Friday, December 13, 2013

For two VISTA sites in Chapel Hill, building capacity is about building relationships

Last week, NC Campus Compact visited two of our "community-based" VISTA host sites in Chapel Hill, NC: the Marion Cheek Jackson Center and the Community Empowerment Fund. Both sites are intimately connected with the university, but both engage students in new and exciting ways as they tackle tough community issues.
VISTAs Jacob and Sarah work at community agencies in Chapel Hill.

The Jackson Center grew out of oral history projects started in 2005 by UNC Communications Professor Della Pollack in the historically African-American Northside neighborhood. Today, the Center is an independent 501c3 "public history and community development center" that works to preserve affordable housing and family-owned housing in the neighborhood, empower residents and youth, and build community among traditional residents and resident students.

Working closely with the historic St. Joseph C.M.E. church next door, Jackson Center staff and volunteers support a variety of projects and partnerships that improve the quality of life in the neighborhood, including the Heavenly Groceries food pantry, which serves residents in need 5 days a week, and A Brush with Kindness, a partnership with Habitat for Humanity that provides exterior improvements to local homes. The Center also distributes a monthly neighborhood newsletter, organizes community events, and continues to collect and share local history through projects like Fusion Youth Radio.

Jacob in the festive office of the Jackson Center
Jackson Center VISTA Jacob Lerner is working to develop administrative systems, including a contact management database, that support all this work. He works with other Jackson Center staff to streamline the oversight of 9 UNC Bonner interns, and he continues to support the operations of the food pantry. But he is also laying the groundwork for new programs, including a partnership with the university's Good Neighbor Initiative (a project of the Office of Greek Life) which supports students living off-campus. The Jackson Center will help develop an orientation for off campus students to the neighborhood's history, help train a team of "off-campus RAs," and create opportunities for students and long-time residents to meet and convene. He is also helping to develop an "early alert" system which helps the Center stay informed of local and individual issues that impact housing. At the heart of Jacob's work is his efforts to develop relationships with and between neighbors and students. This has been the part of his VISTA work he likes best so far: facilitating introductions between students and community residents and seeing community and university volunteers work together to address hunger and improve housing. Read Jacob's recent update on his work in the Northside News here.

Just down Franklin Street at the center of downtown, the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) provides savings opportunities, small loans, workforce development, and relational support to unemployed and underemployed individuals. CEF began on campus as a project of UNC's Campus Y. Today, the student-run organization is a 501c3 non-profit that recruits, trains, and coordinates about 150 undergrad and graduate student volunteer "advocates" who work every week as "case managers" for the organization's 400 or so member clients.

VISTA Sarah and Supervisor Maggie West.
Sarah Cohn worked with the organization as a volunteer when she was a student at UNC; now that she is a VISTA, she is working to improve the structure and coordination of volunteers, as well as the volunteer intake process. Sarah has helped refine the team structure and develop more robust orientation and continuing education for advocates and team leaders. The volunteers meet weekly for training, reflection, and collaborative problem-solving, sharing information that can help address specific issues their member clients are facing. In the months ahead, Sarah will also help CEF analyze its member intake process and the system for matching members and volunteers. Like Jacob at the Jackson Center, the systems, processes, and trainings Sarah develops are all in the service of creating strong and beneficial relationships between members and advocates. Read Sarah's profile on the CEF blog!

One of the benefits of pairing student volunteers with members is that they learn to navigate complex social service networks and financial issues together. Though the students have some training, they are learning alongside members about how to access services, seek job-training, and develop financial stability. In this sense, advocates and members are very much partners, rather than "provider" and "client."

CEF co-founder and director Maggie West told us she wishes social service organizations in the area had the money and staff to meet the need with professional case management, but local agencies are in fact cutting back rather than expanding. In such an environment, the student advocates can make a difference for people who otherwise wouldn't get the kind of individualized attention and regular check-ins CEF provides.

Building capacity to build relationships that strengthen communities. That's VISTA impact!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

VISTA Camille Smith reaches out at Raleigh College Center

VISTA Camille Smith shares info about area colleges.
While a student at NC State University, Camille Smith often found herself working in the Raleigh community. The Anderson, SC native led her alternative break team in monthly pre-trip service with Habitat for Humanity of Wake County, interned with Stop Hunger Now, and organized campus-wide service events as co-chair of the Student Government's Community Service Commission. But since becoming the Raleigh College Center VISTA in August, Camille is reaching out to new people and organizations, and learning about the city along the way.

