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
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 giving the VISTA "V"
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 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 adequate food, opportunity, 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 16 different sites across the state, from Cullowhee to Wilmington and many places in between!
VISTAs sort children's book at an MLK Day event

As a VISTA, you could be involved in many different activities. Some examples include:

  • Preparing a community needs and assets evaluation
  • Recruiting, training, and managing volunteers
  • Fundraising and grant writing to build your organization's capacity
  • Supporting citizen and student leadership and participation in service
  • Planning national service day events
  • Facilitating service-learning placements, community-based research, and co-curricular opportunities that support communities
Want to know more? You can read more about VISTA's 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

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!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Alum Spotlight: Monica Palmeira

Monica signing her VISTA oath at PSO!
Monica Palmeira was the first VISTA at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center in Chapel Hill, 2012-2013. During her year of service, she helped the young non-profit improve its organizational systems and strengthen a partnership with Heavenly Groceries, a food ministry serving the Northside community. Through her work there, Monica learned she is “passionate about housing and neighborhoods.” When her term ended in 2013, Monica headed west to Sacramento, California. An internship with Housing California led Monica to her current position at the California Coalition for Rural Housing, one of the oldest affordable housing coalitions in the country. We spoke with Monica recently to learn more about her work and the lessons she took from her VISTA experience.

Before we talk about what you’re doing now, I wanted to ask if you have been back to the Jackson Center lately. Have you?

Monica (first row, far right) with the 
Heavenly Groceries team.

Actually, I visited last fall for a friend’s wedding. And I went by Heavenly Groceries to say hey to Ms. Gladys and they had just gotten new t-shirts so that was really cool. Pretty much every time I go back I’m given some kind of responsibility at the food ministry - I’m required to go pick up food or do something. Whenever I see Ms. Gladys she immediately puts me to work… it’s the best way to be welcomed.

That’s great. So tell us about the work you are doing now.

I am currently working as a Policy and Programs Specialist at the California Coalition for Rural Housing. Our job is to advocate on behalf of our members, which are primarily non-profit affordable housing developers. We try to get policies on the local and state level to incentivize and facilitate the building of affordable housing throughout rural California. So it’s a really cool perspective on this issue, but it’s really a departure from the neighborhood-based work I was doing at the Jackson Center, so the two experiences really complement each other. I’m getting a ton of experience and exposure to issues, but I’m finding myself missing a lot of aspects of my work at the Jackson Center-- like having a strong connection to one place.

What’s your role at the coalition?

At a small non-profit like ours [6 staff], it’s so hard to define roles, but I basically work across all our programs. I host a lot of convening and coalition-building events and conversations, particularly for the policy aspect of things. I plan our annual conference for example. This job has also allowed me to travel throughout a lot of California, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley.

One of the big things I’ve been really involved with: in California we have a pioneering Cap and Trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The money that comes out of the options proceeds is going into this greenhouse gas reduction fund, which can fund other things, including affordable housing. So it’s a really new way of thinking about housing in terms of how can housing be a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: where do you locate housing so that people drive less? How do you co-locate housing and transit so that people are less dependent on cars? What are the impediments to walking and biking? I get to convene people to strategize how we can do this and design programs especially that address these issues in rural areas. 

How did you wind up working with that organization? 

When I moved out here I knew I wanted to work in housing and -- similar to the way the VISTA program can work, I got an internship experience that let me get my foot in the door. And through that I met the people I work with now.

It’s funny ‘cause my VISTA experience has been a cool thing to talk about. My boss actually moved out to California from Connecticut as an AmeriCorps person, and several of the executive directors of organizations or housing developers we work with-- a lot of them came to California through the VISTA program. So it’s been a fun connection to say we’re all VISTAs and we have a kind of VISTA pride. 

So it’s a program that’s been around for a long time and I think that it has a legacy of plugging a lot of people into nonprofit work.

Yes, VISTA is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Oh yes, and some of the people I was referring to may have been part of some of those first classes! There are VISTAs from a long time ago, and they’re still here and working for some of the organizations they served with.

Wow! Well, what do you like about living in California and what do you miss about North Carolina?

Monica and fellow Chapel Hill VISTA
Sarah-Abdul Rauf at a 2013 Habitat build.
Oh my gosh, I think about this all the time. What I love about California is that it’s incredibly diverse. People are from everywhere, and there are lots of Spanish-speakers, which for me is a really cool thing. My family is Portuguese and growing up [in Kinston, NC], I didn’t know any other kids whose parents were immigrants. But here that’s very normal and in some ways it’s very comfortable to be here.

