Friday, May 1, 2015

Can you hear me now?

By
Perdita Das, VISTA Leader at North Carolina Campus Compact


It’s not every day that you get to speak with the NATIONAL AmeriCorps VISTA Director. I count myself to be lucky to be among the few chosen members to have had the opportunity to chat with Director Paul Monteiro on the phone. I think it’s really cool that the head of a national program is taking the time out of his extremely busy schedule to speak personally with VISTAs across the nation. The half hour conversation I had with him was thought provoking, reflective and, most importantly, very honest. We spoke of the many rewards, some challenges and what it personally means to me to be a Volunteer in Service to America.

The conversation gave me food for thought and I hope it provided Mr. Monteiro with the insight he was looking for. We talked about why becoming a VISTA was important for me, what made me decide to be a VISTA leader, what are some of the challenges my cohort and I face as service members, and so on and so forth. I tried my best to represent my program and my VISTAs and I hope that my comments will help him as he plans for the future of the program.

As VISTA members, we fight poverty and our main focus is to build capacity of organizations that are committed to alleviating needs in a community. In addition, it is also a way for young, civic-minded professionals to gain valuable skills and experience that can be applied to future career choices. But most of all, VISTA members are able to provide support to organizations that allows them to build long term capacity and sustain projects that are important to a community in need. My conversation with Director Monteiro revolved around these ideas and he asked me some really important questions of how we can make this experience for VISTA members a positive and worthwhile one. Pretty much nothing was off the table- our topics ranged from living stipend, healthcare benefits to recruitment challenges and so forth. As a VISTA, it gave me an opportunity to voice both my praises and concerns for the program. As a VISTA Leader it allowed me to learn the critical thinking process that I will be able to use as I plan for the professional and personal development of our cohort of VISTAs.

I believe Mr. Monteiro has a vision for the program which will allow it to reach new heights. I was excited when he spoke about engaging VISTA alums more and making our alumni network a stronger one as that is something we are also trying to do with NC Campus Compact’s current members and alums. I am grateful that I was able to talk candidly about different things that can often be a challenge. The fact that he is taking the time to talk to members shows his commitment and I am looking forward to the future of this program. The conversation gave me different aspects of service to reflect upon and it made me proud to be a part of the AmeriCorps VISTA family. Thank you Mr. Monteiro!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

North Carolina Celebrates VISTA's 50th Anniversary!


The Corporation for National and Community Service North Carolina State Office, in partnership with VISTA programs and alumni, invite you to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of AmeriCorps VISTA!



Date: Saturday, June 20, 2015

Location: LIFESPAN Creative Campus

908 McClellan Place, Greensboro, NC 27409

Time: 11:00 am- 2:30 pm


Join VISTA Alums, currently serving VISTA Members, VISTA supporters, and friends to celebrate the impact that the program has had in the state for the last 50 years. This will be a celebratory event highlighting projects both past and present. There will be an opportunity to participate in a service project, connect with current and past VISTAs, and remarks by distinguished VISTA alums from over the decades! 



We are pleased to announce Joseph Bathanti, North Carolina Poet Laureate 2012-2014, as our keynote speaker. Mr. Bathanti came to North Carolina in 1976 to serve as a VISTA volunteer. As a VISTA Mr. Bathanti worked with prison inmates. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, he has BA & MA degrees in English Literature from the University of  Pittsburgh, as well as an MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College.Professor of Creative Writing at Appalachian State University, he is also Writer-in-Residence and Director of Writing in the Field for the University’s Watauga Residential College.





There is no cost to attend this event.

REGISTER NOW!

The day at a glance:

11:00 am to 12:30 pm: Service Project (wear comfortable clothes and shoes)
12:30 pm to 1:30 pm: Lunch and Networking
1:30 pm to 2:30: Remarks by Keynote Speaker, Joseph Bathanti, and Distinguished Alums

Stay tuned for more details regarding service projects and speakers!

Directions to Lifespan Creative Campus.

To learn about other events throughout the country, please visit the VISTA 50th Anniversary Website.

