This week’s alum spotlight is on Max Greenblum from GWU Rowing. Check it out here!
Name: Max Greenblum
Grassroots Nickname: Maxie
Year you graduated:2010
Sport and School: GWU Rowing
Schools you did programs in: MC Terrell in Ward 8 (in 2009 and 2010)
Favorite Grassroots game: Find the Ball
As a senior member of GW’s rowing team I got involved with Grassroots, visiting an elementary school in Anacostia every week with 4 other GW student-athletes. Although I had already begun my Peace Corps application and knew that is what I wanted to do after graduation, my Grassroots experience was eye-opening, reinforced my desire to follow through with Peace Corps, and definitely taught me just as much, if not more, than I was able to impart to the group of kids we were working with.
I arrived in El Salvador just a few weeks after graduating from GW and competing at collegiate rowing’s national championships, and was assigned to work as a Sustainable Agriculture Volunteer in a small, very remote community along the Guatemalan border.
Although the majority of my initial work was centered on agriculture projects, mostly with older, male farmers, I still used a lot of what I had learned in Grassroots. If nothing else, I was much more comfortable getting up in front of a group and engaging them in an interactive, fun fashion. In places where most people can’t read or write, without that ability you are severely limiting your options for presenting new information.
After about 20 months I was sent to eastern El Salvador where I took over the position of Regional Volunteer Leader, where I now supervise and coordinate all of the Peace Corps Volunteers and Projects in the eastern half of the country. In my new role I work a lot more with women and youth, especially with sexual health, youth pregnancy prevention, family planning, and HIV/AIDS awareness and education. Suddenly, almost two years after my previous experience with Grassroots, everything I had done in DC came flooding back to me. I’ve incorporated many of the Grassroots activities, such as Find the Ball, Fact/Nonsense, and High Risk/Low Risk/No Risk, into my standard activities. Many have even caught on with other Volunteers, who like how interactive the activities are and how positively Salvadoran youth respond.
One of my biggest recent projects has been to train Salvadoran women to run their own sexual health workshops. Through a local Salvadoran organization, I work with the leaders of 20 regional women’s groups, training them to educate others, then facilitating and supporting them back in their communities, where they share their new knowledge with their own women’s groups, youth groups, and in their community’s schools. Many of these women were older, illiterate, and had never done anything like leading a workshop or group discussion before, so at points the process was extremely slow and frustrating. However, both Grassroots and Peace Corps have taught me how important patience is when working with at-risk groups, and I eventually succeeded in getting the women ready and achieving our mutual goals.
In addition to my experience with Grassroots, my 4 years as a college rower have been invaluable to me during my times as a Peace Corps Volunteer. There truly is nothing like sports to break through cultural and language barriers. Rowing may not be too common in El Salvador, but through soccer, basketball, and my general love of athletics, I have made and cemented numerous strong relationships in the communities where I have lived and worked.
Based on my experience with Grassroots and Peace Corps, I highly suggest getting involved in your community’s development to any youth. I’ll never forget the friends I’ve made and the people I’ve met and can only hope I’ll end up touching the lives of others as much as they have mine, but more than anything else, when you are involved in your community through volunteer work you will be learning something new every single day.