I get to travel a good bit, mostly south of Sacramento in between the mountain ranges in what’s called the San Joaquin Valley. That region reminds me more of home, especially eastern North Carolina where I grew up. When I go to San Francisco I feel like I’m in a completely different world, but in the San Joaquin Valley I feel like I can navigate the world a little easier. 

I definitely miss the simplicity of life in North Carolina. I miss the warmth of people and how people congregate in like Church traditions. Here there are so many different traditions and a mix of people, which is great, but you miss the sense of unity in some way. North Carolina is very much on the table to move back to, but I love both places as they each have unique opportunities and experiences to offer.

What advice do you have for current VISTAs contemplating their next steps?

Yeah - VISTA is tough because it’s only 1 year, and that deadline can be very daunting. But try to see that deadline as a launching pad or trampoline - try to make the most of that year and think of it as a springboard more than impending doom.

I definitely had a lot of anxiety when I moved out here not knowing anyone. So I just started going to panel discussions and volunteering for non-profits and learning to network which helped me when I interviewed for an internship. So just put yourself out there as much as possible and use this year as an opportunity to push yourself out. 

What’s next for you?

I am looking to doing graduate school in a year or two and getting a master's in city and regional planning. I have a few schools that I am looking at out here but UNC is also a top choice--- and I could even work in Northside again!

Especially having a different perspective now, it would be interesting to go back to school. This job certainly helped but my VISTA experience most certainly helped with that. Studies are enhanced by real life experiences and nothing beats that experience, by doing the work you are able to see where the gaps are and where you want to focus your energy on. I give VISTA credit for helping me realize what I enjoy and what I am passionate about that I can focus on and make the most of any educational opportunities in the future.

This spotlight is part of the latest issue of the VISTA Alumni Network Newsletter

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hump Month Blog #4: Note to self: a beloved community doesn’t have to be perfect

This is our fourth and final post in our Hump Month blog series! All month, our 2014-15 VISTAs shared their thoughts at the half-way point of their 12-month service commitment.

Please note: Any opinions expressed on the VISTA VIEW blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions, or policies of North Carolina Campus Compact, the AmeriCorps VISTA program or the Corporation for National and Community Service.

By Hannah Paek
AmeriCorps VISTA at East Carolina University 

Hannah with the volunteers on
Make a Difference Day
Ever since I got the email from Perdita asking for a Hump Month blog post, I had been racking my brains on what to write about. At first, I was worried that I would have nothing to write about. But now I realize that that might have been an “easier” problem – I could have made something up, for all anyone would know. The actual problem, though, is that there are too many blog-worthy topics. Do I write about this crazy period of transition that both endlessly frustrates me but also humbles me? Should I write about my wonderful co-workers and supervisor who have helped me (and are still helping me) get through these transitions, and discover and unpack my self-identity? Do I focus on my work in my office at East Carolina University, or should I share more about the sense of community that I feel in “West” Greenville? 

I decided to try to incorporate all of the above into one blog post – so bear with me, it might get messy.

Exactly one week before MLK Day of Service, everything that could go wrong, went wrong – some were my mistakes, others were things that were out of my control. Whoever’s fault it was, I was the one that had to rectify all of those mistakes. I thought that because Make a Difference Day went pretty smoothly (some bumps here and there), MLK Day would go just as smoothly, if not more. Nope. Having everything blow up in my face a week before D-day really freaked me out. All the way up until the day of service, I was nervous. This was going to be bigger than Make a Difference Day; this was a day celebrating Dr. King; this was an entire day that I organized. If it was a bad day, I would be R U I N E D.

Not really.

ECU Students Volunteering
on MLK Day
The day went as smoothly as any day of service could go. We had a solid kick-off with breakfast, speeches, and a brief pre-service reflection activity. Students went off to their service sites, then participated in a post-service reflection activity. This activity involved them drawing out their own vision for a “Beloved Community” and coming up with 3-5 ways that they wanted to live out this vision. Students came back for a closing ceremony where they had an opportunity to share their illustrations and their commitments.

Numbers-wise, it was a successful day – we nearly doubled Make a Difference Day’s numbers and last year’s MLK Day. But what made this day particularly memorable for me was the blow-up from the week before and the post-service reflection activity.

This day of service wasn’t about me. It was about the students, it was about community. The theme for this day of service was “Beloved Community.” I wanted the day to be about envisioning this and living this out. Yet there I was, a week before the day of service, crying with frustration because of everything that went wrong and thinking up all the ways that this day of service could go even more wrong.

