Bravo to the UCF Young Democrats and the UCF College Republicans for coming together to help make Bithlo a better and brighter place.
By Anna Vishkaee Eskimani
April 15th marked the last day of Project Bithlo’s first Civic Engagement Series, a collection of four interactive teach-ins designed to provide Bithlo’s Orange County Academy (OCA) students with an opportunity to learn more about their community and build relationships with college mentors.
The program was a first of it’s kind for Project Bithlo—a nonpartisan initiative launched by the UCF College Democrats and Republicans last year. “We love working with OCA students, and have a strong passion for civic engagement,” said the organization’s Chair and UCF grad student, Anna V. Eskamani. “Putting the two together in a series of interactive teach-ins made sense, and it gave us the opportunity to empower our Bithlo students and motivate them to get more involved in the political process.”
These four teach-ins, each an hour-and-half long, were spaced over the entirety of the spring semester, and focused specifically on the three branches of government. Each lesson plan was designed for OCA’s 4th-9th grade students, and was made possible with input of local educators.
But it was the UCF students who pulled it all off.
“The education sessions were dynamic,” said Tim McKinney, COO of United Global Outreach, the nonprofit leading the transformative work in Bithlo. “The UCF students would mix academia with role playing, creating an organic space for our students to ask questions and learn more. Knowledge is power, and when our students understand the structure of government more clearly, they’ll be more likely to get involved.”
Though this was Project Bithlo’s first Civic Engagement Series, it was not their first event. The UCF College Democrats and College Republicans have been working together through Project Bithlo since Fall 2013, and hosted a day of service last year that saw over 50 UCF students and faculty volunteer at Bithlo’s Transformation Village for a major beautification project. Earlier this semester, the group hosted UCF Day— an event that brought 33 OCA students to UCF’s main campus for a personalized look at future with college.
For Eskamani, this work is more than just teaching students about civics. It’s about building relationships, and bringing together groups that have traditionally not worked together before: “We are building a community in Central Florida that not only cares about supporting the transformation of Bithlo, but one that is also willing to look beyond party lines to pursue a like-minded cause. Congress may be at a standstill along partisan lines, but we are not.”
Project Bithlo plans to launch another series of civic engagement classes in the fall semester, this time with a focus on electoral work.
Now a graduate student at UCF pursuing master’s degrees in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management, Anna works full-time at Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando as their External Affairs Manager. She continues to be involved with many advocacy groups, including United Global Outreach through her work in the community of Bithlo. She is also a board member of several organizations, including the Orange County League of Women Voters, Orange County Democratic Executive Committee, and the UCF Women’s Studies Advisory Council. A lifelong feminist, Anna is excited to find even more ways to empower others and give back to her community.