introduce themselves, talk about their children and their schools, and they’ll naturally open up. Then you can achieve the most important objective, getting their voices and concerns heard.