"One of the highlights for me so far was the 75th Anniversary of the John Chavis Memorial Park, which served as a meeting place for segregated blacks leading up to the Civil Rights movement, and a gateway for community involvement for students of local HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities)," Camille explains. "I represented the Raleigh College Center, handing out brochures and our event calendar. It was a great chance to learn the history of the area and get to know the people the John Chavis Community Center serves. It is definitely one big happy family!"

As a VISTA, Camille supports the development of the Raleigh College Center (RCC), an effort hosted by the John Chavis Community Center in southeast Raleigh. The College Center opened in 2012 as part of the Raleigh Promise. The Promise is a collaboration among local higher education institutions, philanthropies, non-profits, businesses, and the City of Raleigh. The group's goal: double the number of low-income youth in Raleigh who earn a post-secondary credential and living wage employment by 2025. As a hub of college information for youth and families, the Raleigh College Center is a key part of the effort.

During her first few months in the VISTA role, Camille has started a weekly newsletter to share RCC events and keep the Promise partners informed. She has also helped coordinate college fairs and financial aid information sessions at Chavis, and worked with the Parks & Recreation Department's Teen Outreach Program (TOPs) to coordinate college visits for groups of local teens. The College Center also offers free SAT prep courses for community youth and has laptops available on site to turn the space into a computer lab.

Camille spends several days a week at Chavis, coordinating RCC programming and collaborating with community center staff. She also works out of NC State's Career Development Center, one of the lead administrative offices for the RCC. Dr. Kelly Laraway of the Career Development Center is Project Coordinator for the Raleigh Promise and Camille's VISTA supervisor.

"I'm thrilled with the College Center, seeing how it's going in a quality direction," says Dr. Laraway. "Camille is doing great. She's innovative, focused, and brings a new perspective to the project."

Major funding for The Raleigh Promise project was provided by a grant from the Gates Foundation. Since the grant period ended last summer, the collaborative has been planning next steps for the Promise project and for the College Center in order to sustain momentum toward its 2025 goal.

Camille looks forward to increasing the College Center's outreach and program offerings in the months ahead, to creating a way to evaluate participant satisfaction, and to streamlining the coordination and tracking of College Center presenters and participants.

Though she now loves living in Raleigh, Camille took some time finding her way to NC State. After high school, she attended Virginia Union University to play volleyball, but she realized it wasn't the right fit. After transferring to State as a sophomore, she became involved in Student Government and in programs organized by the Center for Student Leadership, Ethics, and Public Service, including several alternative break experiences. Camille led two trips to the Dominican Republic during her time at State, and she credits these experiences with cementing her desire to focus on community building. After she graduated in December 2012 with a BA in Political Science and minor in Nonprofit Studies, she learned of the NC Campus Compact VISTA program and the placement at the Raleigh College Center.

In her spare time, Camille enjoys running, attending Wolfpack sporting events, and taking advantage of the many festivals and special events in the state capital. She also volunteers her community relations skills as she spends time with friends who've started a local "community conscious design and apparel company" called Boss Manatee.

To learn more about the Raleigh College Center and receive the weekly newsletter, email Camille at casmit21(@)

Monday, November 25, 2013

New VISTA Leader, Carla Davis, joins NC Campus Compact Community!

I've jumped into the thick of things here at North Carolina Campus Compact! Since Tuesday the 19th, my first day, I've already gotten to attend a Hunger and Homelessness Awareness event at UNCG put on by NC Campus Compact VISTA Devin Corrigan with the Interactive Resource Center and Office of Leadership and Service-Learning, listened in on a VISTA-led webinar, and gotten to talk one-on-one with almost all of our VISTAs! I am so excited to join the Campus Compact team and am soaking up all of this knowledge like a sponge (that roughly translates into spending most of my time readingreadingreading!).

"How did I get here?" you ask. Great question! Let's start from the beginning, shall we?

