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Turning on a Dime: How Three JUNTOS Ambassadors Have Adapted Their Capstone Projects in 2020

By November 5, 2020November 20th, 2020No Comments

The JUNTOSAmbassador program is a one year leadership program that invests in passionate individuals by providing volunteers with mentorship to create strong foundations for future endeavors. During their year long contract, Ambassadors support the JUNTOS mission while developing skills such as writing proposals, time management, project proposals, budget writing, and successful fundraising. This program usually culminates with a final capstone project, where they organize a large scale project and spend 4-12 weeks abroad immersed with one of the JUNTOS partner organizations and their community. Due to the unforeseen challenges faced in 2020, our Ambassadors have had to find new ways to continue their work and reorganize their capstone projects. Keep reading to meet three of our Ambassadors as they reflect on the challenges of 2020, how they’ve adapted, what they’ve learned, and what their plans for the future are.

Katarina Smith (@katarina_smith) 

Katarina fell in love with JUNTOS’s mission on her first trip to Guatemala in 2018, and has subsequently been on two more JUNTOS abroad trips to Guatemala and Colombia before joining the 2019-2020 Ambassador Program.

Q: What are you up to these days?

Life has been crazy for these past few months, I moved back to NYC in September and recently started a new job teaching dance within this organization named Harlem Children’s Zone! I am also  in the process of becoming a pilates instructor. 

Q: What are the most important skills that you’ve gained from the Ambassador program?

Despite needing to postpone my final capstone project, the ambassador program has had a great impact on me in the last year. I was able to learn, in depth, about hosting fundraisers, creating budgets and communicating with communities abroad. Through these fundamentals, I was able to organize a few fundraisers that involved hosting people from the dance and university community. I think this newly found skill has given me confidence in planning events that involve coordinating multiple moving parts such as; who is attending, what food/drinks are being catered, and what form of entertainment is being provided for the guests. In terms of budgeting, the ambassador program gave me much insight on how to create a seamless budget, making sure that every expense is carefully accounted for. Lastly, the ability to interact with communities abroad is something that I was most excited for coming into the ambassador program, I was thrilled to build relationships prior to visiting the community and to maintain that strong relationship as I return back home.

Q: How has your capstone project been affected and how are you adapting it for the current global situation?

Due to covid-19, I am postponing my final project to summer 2021 in hopes that traveling will be more feasible then. Even though I believe virtual learning can be effective, I think that the impact that in-person connection can have is worth waiting for. 

Q: What are you looking forward to right now? 

I look forward to live theater opening back up in New York, as I plan to be auditioning for performing opportunities when they become available!

Keep an eye out here: https://juntoscollective.org/programs/ambassador/current-ambassadors/ for updates from Katarina about her project as she goes! 


MaryBeth Rodgers (@marybeth_880)

MaryBeth Rodgers is a senior at the Ailey/Fordham BFA program who applied to be a JUNTOSAmbassador for the opportunity to build a new community through the power of dance. She completed her capstone project in July 2020 in collaboration with People’s Theatre Project and Uptown Arts Summer Camp. The content below is compiled of excerpts from MaryBeth’s personal blog posts (Read more). Also a shoutout to MaryBeth for giving us the name for this blog (Turning On A Dime).

Q: How did you decide to adapt your project?

I really wasn’t sure how my Ambassador Project was going to play out. I knew I would finish the project and accomplish my goals (to use dance as a tool for collaboration and self-expression), but up until I got the call from People’s Theatre Project asking me to teach classes over Zoom, I had no idea how I would reach that goal. 

Q: What was the most memorable moment from your capstone?

One thing I immediately remember [is from my time at Uptown Arts Summer Camp], was on my first day of teaching – that 7 and 8-year-olds have an unlimited source of energy, even at 10am. We only had 4 classes, so I wanted to make the most of our time together. Everyone was so excited about learning…playing up the difficulty of poses so they would dramatically fall over and make everyone laugh. One of the main goals of the class was to help students understand how they can create a movement to share. We did this mostly through the imagery of animals and natural elements. I’ve been casually watching Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix, so I’m not going to lie and say that didn’t have some influence on my decision. Luckily, a few of the kids love Avatar, so the word association worked in our favor. 

Q: What will you take away from your time in the Ambassador program?

I used to always dislike group projects. In my mind, I could do the work better than everyone combined. But in recent years and especially now, I realize how flawed that type of thinking is. The overarching program of Uptown Arts Summer Camp is a collaboration, and I am working with People’s Theatre Project as a collaboration between myself, JUNTOS, and Fordham. When we combine resources and work together, our outcomes are more inclusive, more definitive, better executed, and more successful.

At the end of my time with the [older group] at camp, we had successfully created a two-minute piece complete with staging, musicality, and dynamics. Right now when every person, school, and industry is struggling, we have to combine resources instead of hoarding them, open ourselves up to discussion instead of thinking we can do things on our own. Maybe we can, but that doesn’t mean we need to try to accomplish everything on our own.