Please contact for questions regarding:
Registration: Catherine Casteel at ccasteel(@)elon.edu
Service Project and Location of Event: Leah Parks at lparks(@)lifespanservices.org

"I am honored to celebrate this milestone with you, in part because I wouldn't be who I am today if it weren't for the service of others. Or the purpose that service gave my own life...Happy Birthday AmeriCorps VISTA!"- President Barack Obama (See full message below)





Monday, April 20, 2015

Three Vivacious VISTAs, One Full House

By
Adekemi Ademuyewo, Shannon Barr and Anna Mahathey 

From L to R: Kemi, Shannon and Anna
at the HPU Holiday party
“Well…this is awkward…” Kemi proclaimed to Anna and Shannon as she reveled in the awkward silence that filled the kitchen of their temporary home the first week they met. That sentiment was shared by all the women, who didn’t quite know what to expect out of having to live with the same people they would have to work alongside for the next year. As the only VISTA with a studio apartment to herself the year prior, Anna, quite honestly, was not looking forward to adding two strangers to the living mix. But along came quiet, inquisitive Shannon and vibrant, cheerful Kemi, and all three women, the now self-proclaimed Vivacious VISTAs, moved into a cozy, campus-owned VISTA house.

Stuffed peppers a la VISTA Chefs
They started off their bonding experience by taking the beautiful one-mile walk along the greenway to work each morning. As they trekked up the deceivingly steep hill that made their thighs and calves burn, the initial awkwardness blossomed into friendship. Over the following months, they spent many a night quizzing each other on state capitals, learning together the correct geography of the United States and trying for far too long to open jammed doors. They also bonded while hanging mirrors, sipping on wine and fabricating definitions for non-existent words during late night games of Boggle. They’ve challenged each other to try new things, including do-it-yourself haircuts via YouTube video instruction, a 30-day squat challenge (because VISTAs who squat together, stay together!), and the delectable treat of Oreos and peanut butter.

While mostly fun and full of laughter, this living situation hasn’t been without its challenges. As the VISTAs wear the multiple hats of being coworkers, friends and housemates, they readily find themselves coming home exhausted at the end of a long work day, only to catch up on other work-related matters late into the night. It’s been both a blessing and a curse for the VISTAs to wear these hats. As introverted people working in a highly extroverted field, they understand and share the time investment and demands of their job, which cultivates an empathetic environment and readily accessible support system. But it also means that their home often doubles as an office.

Anna (l) and Kemi (r) at
Thursday night dinner
To attempt to remedy that issue, the Vivacious VISTAs declared Thursdays nights as roomie dinner nights, a time during which work would not be discussed. Instead, they cranked up the Kitchen Karaoke station on Songza, put on their dancing socks and cut up yummy veggies together to relish in each other’s work-free company. However, old habits die hard. Several attempted work-free dinners ended in work-related conversation, so the VISTAs instituted their own book club. Following the glowing recommendation of one of their students, and because they all identify as introverts, the VISTAs decided to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. What was once a time instinctively filled by work schedules, frustrations and questions, transformed into stimulating conversation about personal habits, self-reflective inquiries and new discoveries.

The VISTA house has become a home through late nights of laughter and late nights of work. Surprisingly, eight months into their VISTA term, they haven’t gotten sick of each other yet, something they all think is a miraculous feat. At the HPU VISTA house, VISTAs have provided one another an extraordinary education, have cultivated an inspiring environment, and have been caring people. 

The Vivacious VISTAs rock!
_________________________________________________________________________________

Learn more about the High Point VISTAs in the following media mentions:

Alumna Works to Make a Difference in High Point (featuring Anna Mahathey)

Knocking on Hunger's Door (featuring Shannon Barr and Kemi Ademuyewo)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Adventures in Alternative Spring Break

As college students look for more ways to give back, Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trips provide the opportunity for students to be immersed in service with local communities. This year, North Carolina Campus Compact VISTAs were part of four different trips. The VISTAs were involved at all stages of the process, from coordinating volunteer sites, to planning meals, to recruiting students. Student volunteers gave over 1,110 hours of service during their ASB trips!

