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.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Hump Month Blog #2: Foodie?

January is Hump Month for our 2014-15 VISTAs - they are half-way through their 12-month service commitment! Every Wednesday this month, NC Campus Compact will be publishing a reflective piece written by a VISTA. In these posts, our members look back on their first 6 months and ahead to the rest of the year.

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 Natasha Vos
AmeriCorps VISTA for the Campus Kitchen program at Wake Forest University

Natasha at Turkey
My friends call me a foodie. What does that even mean? A year ago I suppose my interpretation of foodie aligned well with the commonly accepted definition: “A foodie is a gourmet, or a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and alcoholic beverages. A foodie seeks new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating out of convenience or hunger.” Living close to downtown Raleigh meant that I was always close to the newest and most exciting restaurants that served up unique dishes prepared with the freshest (and often local) ingredients. I considered myself a foodie because I spent much of my time and money exploring food culture, yet there was a part of me that felt a bit uncomfortable at times. While I was a student (and for some months after graduating) I worked as a bartender at a major chain hotel and I saw every day how much food went to waste. As a result, I began imagining how much food went to waste everywhere I went to eat.

Flash forward to today, halfway through my VISTA term with the Campus Kitchen program at Wake Forest University. I have moved to a new city, started working with a very different university community, and begun to unpack what food insecurity means and how it affects the larger community. The Campus Kitchen program at Wake Forest works to fight food insecurity in some of the most affected parts of Winston-Salem by partnering with several organizations to simultaneously reduce food waste. Food that has been prepared, but not served, is re-purposed into nutritional and delicious meals that are shared with our community partners. Additionally, a unique partnership with Fresh Market allows Campus Kitchen to bring fresh produce into areas of Winston-Salem designated as food deserts. Recently we have begun a partnership with the Cobblestone Farmer’s Market to glean leftover produce from farmers at the end of the weekly markets. All of this healthy and wonderful food, grown and harvested with care, goes to members of the community that struggle the most with obtaining fresh foods.

Produce from
Campus Garden
So what does all of this mean for me? Halfway through my VISTA year I am on a mission to rewrite the definition of foodie. I’m attempting to break the notion that we should only care about the final product in front of us. A true foodie should have a deep appreciation for food; where it comes from, how it was grown, who harvested it (and how they were treated), how it was prepared, and perhaps most importantly, who gets to eat it. Fresh and healthy food should not be a luxury afforded to those living in the right part of the city with the most money. If you care where the ingredients in your food come from and how they were prepared, then you should also care about where they end up.  

Food insecurity is a large concept and problem that weave together larger structural inequalities as well as local issues. There is work being done at the grassroots level as well as larger political efforts, but maybe if we, as a whole, stop thinking about food as a privilege and more as a basic right, we can shift our collective thinking. And what being a foodie means.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hump Month Blog #1: Little did I know this house would become my home

January is Hump Month for our 2014-15 VISTAs - they are half-way through the 12-month service commitment! Every Wednesday this month, NC Campus Compact will be publishing a reflective piece written by a VISTA. In these posts, our members look back on their first 6 month and ahead to the rest of the year.

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 George Barrett
AmeriCorps VISTA at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, Chapel Hill

My name is George Barrett and I am a North Carolina Campus Compact VISTA at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History in Chapel Hill, NC. I am originally from Charlotte, and I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I graduated in May 2014 with a degree in Anthropology and Minor in Music. I was drawn to the Campus Compact through my volunteer work at the Jackson Center my last semester of undergrad. I have grown to not only love this beloved community but truly feel a part of it. I hope to leap and grow even further in my remaining months at the Jackson Center. 

The following is a staff reflection piece George wrote for the Jackson Center website

George showing off one of his projects during a
NC Campus Compact site visit
From the moment I walked into the Jackson Center on a January afternoon, I knew this place was important and would somehow be a new and important member of my life. As a UNC senior, I was part of Anthropology 93 course, a social justice course that requires students to take part in a 30 hour service learning project. I needed a location and had come up empty up to that point. Then my professor dropped the name “The Jackson Center.” After visiting the website I decided to make a bold move. Without prior notice, I dropped into the charming brick house at 512 W. Rosemary St. Little did I know (or maybe I did) that this house would become my new home.

