Congratulations to Our Newest Ernest and Betty Singer Scholar!

Kayla Alsagoff

The Consensus Organizing Center (COC) is thrilled to announce the 2014-2015 recipient of the Ernest and Betty Singer Scholarship, Kayla Alsagoff. While honoring the late Ernest and Betty Singer, the purpose of the scholarship is to provide monetary support for students enrolled in the Community Development/Administration track of the Masters of Social Work program at San Diego State University (SDSU) and seed their initial work in community practice.

Kayla Alsagoff is originally from northern California and grew up in a small town called Cameron Park. Kayla moved to San Diego to pursue her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from SDSU. After graduating in May 2013, Kayla immediately continued on to SDSU’s Masters of Social Work program where she will graduate this May.

Kayla’s community development internship experience includes working at the San Diego Military Family Collaborative helping reduce duplication of services and ensure a smoother referral system for military families needing services across San Diego County as well as co-coordinating a free county-wide resource fair inside the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center to increase access to resources for military families. She also created a peer-to-peer mentoring program in the SDSU School of Social Work in response to the students’ increasing need for more peer support and guidance during their time in the Social Work MSW program.

Currently, Kayla is working with youth at Serra High School in an attempt to improve diversity and acceptance through a student run campaign based on the strengths of multiculturalism. Using models from community organizing, Kayla conducted interviews with students at Serra, the result showing a need for more culturally sensitive student leaders on the campus. She worked with the school to develop a core group of students and teacher allies to identify stakeholders and their self-interest to maximize the impact of their student diversity group and build more social capital between students and faculty.

Kayla hopes to continue her work as a community organizer after graduation, working in communities to increase social capital and social justice by building leaders across the county. One day she hopes to create her own non-profit community organizing center focusing on underserved communities in San Diego.

The COC is extremely proud of the accomplishments of Kayla Alsagoff. When speaking about our newest scholar, Executive Director Jessica Robinson said, “Kayla has shown persistence and tenacity in all of her community lead projects this year. When faced with barriers Kayla thinks about what can still be done, rather than what is delaying or prohibiting progress. Kayla’s commitment to her work and interest in each of the program’s components has made all of us at the COC proud to call her part of our team.”


San Diego Military Family Collaborative

By Kayla Alsagoff, COC Community Development Intern

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My final year of internships at the San Diego Military Family Collaborative and Healthy Start Military Family Resource Center has offered me a wide range of opportunities in the last five months. Coming in as an Administration/Community Development Social Work Masters student, I really didn’t know what I was getting into or what I was going to be doing. Would I be doing grant writing or program development? Community outreach and needs assessments? Financial planning or human resource management? Maybe I would engage in consensus organizing or community-based asset mapping. All I knew was I wanted to get as much as I could out of my placement in terms of skills development and exposure to the wide array of skills that macro social workers have.

Since then, I have done everything from building puppet stages for family appreciation nights to coordinating community dialogues with CEOs and Executive Directors from giant non-profits from across the county.

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I have aided in the development of and facilitated spouse transition courses for active duty families heading into the civilian world and I have dressed up like a Disney Princess with my team to give our families the feeling that they are is Disneyland, somewhere they may never get to go.

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Of all the things I have been able to do, the greatest one so far is co-coordinating Military Family Day 2014 at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center.  Over the past year the San Diego Military Family Collaborative has been working with active duty military families on issues such as peer support and access to resources. As a city wide initiative, SDMFC partnered with the National Human Genome Research Institute and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center at Balboa Park, San Diego, to put on a massive resource fair inside the museum. Built for kids and families, the museum was the perfect location to encourage active duty families to meet other families and build social support. In addition, my job was the coordinate 45 non-profits and for-profits across the county that specifically service military families to have vendor booths inside the museum during the day and set up to improve awareness of resources. The result was a free admission, free lunch, full day at the museum where over 750 service members and their families met other families, played in the museum, built connections and made referrals with dozens of social service agencies across San Diego County.

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Although it is early in my career as a social worker, I know being a part of this project, a part of creating opportunities for families to meet their own needs, improving their social capital, and helping military families feel a brief sense of normalcy has been the single greatest experience I could have asked for, and I am so excited to see what else lies ahead.