I almost let the logistics and the administrative details make me forget about the meaning of this day. I almost let my desire for a perfect day tear me away from why I’m in this field to begin with.

At the closing ceremony, a few students from each project site shared about their experience. Hearing them make their own connections from their project to Dr. King’s vision for the “Beloved Community,” and listening to them talk about what “Beloved Community” means and looks like – this! This is why I love what I do and this is what inspires me.

2015 MLK Day of
Service at ECU
You know how in interviews, the employer asks the potential employee “What’s one of your weaknesses?” and one of the clich├ęd responses is “I’m a perfectionist.”? (*rolls eyes*) Well, that’s me. (*rolls eyes again*) I don’t think I truly realized why that’s a weakness until I sat down with my supervisor, post-blow-up, to unpack this.

As a young professional, I think it’s easy to let perfectionism get the best of you – especially if you’ve been a perfectionist for the past 20+ years. You want things to go well, you want to get recognized, you don’t want to be known as THAT woman/man that messed up, etc. But what I’ve been realizing is that sometimes those mistakes and those “failures” (for lack of a better word) are very much necessary to sober you up and keep you focused. In this field of work, especially, where education, children, social justice, and community involvement intermingle; it’s important for you not to get caught up in the numbers or the attention.

I am here to serve. I am not here to teach, to help, or to advise – because that would imply that I’m better in some way. I’m not. I’m here to grow and learn alongside everyone else through what I do – and that’s service. Individuals and communities always make mistakes. But it’s how you respond to those mistakes that determines what kind of individual and community you build. So embrace those imperfections instead of being critical of yourself and others because of those flaws. Embrace them to raise yourself and others up into a stronger community.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Campus Compact VISTAs lead 1300 volunteers on MLK Day of Service

On Monday, January 19th, we celebrated the life and legacy of one of the most prominent role models of this country-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In addition to being the leader in the fight against racial inequality, Dr. King is also a preeminent figure in the fight for social and economic equality. On MLK Day, communities across the nation came together in a day of service to continue Dr. King's dream of a just society.

Our AmeriCorps VISTAs have each dedicated a year of service to fight poverty all across North Carolina. For the past few months, many of our members have been planning MLK Day of Service projects to mobilize students and community members for not only a day of service, but to use this day as a catalyst for a long term increase in community-engagement. This year, our VISTAs provided service opportunities for over 1300 volunteers who served for a combined 4600 hours.  

UNCA Volunteers
encourage reading
At UNC Asheville, VISTA Jess-Mara Jordan serving with the Key Center, mobilized over 140 volunteers who worked at nine different service project sites From organizing donations at Habitat ReStore, making arts and crafts for children, to beautifying the streets in Downtown Asheville, the volunteers collectively served for approximately 900 hours. Jess-Mara also spoke of how it warmed her heart to see “everything and everyone, including our new Chancellor, come together for my second MLK Day of Service at UNC-Asheville. Last year was record-breaking and it felt great to see so many people invested in service but to see that the culture has not only remained, but is still growing has made every late night and every little detail worth it.” Read the UNCA News Feature.

Volunteers at HPU
packaging meals 
VISTAs Kemi Ademuyo, Anna Mahathey, and Shannon Barr of  High Point University‘s Campus Support Program’s Office coordinated an entire weekend of events. On Monday, January 19th, 679 volunteers decided to make it a day ON and volunteered at 20 different community sites in High Point, collectively serving over 2000 hours in a single day. Volunteers participated in a street clean up, packing essential items for the homeless, preparing and cleaning a community garden at the Macedonia Family Resource Center, painting and sprucing up various churches and spending time with senior residents at the Piedmont Christian Home. They also packed over 20,000 meals with Stop HungerNow and hosted a field day at the Hartley YMCA for the children. Our Executive Director Leslie Garvin stopped by to help out as well. The volunteers and their projects were also featured on the local news here.

VISTA Hannah Paek at East Carolina University's Volunteer and Service-Learning Center coordinated a Day of Service with the vision of celebrating Dr. King’s legacy of creating a “Beloved Community.” Over 240 volunteers led by student leaders participated in an opening ceremony which included a screening of the I Have a Dream speech, serving at 10 project sites and a closing ceremony which allowed the volunteers to share their visions and hopes of a “Beloved Community.” The volunteers were featured in this news segment. 