After volunteering under the direction of [NC Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA] Jacob Lerner for the entire semester, I applied and was lovingly offered the position of Coordinator of Advocacy and Organizing. Without a moment of hesitation I accepted the position, because sometimes there is an intangible and almost spiritual knowledge that tells the rational mind “this is right!” I joined the team in July and got rolling.

People often ask “What does the Jackson Center do?”, and are quickly reciprocated with a five minute soliloquy of the plethora of programs that intertwine to serve the Northside neighborhood. But if I have learned anything in my few months, it is that COMMUNITY is a dynamic and complex web that cannot not be packaged in a neat and calculated elevator speech. In this time I have been awarded the opportunity to coordinate the production of our Northside News, mobilize volunteers, facilitate advocacy groups around Housing Choice Vouchers and anti-bias policing, participate in neighborhood home repairs, outreach to 45 new student residents, and get to meet some of the most empowered individuals. Every day is different. Every day is active. Every day is community.

George at the Jackson Center
The Jackson Center is a unique space that has challenged me in the best way possible. It forces me to be better and forces me to listen! As our executive director Della Pollock always says, “Listen, listen again, and then listen again”. The members of this community have given me an education that is unparalleled in my four years at UNC. My involvement in the Northside community, from volunteer to staff member, have felt like a homecoming weekend that never gets to Monday.  I have been able to laugh, cry, and feel some type of way in this brief period of time… and I could not be happier.

 The Marian Cheek Jackson Center does not serve a community; it is a community. When things are still (which is very rare) and my mind takes a moment to stop fixating on task oriented concerns, I can exist in a clarity of pure fulfillment. Because we are making history!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

VISTAs raise awareness about hunger, homelessness

Hunger and homelessness are two issues in the U.S. that don't often get enough attention. The National Hunger and HomelessnessAwareness Week brings these issues to the forefront of public discourse. Traditionally the week before Thanksgiving, this year’s awareness week took place November 15th -23rd.

At NC Campus Compact many of the VISTAs support projects seeking to improve food security, access to fresh foods, and nutrition education. Even those not directly involved in working with food insecurity can see its devastating effects in the neighborhoods they serve. Over 1 in 10 North Carolinians experience food insecurity and these rates are even higher for children. 1 in 4 children live in poverty in North Carolina. VISTAs at NC Campus Compact help break the cycle of poverty and the Hunger and Homelessness Week gave them an opportunity to organize events with member campuses and local communities.

Student volunteers at WFU prepared
Thanksgiving meals for Turkeypalooza.
Natasha in her turkey hat.
At Wake Forest University, VISTA member Natasha Vos organized the annual Turkeypalooza event. During the week students at Wake Forest prepared, cooked, and delivered 420 Thanksgiving meals to residents in need. This year, the meal included cooking 44 herb rubbed turkeys, autumn vegetable stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, green beans, and pumpkin cookies. As “head turkey,” Natasha guided student volunteers through the entire process. This Winston-Salem Journal piece includes photos and videos of the effort.
UNCG VISTA Kali Hackett led a week of HHAW events.
VISTA member Kali Hackett led students at UNC Greensboro in a variety of events to promote Hunger and Homelessness awareness. Kali moderated a panel of homelessness advocates in a discussion about perceptions and stereotypes of homelessness. Read more about the panel in this piece from UNCG's the Carolinian.

In addition to the panel, UNC Greensboro screened a documentary, held a food drive, and students volunteered at the Interactive Resource Center, a day center for the homeless. Over the course of the week, the HHAW programming engaged 86 individuals, including 16 volunteers who performed 48 hours of service in the Greensboro community.

In Cullowhee VISTA member Willie Jones led events at Western Carolina University, culminating in Food Talk where students had the opportunity to challenge the idea of what food is and gain new perspectives. One way the Food Talk challenged perspectives was by giving students had the opportunity eat crickets. One participant said "I've never eaten a cricket before, but it was good. I just don't want to see the actual body." 

Willie also led a drive to collect food and toiletries, a Hunger Games Dodgeball event to teach students about social injustice, and a Hunger Banquet. Over 90 students participated in the events at WCU.

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness was a success and the VISTAs at NC Campus Compact continue to grow and build communities. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

VISTA Host Site Letter of Intent Due 12/31/14

In early January, NC Campus Compact will release the 2015-2016 VISTA Host Site Application. NC Campus Compact member campus units may apply with a community partner OR community-based organizations may apply with a member campus partner.