Social Workers in the Library

B. Coughlin

Interning at the Encinitas Library so far has been an extraordinary experience. The library staff have been welcoming and helpful from day one. It has truly been an inclusive experience and an eye opener. Throw out any assumptions you may have about libraries or the typical librarian. As I have learned pretty early on, libraries are now on the front line of engaging communities. All around the United States, libraries are starting to offer social services to patrons from the convenience and safety of a familiar location. The famous American industrialist Andrew Carnegie said it best when he stated “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.”

It is with this ideal in mind that I have been assigned the task of creating a pilot program to bring social services to the patrons of the Encinitas Library. Social Workers in the Library is a program that will bring in volunteer social workers to assist library patrons in finding and connecting to social services on a biweekly basis. This program is based on a similar program (of the same name) that has been successfully implemented in San José and just celebrated its fifth anniversary last month. Because the Consensus Organizing Center was able to arrange a visit, I was lucky enough to be able to travel to San José in October to see their program in action. I was invited to sit in with the volunteer social workers as they met with various library patrons and dispensed advice and referrals. In several of the cases, I was consulted as well and was able to add my input to the conversation as we all worked collaboratively to come up with solutions to patrons’ problems.

When I arrived back home, I was able to take a lot of what I learned in San José and apply it to what we were working on in Encinitas. One of the most important aspects I wanted to incorporate was a way of bridging relationships between library staff, social workers, and community members to build social capital. This idea of directly engaging with community members before the program was created culminated with Coffee & Conversation, a monthly event we are hosting in the Library’s big entertainment room. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this room is filled with local art and photography, and is the perfect location to hold deliberate dialogue with community members; it allows them to directly communicate with us, helping the process of creating and delivering services in a meaningful way.

Because the library staff is already a part of the community, they are a less threatening conduit to introduce social workers into the context of library resources. Library staff are in a position to help community members, yet they are not well trained to address the specific and often complex needs of certain groups of people. Over the last three months, a phrase I’ve often encountered both in person and through research is “We want to help, but we’re not social workers.” Because libraries have a lack of barriers to members and the determination to be welcoming to everyone reinforces why they are the perfect places to offer social services to community members. In Better Together: Restoring the American Community, Robert Putnam says it best: “No longer a passive repository of books and information or an outpost of culture, quiet, and decorum in a noisy world, the new library is an active and responsive part of the community and an agent of change.” It is my hope and my goal that Social Workers in the Library will succeed at doing just that. Our program is set to roll out in early Spring of 2015.

Community Recovery Project

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By Vanessa Farrior, COC Community Development Intern

My internship with the Community Recovery Project on campus has truly been life changing. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to accompany faculty members Kim Archuletta, Dr. Sarah Zucker and Public Health student Sarah Curry to my first ever UC Riverside Collegiate Recovery Conference! We represented “Aztecs for Recovery (AFR),” SDSU’s newly recognized student organization that provides support to students in recovery and student allies. We had an amazing time eating delicious food, listening to testimonies of students and faculty members, gaining tremendous insight into our own lives, doing fun communication activities and learning a great deal about how we can be supportive to the needs of students in recovery.

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During this conference, I went to a variety of interesting workshops. My absolute favorite workshop was where I learned about Motivational Interviewing from Mr. Jerry Phelps from UCSD. One thing that I really liked about the Motivational Interviewing workshop was that it encouraged service providers to draw on the strengths of their clients and help them recognize their capacity to make a positive change in their lives. This workshop also reminded of the importance of cultural humility, of active listening, and of sensitivity to the concerns and needs of others. I also attended an Asset Mapping workshop, where I learned about the importance of Aztecs for Recovery forming relationships with campus and community allies. I learned that through Aztecs for Recovery forming these relationships, a strong network of support is created where SDSU students in recovery have a direct group of individuals, programs, organizations and agencies that they feel they can rely on.

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Another cool thing Sarah and I did was attend our first 12-Step meeting. There were about 30-40 people of different genders, ages, races, religions, sexual orientations and states of origin that talked about their experiences. It was surprised to hear so many male students openly expressing their feelings and thoughts about being in recovery. Everyone at the meeting was very respectful and supportive. After the meeting, Sarah and I joined some of the students and played a fun card game and ate pizza and cookies. We had an amazing time hanging out with this group. Even though by the end of the conference we didn’t want to leave, we couldn’t wait to come back to San Diego and share our experience with friends, family and our AFR members!

