Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A VISTA in Haiti

The Friday after Thanksgiving, bloated from family dinners and pale from sitting in my windowless office all semester, I embarked on a week-long journey with over 600 new friends from around the world to Haiti. Our goal? To build 100 homes for Haitians displaced by the earthquake in the community of Santo in Leogane. We had been harassing our friends, relatives, and neighbors for months to raise funds for the build, and this would be our chance to finally see our money in action and get our own hands dirty.

International service is one area of community engagement that raises mixed feelings for me and many others. I have plenty of relatives who like to remind me of the adage "charity begins at home," and I wonder whether the thousands of dollars spent to transport volunteers to another country might be put to better use funding work for locals. Aid programs in developing nations are ripe for exploitation, and participants risk becoming disaster tourists with make-work projects. Yet in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I found myself desperately wanting to do something more than making a donation. When I'm upset and frustrated, either with personal or global issues, my first instinct is to go to work and find something to do to make things better. I wanted to wait, however, until I could find a volunteer opportunity with an organization that I trusted, that could make the best use of my skills and money, and that had already established relationships with communities in Haiti before the earthquake. I believe I found that through Habitat for Humanity.

In my first term as a VISTA, I had formed a partnership with our local Habitat affiliate while looking for service opportunities for students, and I had been impressed with their work in Durham. Habitat works worldwide to address the issue of poverty housing. In the United States, Habitat helps low-income families build, purchase, and repair their own homes. Homeowners, who apply and are selected by an advisory board of community members, provide sweat equity hours, helping to build their own homes and others in the community, and pay zero-interest mortgages. Funds are used to build more Habitat homes. The organization also provides financial education to new homeowners. Internationally, Habitat builds homes as well as providing disaster response and management and community training in construction techniques and business development. Volunteers have the opportunity to serve abroad with Habitat through the Global Village program, participating on international builds for 1-3 weeks and learning how to become advocates for affordable housing. Each year, two of Habitat for Humanity's most prominent supporters, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, serve for a week to bring attention to this critical need. Our trip marked the 29th annual Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project and was the second year the project took place in Haiti.

Teams from Houses 703-706, homeowners Hones Sainsulme and Katorsky Dupre, and President and Mrs. Carter.
 When we landed in Port-au-Prince, I was shocked by the state of the city. Even more shocking still were comments from returning volunteers, who assured me that conditions looked much improved. Homes, businesses, schools, and churches had been reassembled from crumbling walls, aid agency tarps, and pieces of tin. Waste is everywhere, as no facilities or services exist to deal with sanitation issues in most areas. During the day, most people sat outside along the streets to stay cool, as tents quickly reach over 100 degrees F after the sun rises. Leogane, the epicenter of the earthquake and the location of our camp and build site, lies approximately 25 miles from Port-au-Prince. My morning commute from Raleigh to Durham at a similar distance takes me about 30 minutes. In Haiti, this drive took three hours due to poor road conditions.

Housing by the bay, between Port-au-Prince and Leogane
A United Nations canal project, Port-au-Prince

The community of Santo, where we were building, was established by families who fled the city of Leogane and set up camp in an abandoned sugar cane field. Many were afraid to return to the city and what was left of their homes after the earthquake, fearing aftershocks and future tremors would cause what was left of buildings to crumble. Over the course of the week, volunteers worked side-by-side with these families, building 100 homes to add to the 155 constructed the previous year. Future homeowners were chosen by a community council, who selected those who were most in need. Like in the United States, these families will receive training in financial literacy and home maintenance, and they must provide sweat equity hours, however their homes were fully funded by donations and they will receive them at no cost. Habitat has worked with the Haitian government to secure a 100-year lease on the land where the community is being built, as property rights are often contentious due to a lack of proper documentation and an overabundance of corruption. The master plan for the community also includes a school, market, and activity field, which Habitat is seeking funding to complete.

