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Q&A with #SummerImpact winner Sarah Press

   /   Aug 25th, 2010Education, News

Earlier this month we launched our #SummerImpact contest where we asked you, our faithful readers, to tweet what you’d be doing this summer to make a social impact. We got loads of amazing and diverse world-changing responses.  We selected five winners and we’re giving those folks an opportunity to share their stories here on Dowser.

@spressto: @dowserdotorg I helped neighbors share skills and connect w. over 80 free workshops through @communiteach and @learnapalooza #SummerImpact

Sarah Press, 24
Chicago, Illinois

Dowser: How did you get involved with this work?  Was there something specific that got you interested?
Press: My love for the staff at UNC-Chapel Hill, who helped me with my education, led me to create the Student Worker Alliance for Tutoring (SWAT), a student organization that provided free private tutoring for the children of UNC staff. The program succeeded not only in giving back to the staff members and their families, but also in enhancing community ties between staff and students.

While managing SWAT, I came to an important realization: The world isn’t divided into teachers and learners. Instead, everyone has both topics they want to learn and skills they can share with others. Thus, CommuniTeach was born.

Can you tell us a little about what this project does?
CommuniTeach is an online platform that creates vibrant learning communities by making it easy for neighbors, friends, and co-workers to learn from one another in person, for free. Our website matches users based on their skills and enables them to easily organize one-on-one and group learning sessions. CommuniTeach brings people together by giving them a way to easily share their talents, skills, and passions.

Learnapalooza was an all-day, free learning festival held on June 19 with 70 free workshops. CommuniTeach joined with a team of amazing volunteers to organize the event.

If I were a fly on the wall while you worked, what would I see you doing on a typical day?
This summer was very exciting for me as I had more time to focus on building CommuniTeach and organizing Learnapalooza. I worked on these two projects nearly every day after work and on the weekends. On a typical day, I would focus on three main tasks: sending emails out to encourage individuals to teach workshops, visiting prospective spaces to host the classes, and using various social media strategies to get the word out to the event. It was a lot of work, but well worth it.

Has this experience changed how you’ll be approaching your future work, goals, or career path?
Hearing people’s excitement at learning new skills and connecting with neighbors they’d never met was so inspiring. I am now even more convinced that working in the community to encourage everyone to exchange skills with one another for free is my true passion. I look forward to a time when CommuniTeach is a fully-sustainable social enterprise and can be my full-time focus.

Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing a similar experience?
If you have a vision for something – a show, a festival, a website, whatever – go for it. Be prepared for little sleep and lots of frustration. And be prepared to have to push when you get close to completion because a million things are going wrong and you want to just give up. Don’t give up, keep going. It’ll be worth it at the end – I promise. Even if it doesn’t ultimately work out, at least you learned something worthwhile in the process.

What’s something concrete and tangible you’ve learned this summer?
One of the Learnapalooza classes this summer was “Intro to Butchery.” I’ll be honest, I thought that class was going to be a total bust. It was going on the same time as classes I thought would take all the traffic: improv, meditation, capoeira, salsa-making, self-defense, and more.

But I was completely wrong. The butchery class was a huge success, completely filled with students who gave it fantastic ratings and loved learning how to chop things. This taught me that people have a variety of passions, and I can’t really predict them all!

Photo: Sarah Press

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