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Casa Familiar

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By Tiernan Seaver, COC Community Development Intern

My internship experience in the Community Development department at Casa Familiar has been nothing but enjoyable. From the first day staff welcomed me with open arms and made me feel a part of the team. The organization runs so many different programs, I still do not think I am aware of all of them. From aerobics classes to housing developments, it is impressive to see the inner workings of such a large agency.


Speaking of impressive, last week I got to experience Casa’s annual Thanksgiving dinner where they serve over 1,500 community members for free. In three sessions volunteers, from the likes of the San Ysidro School District Board President and policemen to high school students and boy scouts, bring plates of turkey, stuffing, and pie to tables where participants of Casa programs and their families are individually served. I appreciated the attention Casa put on making clients and community members feel welcomed and valued. The event resembles more of a large restaurant than a soup kitchen. Dinner guests are taken to their seats and served their dinner. Many people even dress up to attend the event.

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Being a community development intern has pushed me into realms of work I never imagined. The situations I navigate on a daily basis are not with individual clients, but with City and County government departments, elected officials, grant administrators and agency coalitions. I’ve worked with designers and contractors to plan the redevelopment of a community park. I’ve helped provide community input on transportation development plans to the San Diego Regional Development Agency (SANDAG). I’ve advised a group of community volunteers on strategic planning and budgeting to increase the sustainability of their program after the end of their grant period. I am lucky to have had such opportunities to learn and grow here and I am getting a good idea of the value an MSW can add as a staff member in a non-traditional social work agency.

COC 2014-2015 Interns

The Consensus Organizing Center is proud to introduce our 2014-2015 SDSU MSW Community Development Track and Undergraduate Interns. Welcome , Karen, Brain, Max, Kelly, Tiernan, Kayla, Kaija,Vanessa, and Linda! We are so excited to have you as part of our team. Read all about them and their internship activities at the COC webpage:


Ernest and Betty Singer Scholarship Winners Announced

The Consensus Organizing Center (COC) is thrilled to announce the 2013-2014 recipients of the Ernest and Betty Singer Scholarship, Alicia Morris and Anne Vollman. While honoring the late Ernest and Betty Singer, the purpose of the scholarship is to provide scholarship support for students enrolled in the Community Development/Administration track of the Masters of Social Work program at San Diego State University (SDSU), and seed their initial work in community practice.

Alicia MorrisAlicia Morris is currently a graduate student in the one year Advanced standing MSW Program and has been working as an agency capacity intern with Feeding America San Diego (FASD).  A dynamic project she has been coordinating with FASD is implementing the FASD Capacity Self Assessment Tool (CSAT) to their partner network. The tool allows each distribution partner to recognize the current capacity of its food program. From the CSAT data FASD will be able to evaluate their own success in building their partner network capacity thus far and shape it for the future.  She also visits partners in the community to monitor food safety practices and assess partner needs all related to ensuring clients are receiving safe food in a respectful manner. Lastly, this spring she will be engaging the community to lobby on behalf of anti-hunger legislation at the state capital through participation in Hunger Action Day. Staff, interns, partners, and community members all travel together to make their voices heard on food policy topics. After graduation Alicia will be moving to Los Angeles where she aims to bring her community organizing dreams into practice. She is currently researching opportunities where she could employ her Consensus Organizing skills in projects that are looking for a community organizer. Her spirit and can do attitude have her ready to take on the challenge!

Anne VollmanAnne grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio in the community of College Hill.  Anne attended the University of Cincinnati, where she completed her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Upon graduation Anne moved to San Diego and began her Master’s at San Diego State. Anne has always had an avid interest in underserved and stigmatized populations, which brought her to the community development track after completing her first year at SDSU in the clinical track. Through her work with the Consensus Organizing Center, Anne has developed a passion for addressing change on the macro level. Managing the Step Up Program has been an incredible experience, allowing Anne to connect with the high school students individually and navigate the group as a whole to develop and succeed. Seeing the impact on the high school students in just one semester convinced Anne to pursue community development in her future career. Accompanied with her passion for research, Anne’s overarching career goal is to work with communities to develop and implement effective programs to target teens affected by the social issues within the community. Anne also plans to pursue clinical licensure in order to continue providing individualized care and interventions to those in need.

The COC is extremely proud of the accomplishments of Alicia and Anne. When speaking about our newest scholar, Executive Director Jessica Robinson said, “We are so proud of the hard work and dedication Alicia and Anne have displayed this year. I can’t think of two more deserving students to receive this honor.”