Volunteers arrive at the build site, Santo
Although I went on the trip for a chance to give back, I found myself continually blessed with new knowledge gained, new Haitian friends, and a renewed drive for my work back home. Souvenirs also included a wicked sunburn, busted boots, and more bandanas and mosquito bites than I can count. This journey was perhaps once in a lifetime for me, as I'll never get rich on a non-profit salary and there's not a lot of fun in fundraising, but the renewed drive to fight poverty in all its forms is a gift that will sustain me through the rest of my term. For more information about Habitat's work in Haiti, and photos and video from the project, visit http://www.habitat.org/cwp/2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012


In this post Rachel, NC Campus Compact VISTA Leader , reflects on her experiences attending two consecutive Pre-Service Orientation events.

Every AmeriCorps volunteer goes through a week of off-site training called Pre-Service Orientation, or PSO. The Corporation sends you to a hotel where you spend twenty-four hours a day surrounded by fellow VISTAs.

In my case, I attended regular PSO and then VISTA Leader training. I spent two weeks in Lombard, IL (a suburb of Chicago) surrounded by some of the most dedicated, hardworking, selfless people I've ever met.

During PSO we talked about what it means to be a VISTA. What it looks and feels like to be on call as a volunteer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We looked at what we’re giving up, what we’re gaining, and why we’re all taking a year (or more) of our lives to engage in service.

We discussed our projects, exchanged ideas, and connected with our fellow volunteers. Those of us doing a second, third, or even fourth year of service traded war stories, and passed along techniques for living on an extremely restricted budget.

We examined our privilege, our prejudices, and our biases. We had difficult conversations about race, gender, and poverty. We were honest. We learned and grew, and then we all went our separate ways.

I came back the next week for VISTA Leader Orientation. The group was smaller this time, 40 people instead of the almost 200 of the previous training. Most of the leaders I met had already started their service, many had already encountered some of the challenges we would later discuss in small groups. It was a quieter session, less like a pep rally and more like being part of a highly motivated think tank.

Sessions were dedicated to problem solving, mediating conflict, and addressing specific scenarios common to the VISTA Leader experience. In one group we spent several hours constructing a year-long communications plan to be used by leaders who worked with VISTAs at a distance (much like the Campus Compact model).

Once again, on a chilly Friday afternoon, we all went our separate ways. Then, a few days later I was reading the enthusiastic tweets and facebook status messages from my new friends and one of them posted simply, “#cultureshock.”

That’s when I realized how hard it can be coming back to the “real world” after a week or two of AmeriCorps immersion. The world we come back to is full of the very real, seemingly insurmountable problems we discussed at training. It’s uncomfortable. But that feeling of discomfort is important. It is that feeling which pushes us to make change. It motivates us to serve.

I came away from training with new friends, new resources, and a renewed sense of purpose. Training reminded me why I’m doing this and that I’m not alone. I’m ready to work. I’m ready to serve.

Three new VISTAs join NC Campus Compact team!

On the fateful date of 12/12/12, three new NC Campus Compact VISTAs and their site supervisors attended an orientation meeting hosted by NC Campus Compact at Wake Technical Community College. We discussed the history and mission of NC Campus Compact and AmeriCorps VISTA, principles of VISTA service, and the different ways these projects will structure their VISTA's work with key community partners. VISTAs and their supervisors also had a chance to discuss their communication preferences and work styles, and took some time to dig into their VAD, picturing long-term success and clarifying capacity-building activities.
The 12/12/12 group - won't happen again for another 100 years!

VISTA Member Jennifer Evans (Wake Tech), Erin O'Donnell (Feast Down East/UNCW), and Bevelyn Ukah (Guilford College) had met at the November PSO in Atlanta, but they were happy to come together again and to have time to talk with VISTA Leader Rachel Rogers. Check the blog in the new year for an update on these VISTAs' exploits. Thanks to all who attended, and good luck as you "fight poverty with the power of higher education" this year!
VISTA Jenn Evans with Leader Rachel Rogers
Evans and supervisor Melody Wiggins organized Wake Tech's
toy drive to benefit Helping Hand Mission.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Warren Wilson VISTA welcomes Asheville homeless home

Jacqui Trillo came to Asheville for "the sunshine," but she stayed at Warren Wilson College for the service. Now a NC Campus Compact VISTA at her alma mater, the Washington state native helps others make a home in Asheville through her work with Homeward Bound. In her role as a VISTA with Warren Wilson's Service Program, Jacqui is deepening a partnership with Homeward Bound by supporting the agency's new Welcome Home Project.

