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Major Insight Episode 19 Building Communities that Help Everyone Thrive

Madison McGirr

Major Insight Podcast          More Miami Podcasts 

The community-building efforts of Madison McGirr are aimed at helping other people thrive. As a sophomore in Miami’s interdisciplinary Western Program, she is interested in education reform, reducing poverty, and the effects of gentrification.

On this episode, Madison also speaks about how her work with nonprofit organizations such as Our Daily Bread in Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as youth-based programs such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters and Dream Keepers, is helping to make local schools and communities more accessible, inclusive, and prosperous for everyone.

Featured Majors:

Individualized Studies (Western Program), Education, Teaching and Learning

Featured Organizations & Internships:

Dream Keepers

Black Women Empowered

Spectrum

Big Brothers, Big Sisters

The Pepper Fellowship

Career Clusters:

Education, Nonprofit and Human Services

Full Episode Also Available on YouTube

Music: “Only Knows” by Broke For Free

Read the transcript

James Loy:

Major Insight is a production of Miami University. This is where we showcase successful students, their promising new research and its relevance in our world.

James Loy:

The expansive community-building efforts of Madison McGirr are entirely aimed at helping other people thrive. As a sophomore in Miami’s interdisciplinary Western Program, she is interested in education reform, poverty, and the effects of gentrification.

And on this episode, Madison speaks with Major Insight host Peter Everett, about her field work and her service-learning with non-profit organizations such as Our Daily Bread in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

And about how her involvement in Miami youth-based programs such as Dream Keepers, has given her the experience and the perspective needed to make ours schools and our local communities more accessible, inclusive, and prosperous for everyone.

Peter Everett:

Hi Madi, welcome to the podcast. How are you doing?

Madison McGirr:

Good. How are you Peter?

Peter Everett:

I'm doing great. So happy to have you. So why don't you just tell everybody, like, what your major is and what you're really interested in, and everything.

Madison McGirr:

Okay, I am a Western Major, which is the interdisciplinary major here at Miami University. I specifically focus in on poverty, and a lot of community-building efforts. So that's kind of what I'm interested in.

I am in Black Women Empowered, Spectrum, and Dream Keepers here on campus. Big Brothers, Big Sisters too so.

Peter Everett:

That's exciting. Well, talk a little about that. What is that exactly?

Madison McGirr:

Yeah, Big Brother, Big Sister. It's not technically through Miami University, but they have a program where they run it through Miami. Big Brother, Big Sister is just a mentoring program where you get matched with someone in Butler County. You basically are able to go out in the community and get to know these kids. You see them about twice a month. And my little sister is named Naveyah, she's about eight years old, and we got matched about a year and a half ago now, which is really crazy. It's just a really great program, if you're really interested in working with kids and it's really, really fun.

Peter Everett:

So more broadly, these community-building efforts that you're involved in, would you say that maybe your research at Western really just … how does that tie into that passion?

Madison McGirr:

Yeah, so I did a research project with looking at nature incorporation into education. So looking at different schools and, like, charter schools, Montessori schools, traditional public. And kind of seeing how they incorporate nature into their curriculum, and kinda seeing the effects that teachers thought it had on the children.

So that was a really cool research project because we're surrounded by nature. Everything that we're in, like, even this building, it’s on land, right?

Peter Everett:

Sure.

Madison McGirr:

So I kinda wanted to look at... It seems like a really under-utilized resource. A ton of science happens in nature, naturally, with bio-diversity, plants, animals, all that good stuff, right? And I think there is a lot to learn just by going outside. However, schools are traditionally in a classroom with 30 other kids.

Peter Everett:

Yep. Surrounded by concert.

Madison McGirr:

Yes, exactly. Even the playground, like the one time that they get to go outside is recess. You're in a playground, which isn't nature. It's kind of like this structure that's just placed in nature. And you’re typically on turf, rather than grass.

