In January 2020 we launched the Civic Innovation Fellowship program to support local individuals seeking to improve our community through innovative, community-led projects. Each fellow received a $1000 stipend to support their work.
The Fellowship program was originally planned to conclude with an in-person public showcase in May. This showcase was intended to allow each fellow to share their projects and highlight their achievements and ongoing work. The pandemic shifted these plans, but the fellows continued working and, in some cases, were able to shift to meet the new needs of the community.
This inaugural cohort included five fellows; Aleena Haidari, Dr. Lisa Woolfork, Marissa Turner-Harris, Navarre Bartz, and Nora Dale.
Aleena Haidari is working with refugees and immigrants to demystify higher education in the United States. She helps individuals navigate the application and enrollment process and assists with finding and acquiring financial aid. By sharing her personal experiences, she helps new and aspiring students build networks of support and learn what to expect upon enrolling. Over the course of the fellowship, Aleena assisted five students with filling out the FAFSA, identifying potential college majors, building class schedules, locating textbooks, and learning what to expect during the transition from high school to college.
While the pandemic has made in-person connection and assistance impossible, Aleena looks forward to a time when she can hold workshops for multiple prospective students in partnership with International Neighbors. She plans to use the stipend funds to cover costs associated with these workshops.
Dr. Lisa Woolfork is the creator of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black Lives Matter. While her in-person events have been on pause since March, she continues her work to build community digitally. Earlier this summer Black Women Stitch celebrated its second anniversary by meeting, and even exceeding, several goals for the benchmark.
One continuing part of her work is the Stitch Please podcast. This weekly show has exceeded 60,000 downloads of 43 episodes in less than a year. Stitch Please maintains a 5-star rating on Apple Podcasts as listeners around the world continue to tune in to listen to a show that centers Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. The stipend funds are being used to support the ongoing costs for subscriptions and materials associated with the production of this podcast.
Going forward, she is working to find additional funding to produce transcripts for episodes, improve recording equipment, and bring on collaborators to assist with production and editorial support.
Marissa Turner-Harris is the founder and director of operations for Donor Diapers, an organization dedicated to “leaving no booties behind.” The organization offers free diapers to families in need, with a monthly centralized distribution. To qualify for the diaper giveaway families need only indicate that they have a child, can offer proof of life, and are in need of diapers.
Donor Diapers operates through grant funds and generous donations from the community. Funds from the fellowship stipend have been used to purchase diapers to hand out to families that sign up for the monthly giveaways. As the impact of the pandemic reached the region, Donor Diapers was able to temporarily take emergency diaper orders in addition to the monthly giveaways.
Navarre Bartz is working to create a community makerspace through his project Cville Makes. Cville Makes was in the planning stages at the beginning of the fellowship. When COVID-19 reached our area, he pivoted to sharing designs and resources to help meet the PPE needs of local healthcare providers and residents. He also organized and hosted virtual repair cafes in partnership with Cville TimeBank.
Going forward, he plans to host virtual meetups until it is safe to meet in groups again, at which point he hopes to find a physical space to house the makerspace. The fellowship stipend funds are being used to cover the cost of maintaining a Meetup organizer account and to develop a new, more functional website. The remaining funds will be used toward securing a physical meeting space once it is again safe to gather in person.
Nora Dale is working on using sensors to improve the experience for UTS (University Transit Service) users. Her initial plan was to use Arduinos to create light displays at bus stops to inform riders of approaching buses.
As the impact of the pandemic became more immediate and local, Nora’s project shifted in scope to facilitating a safer experience for bus riders and drivers.
She is working to develop prototypes for multiple potential techniques to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on UTS buses. Nora is using the funds from the fellowship stipend to purchase the hardware associated with creating these prototypes.