The project supports homeless people's transition to permanent housing by providing donations of furniture and household goods - everything from beds to dish towels - along with move-in assistance from student volunteers. "The reason this project is important," Jacqui says, "is it helps people get into the mentality of living in a home, rather than viewing it as a place to set up a temporary camp. The Welcome Home Project can start to give clients that sense of permanence."

Jacqui is creating and implementing systems and procedures to organize donation collections, volunteer coordination, and neighborhood outreach; and she acts as a liaison between college student leaders and the agency's case managers. She's created donation lists for the organization to post on its website and a system of online Google documents that students and agency staff use to manage donation inventory and volunteer scheduling. She is also found unused space on campus to hold excess donations for the agency, and she's organized student teams to conduct neighborhood outreach and collections each week. She's even connected volunteers from the local Junior League and nearby Mars Hill College to Homeward Bound activities.

One of the project's biggest challenges so far has been the lack of public housing units available for move-in's, as several complexes underwent renovations in September and October. But now that repairs are complete, move-in's have picked up. The project has accomplished three move-in's so far, including two last week. "It is so nice to meet the people who are moving in," she says. Jacqui expects the pace will pick up in the coming months. "We've been trying to do these all semester, and now the week before finals we are just getting going!" she laughs.

During her student days at Warren Wilson, Jacqui spent a lot of time doing community service. The college's service ethic and the "amazing, active non-profit community of Asheville" drew her to school as a transfer before her junior year. When the Dean of Service, Cathy Kramer, asked Jacqui last spring if she'd be interested in the VISTA position, the former Girl Scout didn't hesitate: "I'd been doing service for so long, it made total sense." Asked what it's like to serve at her alma mater, she replies, "It's funny. I thought it would be more of a challenge than it turned out to be. My prior connections with staff and faculty have been really helpful to build trust quickly. And even though I'm still a recent grad, the students honor that distinction. I don't feel like a student at all - it's really different working full-time."

Jacqui still finds time for some fun, usually involving Netflix or eating. "Mela's Indian buffet on Saturday is one of my favorite things in Asheville," she says. "So good, pretty cheap, and lots of vegetarian food!" Over the holidays, Jacqui will be heading home herself, traveling back to her hometown of Burien, Washington to spend time with her family. She's looking forward to her favorite holiday desert, her mom's "Mexican Wedding Cake" cookies.

In the spring, Jacqui is looking forward to more move-in's, to learning more about public policy related to Asheville's 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, and to facilitating new campus and community connections with Homeward Bound. "My goal," Jacqui says, "is to leave behind a system where no VISTA is needed to connect Warren Wilson students with Homeward Bound, and student volunteers and case managers sustain the relationship."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Our VISTA Quarterly Reports Are In! See the Summary

Our NC Campus Compact VISTA members submit reports on their service activities every quarter. The August - October quarter recently concluded, so we've compiled a report summary that shares service data totals and highlights. And, we've created this snazzy new "infographic" to illustrate the scope of our VISTAs' efforts!