So I kinda wanted to look at how different schools incorporate it, and the effects on those students, because there's a ton of really cool research about how just going outside for 30 minutes for a science class really helps kids learn, and really allows them to let out that energy and also be hands-on with an environment around them. Like, get to know the community around them because nature is in your whole community.

Peter Everett:

And I'm just gonna make an assumption here. I'm gonna think maybe urban schools probably don't have as much access. Or don't have as many opportunities to engage with nature.

Madison McGirr:

Yes. 100%. And that's what we noticed. Right. When it comes to just access alone, the schools that have the most access, and do the most incorporation, are private schools or Montessori schools, and they have high tuition that a lot of children can't afford, that are coming from low-income neighborhoods, specifically in the inner city. So a lot of inner city public school children aren’t allowed the same opportunities as those kids that are paying $9,000 to $15,000 a year to go to those schools. Even though nature is free. And specifically in the inner city, it is hard because they have to provide that transportation to and from a nature location, where it isn't surrounded by concrete. But, yeah, it's definitely a tough situation.

Peter Everett:

So you talked about building community at Western. What kind of, I guess, how does that translate into your work outside of the classroom, especially with this Our Daily Bread internship that you just got in Over-the-Rhine? So if you could just tell us what that was about, and how you really were able to build community through that.

Madison McGirr:

Yeah, for sure. So, over J-term, I was given this amazing opportunity to work with Mark Curnutte, who is a professor in the Sociology Department. And he ran this program, it's called the Pepper Fellowship, where were we were able – we meaning eight other students and me, so nine people total -- went down to Cincinnati, and we actually lived in Over-the-Rhine, in the community housing there. It's kind of like the last affordable housing option down in Cincy.

And we were able to live there for about three weeks, and every day, every week day…

Peter Everett:

Real quick. I don’t want to interject. But what constitutes affordable housing in Cincinnati, what price range?

Madison McGirr:

So affordable housing … the actual definition means 30% of your income. So for the average income of people who live in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati, 30% of their income is the price of the place that we lived at per month. Does that make sense?

Peter Everett:

Yes.

Madison McGirr:

I wanna say it was about $400 to $600 a month, which is still pretty pricey.

Peter Everett:

That's what I pay, and I live here. So…

Madison McGirr:

So, anyway, we were able to stay in this affordable housing for three weeks, and every weekday we were able to go to our assigned nonprofits to work with, and I was placed at Our Daily Bread, which is the largest soup kitchen down in Cincinnati, and it serves about 200 to 300 people a day and it serves about 500 meals a day.

That was a really cool program because you got to sit down with Mark personally, and kinda talk about your interests, and he placed you at places that he thought you would work at. Right. And work well with.

There were people interested in biology and going into nursing, and things like that, and they were placed at a free health down in Cincinnati. Everyone was at a different place, depending on your interest within Cincinnati. Because Mark was a journalist down there for many, many years. So he kinda had those community connections, and we had the gift of utilizing those, and kind of being able to work in these really cool places, doing really great stuff.

Peter Everett:

And how did that experience, working in that soup kitchen, interacting with the people that would come in, how did that change your perspective on Over-the-Rhine, downton Cincinnati, and maybe on the broader kind of topic of gentrification and everything.

Madison McGirr:

So for those who may not understand what gentrification is, it's kind of when long-term residents of a place are being pushed out because of high prices, and some other policies that are put in place to kind renovate an area. They kinda put it under this guise of: “We're renovating and making this place better,” even though in reality what actually happens is it pushes low-income families out of the city that they've typically lived in for a really, really long time. And it leaves families broken, and kind of homeless in a sense, like, a lot of people can't afford to live there anymore. And they can't afford to live in the neighboring cities. So unfortunately they're kind of left to their own devices to figure out housing.