I grew up in Decatur, Georgia, with my two sisters, Rose and Maya, and my Mom. My younger sister Maya is still close to home in Athens, GA, and my older sister now works in Washington DC at the Environmental Investigation Agency. If you're in the area, also check out her band! My two younger brothers, Ed and Nico, live with my Dad in Greenville, NC. As of right now, Ed (15) wants to be an aerospace engineer, but is first learning the magic of operating regular cars, and Nico (12) is seriously considering zoology and currently is running his own massage business around the house.

I grew up wanting to be a three-way tie between professional soccer player, car mechanic, or librarian, but also always really enjoyed being on a team. My love of team sports evolved into a passion for volunteering, fostered both by my family, and my close-knit community of Decatur. I started out my volunteering stint because my older sister was doing it, and so it must be the coolest, right? My older sister went on a mission trip every summer to work for the Appalachia Service Project, spending a week in Appalachia repairing the homes of low-income families. I tried it out, not thinking I would like it, but I kept coming back year after year, not because it was cool, but because of the people; the people who volunteered beside me, yes, but more especially the families I met. Sure we came for a week and repaired a leaky roof, but I left with a strong sense of community. These families lived without adequate access to so many things, but they were rich in the bonds they had with each other, and together they got by. I started to think more deeply about what community meant, and how I could live my own life to engage in a bigger community. What did it mean that I could go back to my warm bed after a week working on a home far less safe than mine, and then say I lived in community with those people? The answer for me was that I couldn't. I wanted to learn more about the inequalities that pervade our society and what it meant to stand beside someone in their struggles, and yet not make them out as my own.

So, I started college at Montclair State University in New Jersey where I played lacrosse, was an Academic Assistant, and acted as Vice President of my Residence Hall Student Council. I finished up with a degree in Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, joining the ultimate frisbee team and working with the Student Power Union to engage students in their school governance. Every summer in between my college terms though, I worked on staff for the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) in Kentucky, where I oversaw volunteer groups just like mine and got to know the families for which we worked for a whole summer, instead of just a week. After graduating from UNCG, I went back to Kentucky and worked as an AmeriCorps Office of Surface Mining/VISTA with the Housing Development Alliance (HDA), which builds and repairs homes for low-incomes families and teaches financial literacy.

While I believe that providing quality housing to low-income families (and everyone) is important, what drew me to these organizations was their over-arching missions of building a stronger communities. ASP is often referred to as a relational ministry with construction on the side, while HDA seeks to strengthen communities by creating quality homes. While ASP and HDA have laid their foundations with housing, NC Campus Compact works through education to build these strong communities. I believe the causes of poverty and inequality overlap in so many different ways, from lack of access to quality housing, or education, or healthy food, but I believe that that core of the solution lies in connecting people with one another and strengthening the ties between them.

These NC Campus Compact VISTAs are building the systems that help non-profits sustain communities, but more than that, they are breaking down the systems that challenge our communities by connecting people with one another. As Liz Seymour, the Executive Director of the Interactive Resource Center of Greensboro, so aptly said last Tuesday night at a "Faces of Homelessness" Panel, "After all, we're a community of people, not a community of systems."

I am so excited to see how Campus Compact VISTAS are working with and within their communities across North Carolina to engage volunteers in their local non-profits, and how I can best support each of our VISTAS in a successful year of service!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Campuses, VISTAs serve and learn during Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week

The week before Thanksgiving is a time when many college campuses focus on the needs of community members who are struggling to find food and shelter. Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, an event co-sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless and National Student Campaign Against Hunger & Homelessness, takes place this year November 16-24; and many of our VISTAs are leading or supporting related programs on their campuses.

At Western Carolina University, VISTA Willie Jones coordinated a week of events, including an Everything Drive to collect donations for United Christian Ministries and the Community Table, an Oxfam Hunger Banquet, and a five-day interactive poverty simulation called Live Below the Line. Willie also helped organized a partnership with Aramark, so that for every $100 spent on Nov. 18 at the campus convenience, Aramark would donate a turkey to the Community Table.

In Boone, VISTA Brittany Johnson of the Hospitality House is working with Appalachian State University's ACT office to organize the 3rd Hunger Games, which raises canned food donations to support Hospitality House's Bread of Life Community Kitchen. Already, 1600 cans have been collected. The Hunger Games event takes place this Friday at 5 p.m. on Duck Pond Field off of Stadium Drive in Boone. Read the High Country Times article on the event.