6th Annual Read-In at
VISTAs Naijla Faizi and Natasha Vos with Wake Forest's Pro Humanitate Institute collaborated with Winston-Salem State University and Hand-On Northwest NC to host the 6th AnnualRead-In. Over 160 volunteers participated to work with 115 elementary school aged children. The children were encourage to read, learn the history of the civil rights movement and each were presented with three free books. Naijla worked with several on-campus and off-campus organizations to make the Read-In a success. She collaborated with the sororities at Wake Forest University who hosted a book-drive for the Read-In that collected enough books for not only this year, but also the next! Our own VISTA Leader Catherine Casteel dropped in to participate in the Read-In. 

VISTA Kali Hackett at UNC Greensboro Office of Leadership and Service-Learning coordinated 9 projects with 70 volunteers throughout the city. In addition to mural painting at Youth Focus, street cleanup, baking goodies for hospice patients, some of the volunteers also participated in the Day of Service event hosted by the Greensboro Volunteer Center at the Four Seasons Mall. NC Campus Compact Program Coordinator Chad Fogleman also stopped by to participate in a service project with the volunteers.

App State students
volunteer with
Hospitality House
VISTA, Brittany Johnson with the Hospitality House of Boone, led a team of 20 volunteers who cleaned, painted and did minor repairs at the Welcome Home Thriftique as part of the MLK Challenge. The volunteers also got a chance to visit the Hospitality House and learn about its services. Brittany shared that “My favorite thing about this day of service is that students choose to have a day on rather than take a day off for the sake of helping others. The students who volunteered at the Thriftique were so excited to dive into the work needed. Their teamwork and passion made a huge difference for our project. I was thrilled to be able to share our cause and purpose with them. These student volunteers accepted and completed the challenge, proving that anything is possible and how working together can create change.”

Our VISTAs continue Dr. King's legacy day in and day out, as they tirelessly work to build the capacities of their community organizations and universities for the growth of a more engaged and better-served society. They believe, as Dr. King did, that “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hump Month Blog #3: A VISTA Thanksgiving

Our Hump Month blog series continues! Our 2014-15 VISTAs share their thoughts now that they are half-way through their 12-month service commitment.

Please note: Any opinions expressed on the VISTA VIEW blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions, or policies of North Carolina Campus Compact, the AmeriCorps VISTA program or the Corporation for National and Community Service.

By Meghan Engstran
AmeriCorps VISTA at Meredith College
My name is Meghan Engstran, and I am a North Carolina VISTA member working in the Office of the Chaplain at Meredith College.  When I introduce myself, I like to say I am a relocated Northerner. I was born and raised in Minnesota. After graduating from the University of Minnesota Duluth, I knew I wanted to complete a year of service with AmeriCorps; my only condition was where ever I ended up, it had to be warmer than home.  That is how I landed in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Meghan during a NC
Campus Compact Site Visit

As the VISTA, my main responsibilities are program and volunteer coordinating for Meredith's role in the Children’s Collaborative of Wake County which includes Meredith's  Campus Kitchen. The Collaborative is a community-based collaboration of agencies, whose primary goal is to break the cycle of generational poverty by creating systemic change, through providing birth-to-18 years aged children greater access to educational support and food.

As I started my VISTA year, I had limited understanding of what being part of a collaborative organization meant and even less understanding of its potential. However, now that I am halfway through my term of service, I understand the positive impact collaborations can have on a community.  So often, higher education institutions set themselves apart from the community they are located in but not Meredith College. It is understood that Meredith is an essential part of the community and the community is an essential part of Meredith College. One cannot thrive without the other.

Thanksgiving Dinner 
Being a VISTA comes with challenges, but it also comes with rewards. One of my most meaningful experience happened on one of my more stressful days. We planned a Thanksgiving Dinner for Campus Kitchens, to which we invited the families of the students we normally serve to join us. The day of the dinner, I was going non-stop, dealing with each situation as it came up. Finally though, the food was cooked and we were ready to serve. By this time I was not in a festive mood, however I pasted a smile on and told myself it will all be over soon. When it came time to clean up I was exhausted and thinking to myself never again. That is when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Standing behind me was a mom. What she said next is the reason why I am so committed to serving my community. She said "I have to work on Thanksgiving and I wasn't going to have dinner with my kids. Thank you for having the whole family eat dinner together tonight."

I could not be more thankful for the experience and lessons I have learned in the past six months, and I cannot wait to see what I will have the privilege to experience in the last remaining months of my year of service.