So, at Our Daily Bread, they provide hot meals for people every single day, and you can just come in, no matter who you are, you don't have to be homeless, you could just be a community member and come in and get some hot food. But they also provide social services for the people who come there. So you can get bus passes to go to the doctor, or to a job interview, or just to go to your job in general. And they can provide financial aid, and provide anything that you need to get back on your feet, right?

If you lost your ID, they're able to give you a form to get your ID back without paying that $25 fee, I believe, to get it.

So it's … Our Daily Bread, and nonprofits like, it are truly nourishing the community that they're in because as these long-term residents are finding it hard to continue to live there financially, like, they just can't keep up their income to the raising rent prices, the insane prices of their groceries, the insane prices of bus fares, and things like that. Our Daily Bread is dedicated to helping those long-term citizens, and helping those families who need help the most.

They have an afterschool kids program, where they literally give groceries to take home at the end of the week for their family, and providing kids that nourishment that they really need at that age.

Peter Everett:

Do you have any plans to go back? Or do other kinds of community work there, or...

Madison McGirr:

Oh yeah, for sure. Cincinnati is kind of like a hot bed of a ton of social issues, unfortunately. I love it though. There is a sense of community in Cincinnati that you really can't get in other bigger cities in Ohio, even. So working in Cincinnati, with places like Our Daily Bread that provides solutions for these issues that never go away - like homelessness, drug addiction, poverty. These are issues that have always been here. We just refuse to systematically change it, right?

There are policy makers that come in, and they know that gentrification puts families out of homes, it puts families in these tough situations that sometimes make them turn to crime. Because it's the only way that they can afford to live in their house.

They know these things. It's historically proven to be accurate that these policies kick long-term residents out of their city that they've loved and lived in for years. But we just don't do anything to change it. So working with those small agencies that truly do make an impact in the community is something that I cherish a ton, and I think that goes into kind of the work I do with Dream Keepers.

Because …

Peter Everett:

You’re a UA for them, correct?

Madison McGirr:

Yes, I'm a UA for Dream Keepers, currently. And Dream Keepers is a program here at Miami University where we go down every Friday to a high school and mentor inner-city students.

So we go down to Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy, which is a charter school, it's a high school, in downtown Cincinnati, and we're able to be immersed in this environment that's kind of separate from what we have in Oxford. We're in this rural school, and we're able to drive down every Friday and go into the city and see what's happening there. And kinda hearing from the youth in that city.

For me, it was a really heartwarming and challenging experience. I came from this really privileged background of going to a really nice public school in Northeast Ohio. I’m from the Cleveland area. Solon, if anyone knows that. And it definitely wasn't half as bad as what some of the kids in Cincinnati suffer from, right.

I knew where my next meal was coming from, and I knew that I was getting a good education. And it was kind of like a known fact that when you graduate, you go to college. It wasn't … people didn't ask you, like, “Are you going to college?” People are like, "What college are you going to?”

So that was kind of the environment that I came from. So being placed in this environment where students don't get those same opportunities. A lot of the students that we work with, our whole point of mentoring them is to get them to start thinking about their future, and what they wanna do. And part of that is suggesting college. And we kinda see the barriers of what they have to go through ...

Peter Everett:

What are some of those barriers,

Madison McGirr:

Yeah. So, some of those barriers are financial barriers, where a lot of these kids are working like full-time jobs. Just straight up. They're working 40 hours a week, while also going to school to support their family, and most of that money is going to just keeping up the bills in their house. That money isn't really being saved towards college applications, which are $60 bucks a pop, right? A lot of...

Peter Everett:

I remember too well.

Madison McGirr:

Yeah. And these are fees that middle class families hate, right? Let alone people in the inner city who are in low income neighborhoods, where they're working tons of hours a week and still barely getting by to pay rent and to get groceries.

So that fee of applying to college alone can really gatekeep students who are coming from these low income areas from getting into school. Just that fee alone, which is kind of crazy. And you can apply for aid, and things like that, but it's still pretty difficult to …

Peter Everett:

Just the fact... Just navigating that bureaucracy is difficult for someone to get into.