Organizations planning to submit a new OR continuing host site application should send NC Campus Compact an intent to apply letter on letterhead and as an email attachment to Chad Fogleman, VISTA Program Coordinator. Letter writers are encouraged to cc your site's "authorizing official" on the email. (The authorizing official is the person who will eventually sign the Memorandum of Agreement and authorize transmission of funds).

The letter should:
  1. State your organization's intention to apply (or re-apply) as a VISTA host site
  2. Include how many VISTA positions your site would seek
  3. Identify the project focus area(s) (healthy futures/ education/ economic opportunity)
  4. Describe (briefly) what you'd expect the 2015-16 VISTA placement(s) to accomplish, including expected campus/community partners 
For more info, visit the Host Site Application Info page.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ready to learn and lead: New VISTA Leaders reflect on their time at PSO

Catherine and I are extremely excited to join the North Carolina Campus Compact VISTA family. We feel as if there has not been a moment to breathe! Moving, trying to get settled and getting oriented to our new positions all seemed to happen in a flash and before we knew it, we were packing to head to Dallas for VISTA Leader Pre-Service orientation.

Catherine and I both directly came into this position from our VISTA year without taking a break, so we are still pumped up with energy and all that we have experienced in the past year. My service year was in Bridgeport, CT and Catherine's in Cincinnati, OH and you can read our full bios on the VISTA Annex.

So Catherine and I were not able to be roommates and we were assigned to different facilitators which meant we had the opportunity to experience different styles of presentation and different groups of people which was perfect. It was really interesting to meet so many different VISTA Leaders from all walks of life: from Florida to Alaska, from six months into their service to those who have barely started and Leaders in their 20's to leaders in their 70's. I always encourage everyone to derive from the experience of those around us. People are your best resource and just listening to their stories can provide a whole different aspect to our viewpoint.

Over the three days, our facilitators threw a ton of information at us. The days whizzed by talking about leadership, connecting with members spread out over a large regional distance and serving as a resource. Something I paid attention to this time around is not only the content, but the style of facilitation as well. All of us at some point at a conference often feel as if the information is not pertinent to us. I learned that a lot can be gained from just watching these presenters. What did they do? How did they create a safe space? How did they engage those who were less vocal than others? These are all important cues I picked up that I hope we will be able to deliver to all the VISTA members over the year.

One thing I learned that I will forever utilize is the ability to look at the positives. Yes, it is important to improve upon ourselves and our projects but we often forget to look at what is going right and what can go right. We did several activities that asked us to focus just on the positives and I realized how much I have to look forward to this year.

Our theme for the training was to connect with the heart and lead with the mind. We are all leaders, even if we don't realize it. At home for younger siblings or other family members, among our friends or at school and work- we all fulfill some kind of leadership role. A good leader is able to inspire a shared vision and model the way for those they lead. We all can make a difference and it is important to focus on not only the goals, but also the people that are part of the process.

Catherine and I can go on for hours about all the specific training on diversity, distance leadership, leadership models, icebreakers and the countless conversations we had. We were also able to connect with several other Campus Compact VISTA leaders and it was interesting to see how similar we were in structure and function. We will put together a resource folder with all that we learned for future reference. For now, we are glad that we were able to attend this PSO and we know that this is only the beginning of a knowledge packed year. I will leave you with these strong words from Catherine, who has perfectly summarized our experience:

Last week at the VISTA Leader PSO I spent 4 days being inundated with information about my role as leader. Learning and sharing experiences with my fellow VISTA leaders was a powerful lesson in the creation of community. Almost instantly, a group of 60 strangers was united by our passion for service and for ensuring our VISTAs have the best possible experience.

I encourage all of you to find and create communities during your service term, both personally and professionally. If you’re looking to connect with other VISTAs in your area, use the VISTA map. Try using your college’s alumni network to make local connections with your alma mater. Use websites like and to find events that interest you.  Find communities that enrich your personal life. For me, that’s finding a local book club, a knitting circle and a masters swim team.  Putting down roots in your community, whether you’re a native North Carolinian or from out of state, will make your VISTA year more fulfilling.  

Your VISTA term will fly by- you’re almost half way done!  The holiday break provides an excellent opportunity for reflection. Reflect on the connections you’ve already made, the ones you want to deepen, and the ones you have yet to make!-Catherine

Getting Things Done for America