Below are just a few examples of VISTA projects that contribute to these grand totals. All our VISTA members focus on one of the CNCS priorities: economic opportunity, education, and food security.
  • Durham Tech Community College - Campus Harvest Plot, 24 vols, 54 hrs, 8/12-10/31, Student volunteers serving at Briggs Ave. Community Garden.
  • Queens University - Sedgefield Elementary library re-organization, 25 volunteers, 120 hours, Every Tuesday afternoon, Students are re-organizing entire library to provide more Accelerated Reader tests to students.
  • UNC Chapel Hill - SMART Mentoring Program, 24 vols, 223 hrs, 9/24-10/31, student mentors met with mentees during variety of activities and projects for approx. 2.5 hours a week.
  • Lenoir-Rhyne - Centro Latino Soccer Fundraiser, Cash, $530.95, Between 10/8-10/13.
  • UNC Greensboro - IRC/Transition Greensboro Community Garden Cistern, Grant/Program, $1,659, Oct. 3 (date approved for funding), NC Community Conservation Assistance Program.
  • Wake Forest University - Campus Kitchen, Food and produce donations, $9250 (in-kind value), Aramark and the Fresh Market.
  • Mary Baldwin College - Project GROWS, donated food to the food bank and Boys and Girls club, $200 value, Fridays between 8/28-10/26.

As you can see, our VISTAs have been busy mobilizing resources to strengthen campus-community partnerships! You can view the full VISTA Quarterly Report Summary at our VISTA Annex site. In the coming weeks, we'll highlight more of these projects and the VISTA members who make them happen.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

VISTA Profile: Derald "Banjo" Dryman

Alma Mater: Western Carolina University
Hometown: Asheville, NC
Service Site: Western Carolina University
Previous Service Site: UNC-Pembroke

Okay, we have to know: Where did you get the nickname "Banjo?"
Well, I don't actually play the banjo. The nickname came from my uncle. I was named for him, and everyone called him Banjo. He got it from a race car driver. It just wouldn't seem like I was taking his full name without taking the nickname too.

Why did you decide to become a VISTA?
I chose to become a VISTA in order to give back to my community while discovering what type of career I would like to have. I thought VISTA was an excellent way to better understand issues surrounding poverty and to see first-hand its affects.

Why did you choose to sign on for another term of service?
As an alumnus of WCU, I have been, and continue to be, very involved with community partners and the campus community as a whole. I wanted to continue to deepen relationships with a few key partners, while at the same time continue to grow partnerships with other departments on campus. I am also highly involved with planning alternative break trips and days of service and I am very excited about seeing those programs grow.

What has your biggest accomplishment been as a VISTA?
 My biggest accomplishment has been working with two different universities and helping to grow their programming and relationships with the community.

What has challenged or surprised you about being a VISTA?
 Limited income has been a huge challenge. I knew coming in that I would be living in a low-income situation, but it's hard to realize until you're actually doing it!

What are you most looking forward to this year?
 Most looking forward to working with new and returning students and seeing programs grow.

What do you have coming up with your community partner, the Sylva Community Table? Right now I'm working on volunteer recruitment and resource development. The economic downturn has brought a lot more people into the community table than usual, so they're straining to meet the needs of their clients.

Share something unique about yourself!
Big NASCAR (Jeff Gordon) and NFL Fan (Go Packers!)...also very involved as an alumnus in my fraternity, Kappa Sigma.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Four VISTAs attend CSNAP Conference

On November 2-3, four NC Campus Compact VISTAs attended the 2012 CSNAP Conference at UNC Wilmington. Sponsored by the Compact, every fall CSNAP (Citizenship, Service, Networking, And Partnerships) brings student leaders from campuses across the state together to learn and share strategies to address community issues. This year's event focused on the theme "Becoming Citizens, Becoming Community," and featured Paul Loeb, author of Soul of A Citizen, as keynote speaker. Nearly 125 students from 18 campuses attended.

Our VISTAs were on hand to lead discussion sessions, share ideas for community engagement, and support the learning of student leaders. Two of our VISTAs led open-space discussions. Lenoir-Rhyne VISTA Ariel Mitchell led a conversation centered around culture and cultural barriers within communities. She connected her work with the Latino community and key community partner, Centro Latino of Hickory, to the greater challenges of working in culturally diverse communities.  UNC Greensboro VISTA Anya Piotrowski facilitated a discussion about community gardening. Anya shared information and expertise she's gained from her project starting a community garden at a local homeless shelter.

