Grassroot Jam

By: Michael Bourie

After an early morning cancelled flight, waiting eighteen hours at DCA for a flight to Miami was well worth it. Even though I was exhausted when I landed at 2:00am on Saturday and knew I had a long day ahead of me, I was excited to have made it to Miami for the full Saturday at CGIU.

I am one member of a three person team working on Grassrots Jam. Grassroots Jam is a commitment to expanding the scope of The Grassroot Project’s HIV education program to impact behavior change in their participants’ most influential years. Grassroots Jam is a sports-based educational event the year before participants enter high school, a time when they are exposed to risky behavior and choices. It measures participants’ retained knowledge and evaluates their behavior change in regard to safer sex while additionally providing participants with a mentorship network. Feedback from Grassroots Coaches stating they want a way to stay in contact with their participants after the eight-week curriculum inspired Grassroots Jam. The event takes place a year after they complete the curriculum, which encourages coaches to stay in contact with and engage in a longer mentorship with the participants.

The first plenary session on Saturday morning discussed big data. One of the panelists said, “Data is a way we can make better decisions.” Data was not a top priority in regard Grassroot Jam, but this plenary session helped me see why it is so important. Later, in a skill session on monitoring and evaluation, the presenter mentioned when we collect data we must always ask why and what am I going to do with it. Although having a lot of data is important to making better decisions, it must all have a purpose. Collecting data for the sake of collecting data makes evaluation of a program much more difficult. You also have to understand that your impact may not be something you are measuring. The focus cannot be purely on collecting data. You need to observe all aspects of life and understand your influence may be an area for which you are not collecting quantitative data. These lessons on the importance of data and how to analyze it will be very helpful in improving Grassroots Jam as a yearly event. Creating a program that is successful each year and expands each year will require taking risks and involving the whole community, challenges we are now ready to face.

CGIU provided a great platform to kick-start Grassroots Jam, learn about how to solve potential problems and network and connect with other student leaders who are interested in helping spread Grassroots Jam. We are very excited about continuing work on Grassroots Jam with new inspiration and look forward to holding the inaugural Grassroots Jam in spring of 2016.