At UNC-Greensboro, VISTA Devin Corrigan has worked with a team of student leaders to coordinate a week-long slate of events, including a panel discussion with local advocates, non-profit staff, and community members facing challenges of hunger and homelessness; a campus/community food drive to collect canned food items for the Spartan Open Pantry, UNCG's students/staff food bank; and a Thursday evening service event at Second Harvest Food Bank in Winston-Salem. Devin's VISTA work supports a partnership between UNCG and the Interactive Resource Center, a day-center in Greensboro serving people at risk of homelessness, and she drew on this relationship in planning the week.

 At Wake Forest University, VISTA Anna Donze has coordinated a screening of the documentary Inocente (Wed., 7 PM, Byrum Welcome Center), which tells the story of an undocumented 15-year old girl's struggle with homelessness and the San Diego arts organization that offers her a creative outlet. The film ties the issue of homelessness to Anna's work with her community partner, El Buen Pastor Latino Community Services, and an on-campus group, NERD (Network for Educational Resources and Development), a coalition of WFU student service organizations involved in community-based mentoring and tutoring. Among other WFU Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week events is Campus Kitchen's annual Turkeypalooza. Check out the Channel 14 local news story on Turkeypalooza!

At UNC-Pembroke, VISTA Dalton Hoffer has worked with a team of student mentors to host a community Thanksgiving dinner at his community partner, the Pembroke Housing Authority. Student volunteers will decorate gingerbread houses with children, then serve a dinner to the children and their families. Dalton expects about 100 community members to attend.

If your campus also recognizes Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, please email us to share your story.

Graphic courtesy of UNCG's Office of Leadership and Service-Learning.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

UNCG VISTA expands partnership to fight homelessness, hunger

Devin Corrigan wasn't exactly sure what to expect when she joined the North Carolina Campus Compact VISTA team in August of this year. But she describes life as a VISTA so far as undeniably awesome. Devin is the NC Campus Compact VISTA placed at UNC Greensboro in the Office of Leadership and Service-Learning and the Interactive Resource Center. The Interactive Resource Center (IRC) assists people who are homeless, recently homeless or facing homelessness reconnect with their own lives and with the community at large. Devin is the second NC Campus Compact VISTA hosted by UNCG to work with the IRC. Her predecessor, Anya Piotrowski, helped to start the IRC's community garden.

Though Devin has only been at her site for just a couple short months, she's already had a wealth of experiences and built up a knowledge base about the work she's doing. She says the biggest surprise for her was the chaos. She describes homelessness as being chaotic and unstable by nature and says she experiences some of it by proxy, working at the IRC. This has been a challenge for her to work through, but feels like she's learning to adapt to the fluidity of the organization and meet people where they are. She's proud of working "together with" the people the IRC serves, rather than "working for," or worse, "working on" them.

While at the IRC she will be piloting a financial literacy program for their guests. Many of the IRC's guests are "unbanked," meaning they do not have a bank account and utilize check cashing services as their primary financial institutions. This is problematic because many check cashing services are expensive, predatory, and discourage saving. One of Devin's goals is to develop an IDA (Individual Development Account) program at the IRC that would match guests' savings. She describes the IRC's needs for this year and the future:

"I think that capacity building is a huge need for the IRC and VISTAs are critical in making that happen. The number of guests we serve keep growing and we need to determine how to best utilize our resources to meet that need. As a VISTA, I am hoping to expand partnerships at the IRC so that we aren't duplicating services or competing for resources with other organizations in our community." 
When she's not at the IRC most recently she's been organizing student leaders on UNCG's campus to plan and execute UNCG's Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. She very pleased with both the administration at UNCG and the students. She says the administration is supportive and the students are both passionate and creative.

Devin spent four years at and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville in 2013.
While there, she double majored in Political Science, and Ethics and Social Institutions with a concentration in American Poverty. She loves Asheville and believes everyone should visit. She became a VISTA because she wanted to be engaged in the community full-time. As an undergrad she worked on different poverty alleviation efforts as an intern or volunteer. She wanted to learn, grow, and do more and AmeriCorps VISTA seemed like a good fit.She hopes this year of service will help her learn more about herself and what direction she would like to go in the future. She's open to more service, working as staff in the nonprofit world, traveling, or trying something totally new. Eventually she plans to attend graduate school but says she'll cross that bridge when she comes to it.

