Maggie Austen -- Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

Maggie Austen
​Organization: Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

Apart from my role at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), I currently serve as one of the directors for Upham’s Corner DRAMA Camp and tutor/mentor one of my neighbors, a third grade girl who has a vision impairment similar to mine. I meet with my mentee once a week throughout the year and help her with homework, talk about school, friends, and family woes and joys, and sometimes have fun adventures like going to see The Nutcracker or playing with O’Bella, my guide dog, in the yard.

For the past four summers DRAMA Camp has provided six weeks of biblical and theatrical programming for neighborhood kids, youth jobs, and healthy breakfast culminating in an end of summer play. We have partnered with Quincy Street Missional Church and Sojourn College Ministries to maintain programming in the neighborhood, including mentoring, tutoring, and some fun family focused activities, and are currently seeking new partnerships that will provide continued sustainability. All of our programming is focused on building positive relationships with each other, our neighbors, and with God. 

Since I live in the same neighborhood as my church and the youth programming most of my time outside of DSNI and with youth is really just being a neighbor. I have learned a lot about myself by living and working in community with others; including my strengths, my triggers, what I love and what I need to work on. I have learned that while there might be similarities in my life with that of my neighbors and the young people, trying to compare them does not achieve anything. The best things we can do for each other is listen and share our experiences. While I might tutor a little girl with a similar vision impairment as mine, her experience being visually impaired is not the same as mine. 

By being open to learning and being a neighbor I have gained a community. I live in what many people might consider an "unsafe" neighborhood, but there is nowhere that I feel safer. My neighbors know who I am, and I know who they are. We may have grown up with different values, speak different languages, have different complexions, worship different gods, and make different choices, but we are all connected through this neighborhood.

I encourage others  to get involved in their community, too! Being a positive influence in the lives of young people is amazing! It is hard work, but it is rewarding. Young people have just as much to teach us as we do them. I learn more about myself tutoring and working with kids at camp than I do reading, meditating or sitting on a therapist's couch. Kids will always tell you the truth about yourself, and they will always love you. 

You can learn more about Upham's Corner Drama Camp at www.uphamsdramacamp.org and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative at www.dsni.org.