Jacqui Trillo, Warren Wilson College VISTA, coached several students who delivered a workshop helping service participants connect their service to deeper community engagement. She also attended a session on building strong partnerships between institutions and their surrounding communities. Jacqui noted how excited students were between sessions, enthusiastically discussing ways to apply what they learned to their own institutions and communities. She believes conversations like these can help build a bridge between students and their communities.

NCSU VISTA Brianna Roach concluded the conference with a powerful recitation of her original poem, "The Elephant in the Room." Students who live-tweeted the event said they left the conference feeling inspired and motivated.

On Friday evening at the conference kick-off, Anya joined other conference participants for a tour of the Wilmington-based film studio, EUE/Screen Gems. The group heard from the head of the Wilmington Film Commission about his work bringing projects to the area, toured the facilities, and spotted Robert Downey, Jr. working on set!

Monday, October 29, 2012

VISTAs lead Food Day events on 3 campuses

On October 24, NC Campus Compact VISTAs helped organize Food Day events on several campuses, including Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, NC, and UNC Wilmington. Their efforts were part of a nationwide campaign to promote healthy, affordable, sustainably-produced local food. In keeping with their focus on food security, these VISTAs coordinated campus and community-wide events to raise awareness about the challenge of food access.

At UNC Wilmington, VISTA Olivia Dorsey helped coordinate and promote a full slate of campus and community events beginning at 8 AM with speeches by Wilmington mayor Bill Saffo and other local officials and ending with evening presentations at a local food co-op, Tidal Creek. A highlight of the day was the "Local Lunch" served at UNCW's dining hall, where students and guests enjoyed local pork chops, collards and other dishes. The diners thus met the Food Day Challenge, eating one meal consisting solely of local foods.

County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield helps proclaim Food Day Wilmington.
Morning workshops by experts highlighted healthy cooking and nutrition, and afternoon panel discussions addressed food insecurity and how local non-profits are working to expend healthy food options for citizens. Both Dorsey and her VISTA supervisor, Dr. Leslie Hossfeld, presented on behalf of Food Day sponsor Feast Down East. Other partners supported the event, including the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC and the Wilmington Housing Authority.

UNCW's Food Day was the culmination of several food-related activities earlier in the week, including an on-campus food drive to support the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC and a screening of the documentary film Food, Inc. at the Lumina Theater.

At Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, VA, VISTA Leah Pallant coordinated three events. Pallant partnered with a campus sustainability organization, Green Team!, to educate students about the amounts of salt, fat, and sugar found in many processed foods. The team provided participants with an "alternative shopping list" that replaced unhealthy items with healthier snacks. Over 150 students in the dining hall took part in a Soda Pour Out Petition, pledging to give up soda for a time. Some of the data collected from the event will be used in the upcoming Hunger Awareness Week.

Mary Baldwin's Food Day concluded with a screening of Food Mythbusters at the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement. Local businesses donated snacks and local food experts, including the Head of Campus Dining Services and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank's community outreach coordinator, led a post-film discussion of local food issues. Pallant reported, "Overall, I was very satisfied with what we pulled together for the day, and I am excited to see what comes together during Hunger Awareness Week."

In Hickory, NC at Lenoir-Rhyne, VISTA Ariel Mitchell helped organized the school's 2nd Annual Hunger Banquet. Seventeen students participated, using their meal plans. When they arrived, each student drew an income bracket at random: high-, middle-, or low-income. Students classified as high-income at the best meal. They had their choice of drinks, a rich spread, and cheesecake for desert. Middle-income participants ate more modestly, and had rice and beans. Students who drew the low-income group ate only rice, drank only water, and sat on the floor.