Q: What was the most inspiring part of your capstone project? 

Part of me figured that because of the pandemic, no kid would want to spend time on Zoom dancing. What I quickly discovered was of course the complete opposite. All of the students dove head first into the material and were all genuinely excited to be there, always ready to start dancing around and going the extra mile with my prompts and exercises. It was really exciting to see this joy, and it points to the resilience we all have in difficult times. We can still find things we love and be around people we love, even if it’s through a computer screen. While I cannot minimize the devastating toll of the pandemic or the sense of urgency for social and climate justice, we all nonetheless deserve to do things that we love. In my mind, that is what resilience is. It’s fighting for what we believe in and taking each obstacle in stride, but it’s also not letting anyone or anything take away the things that bring us joy and make us connected.

Q: What do you think the future holds for the dance community? 

I believe that the dance community is resilient by nature. A field as unstable and underfunded as ours requires members who are willing to fight back and stand up for what is right on a daily basis. In the same way, we are resilient because we do what we love every single day, and we don’t let anyone tell us that we can’t. We may not be in studios, we may not be on stage, we may not even have a countertop that effectively doubles as a barre. But we do have our artistry, and we have our community, and we have the internet. I believe that we’re going to be okay eventually, so long as we keep building each other up and supporting each other in any way that we can.

Click here (https://juntoscollective.org/marybeths-blog/) to read MaryBeth’s blog posts and watch her vlogs about her capstone project!


Coriselle Martinez (@coriselle1997)

Coriselle has volunteered with JUNTOS Collective in Guatemala, Mexico, and Colombia since 2017. She is excited to expand her horizons across borders and spread dance to all people. She completed her capstone project in collaboration with Special Olympics of Puerto Rico in October of 2020.

Q: What challenges did you face in having to change your project?

When I started building up this project, I had the other ambassadors by my side. Individually, we had to complete our own tasks, but we were helping each other, but we had to go our separate ways when COVID-19 pandemic happened, and we had to creatively develop a different project in the midst of it all.Q:

It hasn’t been easy. I had to move to my country and work on the project there. I decided to do it there to start and develop my ideas well for the future and see how it would go. I built up connections, looked for ways to teach, fundraise some money, worked some JUNTOS workshops, and worked from home. I had to make my own adjustments, find new ways of communication and learning, do different teaching experiences, and face the real challenges of the world, which were so many. But as they say: when there is will there is a way.

Q: What have you learned from the process of shifting your project from in person to virtual?

I had time to find organizations to work with, people to talk to during uncertain times, and build up my own network in dance to develop this project with additional work I was doing on my own.

Some of the discoveries I have made while re-organizing and creating content for my ambassador project during the COVID-19 crisis helped my project to grow during these circumstances. I have explored different ways to support my project through online fundraising, making connections with other people, and taking virtual classes that highlight new ideas I can explore. It has been a journey of self-discovery for me to live in the midst of this pandemic. 

Q: How was your experience working with the participants from the Special Olympics of Puerto Rico?

Special Olympics of Puerto Rico works with athletes with down syndrome, autism, and problems with speaking and language. I decided to focus with them in Contemporary dance because it is focused in movement, feelings, and the connection one can have with the things that surround a human being. I strongly believed that these students would bring the insight they have within to help embrace who they are with more power than ever.

These students did so well! I didn’t know what to expect. I have worked with students who have had down syndrome back in one of my trips with JUNTOS Abroad to Guatemala, but this was different. There were the facts like: screen/computer vision, sound interference, and the most challenging one was to understand how the students were doing or feeling about the class. They had to learn how to connect with zoom, understand why I was sharing what I was sharing, and discover ways to feel good about the movement given.

Q: Do you have any  advice for those looking to teach virtually?

  1. Take the time to create a more personal connection with your students. Give it all of your energy because the virtual disconnect can dull the way your students see your and sense your energy. 
  2. Ask the students how they’re doing to keep them engaged and get that real time feedback
  3. Do a sound/video check before class and a quick audio/visual test with your students to ensure they are getting the most out of the class from you.
  4. Work your goal no matter what. Remember that you’re doing your best.

Check out Coriselle’s blog here: ( https://juntoscollective.org/coris-blog/  )to read more about some of the organizations she has worked with, fun videos of her teaching, dancing, pictures, and what she plans on doing in the future!

We are so proud of our Ambassadors for working hard to plan, create, shift, and carry out their capstone projects in a time of constant change and uncertainty. If you’d like to get to know them better, we’re excited to announce that JUNTOS Ambassadors Coriselle and MaryBeth will be speaking at our Taste of JUNTOS event! Join us from November 18th-20th as we kick off our Giving Tuesday Campaign with dance performances, cultural classes, and Mezcal drinks with our JUNTOS Collaborators! 

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