The WFU students and VISTAs
At Wake Forest University, VISTA members Natasha Vos and Naijla Faizi planned a week's worth of activities for four students in the Winston-Salem area. This "staycation" allowed participants to give 28 hours of service to the community at five different service sites! Over the course of the week, the students volunteered at education, food insecurity, and health-related non profits. Not only did Natasha and Naijla plan the service the event, they also planned all meals, extra-curricular, and reflection activities. The small group of students provided the opportunity for deep engagement and reflection. At El Buen Pastor, the Wake ASB group prepared quesadillas for 75 children and later provided homework help. Over the course of the week, the group also volunteered at community gardens and a food bank.


At East Carolina University, VISTA member Hannah Paek planned an ASB "staycation" for 12 students in the Greenville community. The trip focused on poverty and youth. During the trip, the group stayed at the Greenville Community Shelter and over the course of the week, the students learned about poverty through simulation activities, including managing grocery shopping and meal preparation on a food stamp budget, and managing the local bus system. The students volunteered with Sparkle Her Night, an organization that helps low income high school girls obtain prom dresses, tutored children at a community center, and interacted with and prepared meals for shelter clients. The students had the opportunity to engage in a panel discussion about poverty in North Carolina. One ECU student called his ASB experience "humbling, passionate, and empowering."

ECU students sort donated clothing at the shelter.
An ECU student tutors at a community center. 

The team of HPU students and VISTAs packaging meals at Food and Friends.
At High Point University, a trio of VISTAs planned an ASB trip to Washington DC for 14 Bonner Leaders from HPU. Our VISTAs have been working with the Bonner Leaders all year, developing their skills and reflecting on their service experience. The trip focused on issues of hunger and homelessness. The group prepared nutritious food packets at Food and Friends, a non profit that serves those facing challenging illnesses, met with the National Coalition on Homelessness, and toured Washington D.C. with a focus on poverty issues.

At UNC-Greensboro, VISTA member Kali Hackett served as the learning partner for an ASB trip to Atlanta that focused on education and economic opportunity. As the students engaged in service, Kali served as a resource for students and trip leaders. Over the course of the week, the students worked with elementary school children, served and prepared meals at a community site, and worked on a beautification project.

The impact of these trips goes deeper than student's brief encounters with service. This haiku, courtesy of the of WFU trip, reflects on the ASB experience:

A week of service,
gardens, kids, community,
impact starts local.
WFU students plant seedling at the Neal Community Garden.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Farm to Friends

By Justin Brantley
AmeriCorps VISTA at Feast Down East, Wilmington, NC


My name is Justin Brantley and I am an AmeriCorps VISTA Member Serving in South Eastern North Carolina. For the past 7 months I have been working with a Non Profit called Feast Down East. This organization’s goal is to connect limited resource farmers to various outlets for their produce to help strengthen the local food economy by keeping food dollars in this region. These outlets include restaurants, grocery stores, institutions, as well as fresh markets in the region.  My focus has been to reach additional low income communities.

In my last semester I was volunteering at a community based fresh market within a Wilmington Housing Authority (WHA) community called Rankin Terrace.  As I heard about VISTA through my involvement as a volunteer I was able to apply for VISTA after I graduated in May. One of my first duties as a new VISTA was to assume the role of the fresh market facilitator at the Rankin Terrace Community.  One of the most important aspects of our Fresh Market program is that the residents of this community help run the market each week.  This resident support is essential to the success of our market program.

R to L: Justin with FoodCorps Members
One of my roles has been to help further expand our reach into low income communities in the Wilmington Area.  As a new VISTA I was able to access office space in another WHA Community called Hillcrest through the partnership with Feast Down East, UNCW, and the WHA.  Hillcrest is the oldest standing Housing Authority Development and was built not long after WW2.  This community has had a history of criminal activity but has seen great improvements in recent years due to a strengthened partnership between the WHA and Wilmington Police.

When I first came to Hillcrest the residents weren’t as friendly or perceptive as I would have preferred.  However, given time to get to know some of the residents through Community Meetings as well as through shared activities at the community center I have found that they are great people who really care about bringing positive change to their community.  There are many groups that come into community to try and “help” but may provide a short term service and leave never to return. I have found that as soon as residents begin to realize that you are here for an extended period of time in an attempt to bring positive resources to the community they will open up and show their support.