The manager of the Hickory Soup Kitchen also came to talk to the group about the soup kitchen and what their clients really eat. Students were impressed by his familiarity with clients of the soup kitchen, because he knew many of them by name and told their stories. Students got a chance to ask questions about the Soup Kitchen and the services provided and found out that during the summer, the kitchen serves between thirty and sixty children every day. Mtichell used the opportunity to inform participants of volunteer opportunities with the soup kitchen and other local organizations.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Durham Tech Campus Harvest

Last year, as we began planning an MLK Day of Service on campus, the Durham Tech Student Senate kept turning to me with one question: What are we going to do to help students? Most colleges use their observances of MLK Day to perform service out in the community, but while the students were eager to serve, it was evident that need existed right here on campus. Some of my most dedicated volunteers in my first term of service as a VISTA believed in giving back because they, too, had experienced poverty, homelessness, and hunger, all while working towards improving their lives through education. After much discussion with the planning committee, we settled on a plan of assembling emergency food relief bags and distributing them to students on a first come, first served basis. Students managed to assemble 50 bags with staples such as beans, rice, pasta, oatmeal, and tuna - nothing glamorous, but enough to feed an individual 3 meals a day for a week.

In planning the event, we knew that the bags would go quickly, but we didn't anticipate the size of the response. Our supplies were depleted within 30 minutes, and many more students arrived in the next half-hour to ask if we still had food. After the event, students would occasionally show up to my contact tables asking when the next food distribution would be. It became clear that, although this had been planned as a one-time event, the need on our campus was constant. We began to explore methods of responding in a more permanent, ongoing way to the food insecurity at our school. Through research into programs at other schools and developing relationships with community partners, we have devised a three-pronged approach.

Harvest Tuesday

Volunteers expand the DT Campus Harvest Plot
The Briggs Avenue Community Garden has been an official community partner of Durham Tech since our 50th Anniversary Year of Service. We have worked with them on volunteer workdays and helped them recruit plot owners for the garden.  During the summer 2012, the garden received a grant from Nourishing NC to plant an orchard. As a condition of this grant, they were required to donate a percentage of their produce to hunger relief programs in the area. After bringing our needs on campus to their attention, together we devised a plan to dedicate a new plot in the garden to Durham Tech students, who would grow and harvest produce for their peers in need.

In order to distribute the produce, we turned to Guilford Technical Community College for a model. Guilford Tech has operated a food pantry on its campus since 2008. An on-campus community garden supplies produce for the pantry through Harvest Tuesday. Produce is distributed on a first come, first served basis in the afternoon after a harvest in the morning because they do not have refrigeration to store the produce. Because we already have scheduled garden workdays on Tuesdays and also lack storage, we decided to call our program Harvest Tuesday as well. Since August 21, our program has distributed approximately 125 pounds of produce. We have experienced quite high demand. Although we have been able to serve 61 students to date, many have been turned away as produce supplies are typically exhausted within 20 minutes.

Produce at Harvest Tuesday 

 Veggie Van

Realizing that we could only meet a fraction of the demand for fresh produce on our campus, we sought out the Community Nutrition Partnership (CNP), which was looking to expand their Veggie Van services into Durham. Their program began in Chapel Hill and brings low-cost produce to communities with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. It operates much like a CSA, but at a significantly reduced cost. They also accept EBT cards. Each week at their distribution sites, volunteers provide cooking demonstrations, food samples, recipes, and nutrition information on items in the box. CNP is currently conducting feasibility surveys, and they hope to begin distributing produce boxes on campus by mid-November.

 Durham Tech Campus Harvest Food Pantry

SOTA food collection display at Fall Fest

With the grand opening scheduled for MLK Day in 2013, we have begun the work of collecting non-perishable food items for the Durham Tech Campus Harvest Food Pantry. While we are currently working on developing policies for distribution, we anticipate allowing students to visit the pantry weekly and giving them choice in the items they receive through use of a shopping voucher model. Our first major food drive for the pantry took place this week at our annual Fall Fest. The Student Senate sponsored a club competition, awarding prizes to the clubs that brought in the most items by weight. The drive was an incredible success, collecting approximately 860 pounds of food! Once we sort the items that were collected and assess needs for specific items, we will be placing bins around campus to collect food on an ongoing basis.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NC Campuses Against Hunger: A Call to Action to End Hunger Within Our Lifetime