In her free time she likes to run, read, bake, go to concerts, and hang out with her friends. She just recently started playing ultimate Frisbee and says she's bad at it but earnest. One day she'd like to have both a motorcycle and a puppy. Devin grew up in a large Irish Catholic family in Queens, NY and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina with her family when she was in high school. She says she loves North Carolina, Asheville in particular, but will always call Queens home. She has two younger brothers, both of whom are about a foot taller than her, and who she says are by far the funniest people she's ever met. True to her roots, she's an avid Giants fan.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

VISTA Alumni Network Newsletter #1

This page contains the full text of features from our recent VISTA Alumni Network newsletter. Scroll down to find the following -

Alum Spotlight: Jessica Gagne Cloutier (ECU, 2004-06)
Alum Spotlight: Jodi Lasseter (Peace College, 2004-05)
VISTA 2012-13 Impact Snapshots
Blast from the Past! Photo Slideshow

Alum Spotlight: Jessica Gagne Cloutier (ECU VISTA, 2004-06)

Jessica as a VISTA
Sometimes a "gap year" becomes a career. Jessica Gagne Cloutier was thinking about her post-grad options as an Elon University senior when she decided to take the advice of NC Campus Compact VISTA Jessica Snow (Elon, 2003-04) and spend a year doing service before starting down the PhD road to a college professorship. "Then I fell in love with it," she recalls of her time at East Carolina University's Volunteer and  Service-Learning Center. "It allows me to serve on a college campus, as I had always envisioned - just in a different capacity."

Her two years of VISTA service at ECU helped Jessica gain skills and experience "straight out of undergrad that I continue to use every day" as the Coordinator of Community Service at Keene State College in New Hampshire. Hurricane Katrina happened during her term at ECU, and she remembers the urgency of engaging students for that disaster relief work. She also recalls her contributions to the alternative spring break program, "watching the program grow from 1-2 trips to more than 10 trips," and seeing students who had never traveled before get "an alternate perspective on the world."

Jessica also has fond memories of NC Campus Compact VISTA retreats at Seven Lakes and of former NC Campus Compact Executive Director John Barnhill drinking "tons of Diet Coke."

After two years as a VISTA at ECU, she was hired as a coordinator in the Volunteer and Service-Learning Office. During six years on staff at the VSLC, she helped other programs grow, including a community service learning community which "evolved from a residential community of like-minded students to a program with real academic tie-ins."

Jessica is glad to be in New England close to family, but she still appreciates her VISTA years. "It opened doors that might not have been opened, early in my career." And she has continued her connection to AmeriCorps VISTA by supervising other Campus Compact VISTAs over the years. "Once you complete a term of national service you are always connected with others from that network," she says. When she's at a meeting or conference and sees someone wearing the AmeriCorps logo, she feels that "immediate bond to them."

"I'm forever grateful for the opportunity to find a career in which I feel fulfilled every day."

Alum Spotlight: Jodi Lasseter (Peace College VISTA, 2004-05)

Jodi Lasseter has never been afraid to strike out on her own as she attempts to bring people together. In 2003, she was part of the inaugural AmeriCorps team at City Year Boston, and in 2004 she became the first VISTA at Peace College (now William Peace University), where she helped establish the school's Office of Community Involvement. Now she's started her own consulting firm to share the expertise she gained from a decade of work in mediation, activism, and grassroots organizational development with groups like the Amazon Alliance and the national Engage Network.

After growing up in Asheville, North Carolina and attending UNC-Chapel Hill, Jodi joined City Year Boston, where she was part of the program's first cohort. After her term with City Year, Jodi became an NC Campus Compact VISTA at Peace College (now William Peace University) in Raleigh, NC where she relished the challenge of helping to create a civic engagement office from scratch.

