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.