Photo: Roger Winstead/NC State University
As a VISTA at Durham Technical Community College, I encounter students in crisis almost every day. While students are pursuing training or education to help them attain employment or transfer to a four-year institution, they are often performing a difficult balancing act between work and family commitments. Many live in chronic poverty and experience homelessness and food insecurity. Although we are developing programs to address these needs among our campus community, I often have to turn students seeking help away or refer them to outside agencies because our school struggles with inadequate resources. These complex problems require multifaceted solutions. Such was the topic of conversation on October 10-11, when representatives from campuses across North Carolina gathered to dialogue about what can be done to end hunger within our lifetime, examining systemic issues that must be addressed and discussing initiatives on campuses that fight food insecurity.
Systemic Issues That Must Be Addressed

Phil Gordon of Single Stop USA put it best when he said, "our students shouldn't have to choose between groceries and graduation." On Day 1 of the conference, representatives from NC colleges joined together to learn about the Single Stop model. This program, which connects clients with screening for social services, legal assistance, and financial counselors, has been implemented at community centers, including some community colleges, in seven states across the country. Although Single Stop does not currently serve North Carolina, attendees shared their experiences with the Benefit Bank of NC, which operates with a similar model on some NC community college campuses. Many are finding that our students, who juggle full schedules and often have difficulty navigating the complex bureaucracies of social welfare agencies and programs, can achieve greater success when resources are available at easy-to-access locations. In addition to services such as Benefit Bank, NC State University and Durham Technical Community College reported developing food pantries for students, faculty, and staff who are experiencing food insecurity and have difficulty accessing SNAP benefits or other community food resources due to eligibility requirements.
Attendees packaged 10,000 meals. Photo: Roger Winstead/NC State University

For the evening keynote on Day 1, David Lambert, an expert on global food security, reminded us that hunger is not only an issue affecting the success of our students and the health of our community – it is also a threat to the well-being of our nation. A study by the Sodexo Foundation found that hunger costs the United States an estimated $167 billion each year due to hunger-related illness, decreased worker productivity, and lower educational attainment. There is a direct correlation between food security and national security, as evidenced by the global food riots of 2008, yet our political will struggles to catch up with our core values. Quoting from the Book of Isaiah, Lambert called us to serve by saying “if you offer food to the hungry, your light will rise in the darkness.” The evening drew to a close with a meal packaging event with one of the event sponsors, Stop Hunger Now.

Initiating a Campus-Wide Effort

Photo: Roger Winstead/NC State University
Day 2 allowed attendees the opportunity to take a closer look at hunger-fighting programs on other campuses. Morning poster sessions showcased programs from schools like NC School of Science and Math, which holds an annual record-breaking food drive, and Meredith College, which expanded the Daisy Trade ReUse Store to include staple food items for students in need. The morning keynote by Dr. June Henton of Auburn University emphasized tackling global issues such as hunger as a valuable educational tool for students. Fighting hunger not only addresses a pressing human need, it prepares the next generation to be socially conscious leaders. Although not all the campuses present have the resources to form such incredible programming in the fight against hunger, the Auburn campus showcase emphasized that the community partnerships and educational opportunities created through college programs addressing hunger are often naturally aligned with an institution’s strategic educational goals. The following work sessions allowed campuses to share their existing programs and new ideas and collaborations.

Ray Buchanan, founder and international president of Stop Hunger Now, brought the conference to a close with a call to action. Moved by the vision of an end to hunger within our lifetime, he reminded all present that hunger is “an obscenity, a moral outrage.” Regardless of the current political or economic situation in our region or our schools, we all work in positions of privilege that come with the responsibility to do more to improve the lives of others. As we declared our commitments at our schools, we made the next steps in a continuing dialogue about hunger in our campuses, our state, our nation, and our world.