When we spoke with Jodi this summer, she recalled the tremendous growth in the involvement of Peace students during her VISTA year. "Over the course of the year we went from having 50 students regularly involved to almost 500," she says. For example, students started a green team to focus on recycling and the environment. Jodi also remembered "one heck of a spring break trip" to South Carolina to work with Habitat for Humanity and to conduct coastal clean-ups with another agency.

Jodi says the most memorable part of her VISTA year was "working with students and supporting their leadership and seeing them come into their own about what it is they could do, what it is they cared about.... It was really beautiful to see young women really come into their leadership."

After VISTA, Jodi earned a Masters in International Development, Community and Environment from Clark University, and she pursued a passion for cross-cultural dialogue and positive social transformation through community-based work in East Africa, South America, Western Europe, Mexico and throughout the U.S. During four years as director of youth mediation for a community-based dispute settlement center, she created a statewide network of youth mediation programs. In her position as the Director of Organization Development for the Amazon Alliance, Jodi strengthened an international network of indigenous peoples' organizations spanning all nine countries of the Amazon Basin. She has recently worked with the national Engage Network to develop their What's Your Tree program.

This summer, the self-described "ecofeminist mountainwoman" started her own company based in Durham, Turning Tides Consulting, to "provide facilitation training and leadership develop for grassroots organizations, particularly those that have a focus on climate justice." She is also Board Chair of Clean Water for North Carolina, a board member of the Conflict Resolution Center of Durham, and a member of the leadership team for RePowering Durham.

When we asked Jodi what difference VISTA had made in her life, she told us: "VISTA service gave me an abiding sense of hope in what can really happen when people recognize we do have power to create the world we want to live in.... It was a lovely, lovely experience."

VISTA 2012-13 Impact Snapshots


Sally Parlier, Durham Technical Community College, 2011-2013
Sally in the garden.

The first NC Campus Compact VISTA ever at Durham Tech, Sally created a community service program from scratch. Over her two years of service, she built a partnership with Briggs Avenue Community garden to address local food insecurity. She developed garden plots for use by Durham Tech students, faculty, and staff, wrote successful grants on the garden’s behalf, and served on its advisory board. She also created the Durham Tech Campus Harvest Food Pantry. One of a handful of on-campus food pantries in the state, DTCH has served over 250 clients and collected 2500 pounds of donated food since it opened in January 2013. To support the pantry, garden, and related projects, Sally secured over $7000 in cash, grants, and in-kind donations and mobilized nearly 100 Durham Tech volunteers. Sally says, "I am very proud to be a part of a project which empowers others to give and respects the dignity of those experiencing hardships."

Christina D’Aulerio, Queens University of Charlotte, 2012-2014

Christina is the second VISTA at Queens to work with partner Sedgefield Elementary School. Since 2011, the university’s Center for Active Citizenship has led an effort to engage students, faculty, and staff in order to “move the needle” at the nearby Title I school, where 96% of students are eligible for free and reduced price lunch. In the past year, Christina coordinated dozens of Queens volunteers across various programs, including Reading Buddies to support the school’s literacy campaign, school beautification projects, and a new Garden Club involving 26 elementary students. For its efforts, Queens – after being nominated by Sedgefield – was one of 20 organizations in the state to receive the Governor’s Medallion Award for community service. For Christina, "The best part of the VISTA experience was watching the volunteers go above and beyond the service they were doing."

Monica Palmeira, Jackson Center, 2012-2013

Monica signing her AmeriCorps oath.
Monica was the first VISTA at the Jackson Center and the first NC Campus Compact VISTA to be hosted by a community-based agency. A community-based advocacy organization serving historically African-American and low-income neighborhoods in Chapel Hill through public history, civic media, and community action, the Jackson Center grew out of oral history projects initiated by a UNC communications professor. During her year of service, Monica streamlined volunteer management and training, involving student interns and other volunteers in a variety of center-supported programs such as a food pantry and home re-hab projects. She also organized a wills clinic with the UNC School of Law, which drafted documents for 15 elderly residents. Most of all, Monica helped the organization develop and grow. During her tenure, it received its non-profit 501c3 designation, established various office protocols, and moved to a new, larger location. Her supervisor, Hudson Vaughan praised her work, noting, "She’s built community and community-capacity, deepened partnerships and created new ones, developed programs and relationships that will far outlast her here, and most of all, filled this community with a presence and a spirit that is unmatched."  

