by Joan Walsh
If you’re like me, you want to do volunteer work, but you don’t have the time or the connections to research the type of opportunities where you can do the most good. What makes me different is that my daughter works for Let’s Get Ready, so I started out attending Let’ Get Ready events to support her. But now I do it for me. A young woman named Nyle Bolton is one of the reasons why.
I volunteer at least twice a year, at Let’s Get Ready’s Career Day and College Application Day. I always love it. One of the things I like is that Let’s Get Ready doesn’t just tutor students on SAT skills and essay writing – it does those things, sure – but also teaches them how to network and talk to grownups who can help them. Kids from middle class and privileged backgrounds do this from birth, chatting with their parents’ friends and their family. Kids from less affluent backgrounds may not get as far, college or career-wise, just networking among family and friends. It is not just money – social capital gives already privileged kids another leg up.
Let’s Get Ready also makes it comfortable for adults to interact with young people. We’re not always sure how to act, or what our role should be. Let’s Get Ready makes it easy, with simple but important tasks, assigned and executed in a morning and afternoon.
You never know, though, where these interactions will take you. I’m a journalist, and at the last Career Day I talked to students uncertain about whether journalism, as a career, will exist when they leave school, or whether it will pay enough to cover student loans (these are smart kids!). When one young woman heard that one of my (several) jobs is as a political analyst at MSNBC, she went and got her friend, Nyle Bolton, who wants to go into broadcast journalism. Poised if a little bit shy, Nyle asked me what it was like, and quickly agreed when I asked if she wanted to shadow me at MSNBC for an afternoon.
I gave her my email and phone number, thinking it was best if she followed up, and she did – that Monday. We had to wait for a school holiday so she could have a free afternoon. When the day came, Nyle was early and I was late, so she and a friend checked in to get their visitor’s passes at famous 30 Rock. A sweet MSNBC staffer volunteered to come down and get them and brought them to the studio to show them around. Everyone from makeup staff to the camera crew to producers was happy to have them that day. It made me realize: lots of adults care about helping kids thrive and get to college but they’re short of volunteer opportunities. I felt like I was bringing an opportunity to my coworkers, too.
Nyle got to sit behind an anchor’s desk, but she got practical career tips too. Her main takeaway from spending time with me: most women in broadcast, sadly, spend more time in hair and makeup than they do on the air. (On the other hand, the people we work with there are some of the kindest in the business.)
A senior at KIPP New York College Preparatory, Nyle hopes to attend SUNY Plattsburgh. “Let’s Get Ready was a great experience because the opportunities are not just helping students prepare for their SAT,” she told me. “They broadened my horizons. I was able to choose possible careers and I was able to network with influential people.”
And I was able to network with Nyle; we’ve stayed in touch since our visit. So no matter what your job is, put Let’s Get Ready’s next Career Day on your calendar. I promise you’ll enjoy it.
Joan Walsh is editor-at-large for Salon.com, the pioneering, award-winning website, and an MSNBC political analyst. She is the author of “What’s the Matter With White People? Finding Our Way in the Next America,” which the Philadelphia Daily News called “one of the best books of 2012 – and even more relevant now.” Hardball host Chris Matthews called it “Engaging, thoughtful, provocative, utterly persuasive.”
Salon’s editor in chief for six years, Walsh is a regular on “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” “Politics Nation,” “All In with Chris Hayes” and “The Ed Show.” She has appeared on many other national shows including “Real Time with Bill Maher” and “Now” on PBS.
Before joining Salon, she worked as a consultant on education and poverty issues for community groups and foundations, including the Rockefeller Foundation and Annie E. Casey Foundation. She’s written for publications ranging from Vogue to the Nation, and for newspapers including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle. An avid baseball fan, she’s the co-author of “Splash Hit: The Pacific Bell Park Story,” about the building of the San Francisco Giants legendary waterfront stadium. Walsh divides her time between San Francisco and New York.