In working at Hillcrest I have been able to identify a leader in one of the older residents.  From the start she seemed interested in working with a community garden in this community. Since September I have worked closely with this resident in attempts to establish a garden club in association with the community garden but had little success over the winter getting additional residents involved.  In December we were able to start a new fresh market at the Hillcrest Community. The market is ultimately modeled after the Market at Rankin Terrace.  Since December this market has seen success in that we have begun to identify our regular customers within the community.  One of the challenges of this market has been getting the surrounding community to participate.

There has been a great amount of student support in regards to our ongoing programming. I have 
Residents and Students at the
first Hillcrest Fresh Marke
t
found that is has been a greater challenge recruiting volunteers from within the WHA Communities.  I typically see the elementary aged children at the after-school program and the significantly older residents in the neighborhood. I have had a difficult time reaching people in between.  For various reasons it has been difficult reaching this population of people.  The children are limited in ways they can work with our organization as well as the older adults.  It’s the prime age of physical capability that I have had a difficulty reaching.  One thing that can be frustrating in working in such communities is that the older individuals are supportive of positive change in the community but due to physical limitations they may not be able to be as supportive as they would like while the individuals who are most capable can often be the most difficult to reach.

It takes time to see the results of your work in such communities but with the implementation of the Fresh Market at Hillcrest success can be seen at each market as student volunteers interact with residents in the operation of the market.  Most often winning is found in the race itself.



Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Now Accepting Applications for 2015-2016 VISTA Members!


Are you ready to serve North Carolina? Come make a difference with us!

NC Campus Compact is now accepting applications from candidates for 2015-2016 AmeriCorps VISTA positions. Our next VISTA cohort will begin on August 7, 2015 and will serve one full year.
Our 2014-2015 VISTA cohort and supervisors at orientation!


To learn more about our program and the application process, visit our FAQ page for Prospective VISTAs.

Please visit our position listing on my.americorps.gov when you are ready to create your AmeriCorps application and begin our application process.

According to Opportunity Index, 17.5% North Carolinians live in poverty. Low income communities face many challenges, including access to healthy food, employment, and education resources.

Our VISTA members serve North Carolina's most vulnerable people by working with local community agencies and college campuses to address the needs of low income communities. Our VISTAs serve at 15 different sites across the state, from Cullowhee to Wilmington and many places in between! To learn more about placement locations, read our 2015-16 host site summaries.
VISTAs sort children's books at an MLK Day event

As a VISTA, you could be involved in many different capacity-building activities. For example, you may:
  • Prepare a community needs and assets evaluation
  • Develop a new program that benefits low-income community members
  • Recruit, train, and manage volunteers
  • Write grants or organize fundraisers to bring new resources to your organization
  • Support citizen and student leadership and participation in service
  • Plan national service day events
  • Facilitate service-learning placements, community-based research, and co-curricular opportunities that support communities
Want to know more? You can read more about our VISTAs' experience in their own words:

Natasha, serving at Wake Forest University
George, serving at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center
Hannah, serving at East Carolina University
Meghan, serving at Meredith College

Monday, February 23, 2015

Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of AmeriCorps VISTA on February 25th!

AmeriCorps VISTA's 50th Anniversary National Solutions Summit will take place at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC on February 25, 2015.

The National Solutions Summit salutes AmeriCorps VISTA’s legacy of strengthening communities and creating opportunities that lift individuals out of poverty. This event features a retrospective look at VISTA’s achievements through the voices of those who have served and been served, and spotlights the innovative solutions and ideas of tomorrow through social entrepreneurs, thought leaders, policymakers, and grassroots agents of change.

The event will take place from 1:00-5:30 PM in the Rasmuson Theater at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. In order to live stream the event please register here

Agenda:
12:00 p.m. Registration Begins
1:00 p.m. Welcome - Paul Monteiro, Director, AmeriCorps VISTA
1:15 p.m. Wendy Spencer, CEO, Corporation for National & Community Service
1:30 p.m. Poverty in America
1:45 p.m. Voices of VISTA Panel - Then and Now
3:00 p.m. Break / Networking
3:45 p.m. Solutions Worth Sharing - Speaker Spotlights
5:30 p.m. Closing

Make Poverty History!