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."