View more photos of the event

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mary Baldwin VISTA contributes to Apple Day service tradition

As part of Mary Baldwin College's annual Apple Day festivities on October 2, NC Campus Compact VISTA Leah Pallant helped organize students for a gleaning excursion to a farm near Strasburg, VA that collected nearly 4,000 pounds of apples to be donated to Washington, D.C.-area food banks. Leah also helped a team of students harvest remaining produce from the community garden to go to a local food bank in Stanton, VA. As a food security VISTA working with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and Project Grows, Apple Day service is just one way Leah is helping to engage the Mary Baldwin community with food needs in her area.
VISTA Leah Pallant (green sweater) encourages volunteers to get digging!

Read more about this fun fall project and check out photos at MBC's site here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Duke's VISTA supports new Commercial Kitchen project

Jeri Beckens, the NC Campus Compact VISTA based at Duke University, is finding her way around Durham and especially the neighborhood surrounding the Community Family Life & Recreation Center at Lyon Park. A native of Sodus, NY, Jeri is used to navigating new places. She spent last year as a Fulbright Scholar English teaching assistant at a high school in Germany. She returned this summer to start her VISTA service.

CC: What previous work or volunteer experience led you to becoming a VISTA?

Jeri supports the Lyon Park commercial kitchen project.
JB: Well, I'm a life-long Girl Scout, so I have been involved in some kind of service since I was little. While I was a student at Nazareth College (in Rochester, NY), I was involved in several different service groups including our Partners for Learning program, and I organized a campus-wide day of service for our Senior Class that was really successful. I thought AmeriCorps made sense as a way to continue that kind of work. I didn't know much about food security issues, so this project is way for me to get educated as I help develop a new partnership. 

CC: Tell us about your work with the Community Family Life & Recreation Center at Lyon Park.
JB: I work out of the Lyon Park center two days a week, and the main focus of my VISTA project is the Commercial Kitchen. This is a big idea that has been in the works for years and many people have helped move the project along. I'm part of two committees that support the project, the fundraising committee and the programming committee, so I'm responsible for helping to organize some fundraising events and for helping the programming committee learn from community members what they want the commercial kitchen to offer.

CC: Let me stop you for a second. What's a commercial kitchen?
JB: A commercial kitchen is large-scale kitchen that can be used for community food preparation and serving. It has specialized equipment. At Lyon Park, the commercial kitchen is envisioned as a place for nutrition education and cooking classes, a place to make meals and snacks for the center's on-site programs like Head Start, after school, summer camps, and seniors' programs. It could also be a site to host community events or provide food for disaster relief, if necessary. Lyon Park is considered a food desert so residents don't have a lot of access to healthy, nutritious food, and the kitchen will provide greater access. 

CC: Okay, sorry to interrupt. You were saying...
JB: We have a big Pancake Breakfast fundraiser coming up Saturday, December 1, so I am doing organizing and outreach for that. I am also working with a Duke graduate student to design and administer a survey and to moderate focus groups to learn what community members want from the kitchen. Once we learn this information, I will start to help develop some programming options. I am attending a food forum this week in Greensboro with the director of the Family Life Center. I'm making sure that the Lyon Park is a site for all our Duke service day events, including Make A Difference Day on Saturday, October 27th. Duke students will be doing some painting and cleaning at the center. I'm also planning to make Lyon Park a service site for our alternative spring break, Dive Into Durham.

CC: Sounds like you are off to a great start. Before we finish up, can you tell us something unique about yourself?
JB: I like to color and really love Crayola color names. For example in this picture we have:
Baby Powder, Princess Perfume, Vivid Violet, Red Salsa, Smashed Pumpkin, Neon Carrot, Laser Lemon, Forest Green, Cosmic Cobalt, Winter Wizard, Outer Space, Mummy's Tomb, Timberwolf, and Leather Jacket.
Jeri as Vivid Violet at the Carnival festival in Cologne, Germany.