Madison McGirr:

Yeah, 100%. Especially when you're a high school student, and you don't know how life really works out, right? If none of your friends are going to college. If none of your family has gone to college. If you have no one kind of guiding you through that process. It's really hard. You don't know where to start, and filling out all that paperwork is really difficult to even wrap your head around.

Like, the students at Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy, they only have one guidance counselor for the whole school. So there's a ton of barriers when it comes to just dealing with the stress of applying to college because there's so many factors. It's not just financial. It's like mentally taxing to continue to write common app essays, especially when you're working a job and going to school. Like, a lot of those kids are trying to balance a ton of things at once, and when you don't have a role model helping you through that, you kind of feel lost, and you don't know where to go.

Peter Everett:

So what kind of resources would you say Miami has provided you? What kind of experiences here at Miami have really enabled you to gain this perspective, and serve your community, and other people.

Madison McGirr:

Miami has given me so many resources, Specifically, the Western Program truly changed my life. Being able to be immersed in a community at Miami alone was really crazy. Going into the Western Center and seeing all these students there is really helpful. Being able to come into the center and have people know your name, and I have these opportunities of service work available to you. I just love the Western Program, and the opportunities that opened up for me there. And I definitely will say that Miami's financial aid has truly helped me.

Peter Everett:

Me too.

Madison McGirr:

Yeah, the Wellness Fund, where you're able to get money for medical services. I just asked for funding for the therapy that I go to. And you're able to get that aid that you need to upkeep your mental health and your academic success at Miami. That's truly an amazing opportunity.

Peter Everett:

Wow. That's awesome.

I feel like we hit all the points in your bio, but I was just curious if you had any final thoughts, or anything you could maybe tell some other upcoming students some advice, or anything like that?

Madison McGirr:

Okay, yeah, for sure. At Miami, the resources available to you are quite literally endless. If you're looking for your place at Miami, I 100% believe that you can find it. It might take some time. But there's genuinely a place for everybody on this campus. And the Western Program was that place for me.

But at Miami, you're given this opportunity to create your own path to academic success in whatever way that means for you, right? For me, that's incorporating service-learning into my education, and getting real world experiences outside of the classroom, right? So going down to Cincinnati, and seeing what's happening in that community, and transferring that to the theories and the readings that I have in other classes definitely puts me at an advantage when I'm able to graduate.

Because not only do I have those networks that I've built through my service-learning, but I have that experience of working with people, which is something that you don't really get at other schools, or you can't really tailor to your education in a standard major, right?

So the Western Program helped me in the sense of I can quite literally make my education what I want it to be. And I'm definitely using that to my advantage, as should anybody else.

Peter Everett:

That's incredible. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It was an absolute pleasure.

Madison McGirr:

Thank you for having me. Thank you.

James Loy:

Madison McGirr is a sophomore in Miami University’s interdisciplinary Western Program, with minors in Education, Teaching and Learning.

If you've enjoyed this episode of Major Insight, please share it with a friend, with students, or with anyone who hopes to make a powerful impact on their world. You can find more episodes right now on Apple Podcasts and wherever podcasts are found.

SHOW NOTES:

Featured Majors: 

Individualized Studies (Western Program), Education, Teaching and Learning

Featured Organizations & Internships:

Dream Keepers

Black Women Empowered

Spectrum

Big Brothers, Big Sisters

The Pepper Fellowship

Career Clusters:

Education, Nonprofit and Human Services

 Major Insight

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Major Insight is a production of Miami University. This is where we showcase our students and how they transform academic subjects into lifelong passions. Join us wherever you listen to your podcasts and discover these students journeys.

Host Peter Everett

Peter Everett

The Major Insight Podcast is hosted by Peter Everett. Everett, a double-major in History and Comparative Religion, hopes to leverage empathetic skills gained through his own student research to highlight the academic and personal journeys of fellow Miami students.

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