BLAST FROM THE PAST! Photo slideshow

Check out some of our favorite snaps from the VISTA photo archive. You might see a familiar face:

To read our most recent VISTA Alumni Network newsletter, visit our archive.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

UNC Pembroke remembers, serves in honor of 9/11

By Dalton Hoffer, NC Campus Compact VISTA at UNC Pembroke

UNC Pembroke volunteers served the community Saturday 14th, 2013 for UNC Pembroke’s 4th Annual 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance. Over 100 UNCP students, faculty and staff served at eleven community sites in the Pembroke and Lumberton areas, engaging over 50 community members.

The day started with a remembrance ceremony on the UNCP campus.  The Air Force ROTC color guard opened with the raising of the flag.  Four (4) UNCP students harmonized to sing the national anthem.  Mike Clawson, retired Army Colonel and Program Coordinator UNCP Military and Veteran Services gave an inspiring and motivating message to the on-looking volunteers.  The day of service was led by 18 student site leaders.  Site Leaders and volunteers worked on several different projects including a cleaning along and removing debris from the Lumber River, gardening and repairing garden beds, washing and walking sheltered dogs, cooking and serving homeless citizens, registering walkers and participating in the Hunger Walk and several outdoor maintenance projects.

At the end of the service day, site leaders led a reflection with volunteers at the service sites.  Each volunteer was given a card and asked to write a word that described their day of service experience.  Volunteers listed “awesome”, “inspiring”, “fulfilling” and “tough” as some of the words that described their experience.  Each volunteer shared their word and how that word described their experience.  On the other side of the card volunteers were asked to write their age on 9/11/2001.  Student volunteers shared how the 9/11 events impacted their lives until now.  Sharing volunteer reflections highlighted the importance of day of service. Many students shared that they look forward to new service opportunities and continuing their service at UNC Pembroke.

P.S. A UNCP alum and former student worker in the university's Office of Civic Engagement, Dalton had participated in 9/11 Day of Service events in the past. But as the VISTA and lead coordinator this year, he said, "I had to step up." Dalton implemented several changes including extensive social media advertising and closer collaboration with student site leaders. The leaders, including a number of first years, were identified early in the semester; and they helped with planning, identifying service sites, and recruiting volunteers. Dalton organized meetings and trainings for the leaders, including a session on 9/11 in advance of the day of service, where leaders participated in reflection, tie-dyed leader t-shirts, and prepped for the event. "At the end of the day, I was most impressed with the involvement of the site leaders and their dedication," Dalton says. The experience taught Dalton lessons too, including the importance of being flexible and sharing tasks. "It was overwhelming at times because I put a lot on myself." In future projects, he expects to make delegating to capable students a priority.

Dalton is looking forward to his next project, a one-night retreat with 20 students to design a mentoring program that will support local high schoolers. He'll be working with community partner, Pembroke Housing Authority, and involving some of the same student service leaders that helped with 9/11 Day of Service.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Elizabeth City VISTA connects campus to community school

ECSU VISTA Marion Hudson describes his service in 6 words.
When he began his VISTA service at Elizabeth City State University in August 2012, Marion Hudson had some advice for fellow VISTA Tiara Pugh, who was new in town: "Elizabeth City is what you make it: if you aren't willing to go out and do something, you're gonna be bored."

From his experience as a student at ECSU, Marion knew the largest city in northeastern NC had plenty to offer, despite its rural surroundings. As an undergrad, he was involved in many volunteer and service activities with his fraternity Kappa Alpha Si, and his experiences working with kids at a nearby alternative school drew him to the VISTA opportunity at his alma mater. The VISTA positions would be used to increase the university's involvement with H.L. Trigg Community School, the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Public School System's alternative school for middle and high school students who have difficulty succeeding in a traditional school setting.

"I was pretty familiar with Trigg. We did service work over there such as putting on Black history programs and homework help," he recalls. "I knew the kids could use extra support."

As a VISTA, Marion worked to coordinate university student volunteers at Trigg, while Tiara planned enrichment programming that leveraged university resources, including career exploration days and college access programs. Marion also recruited and coordinated volunteers for ECSU's campus-wide community service events such as the MLK Day of Service. For Marion, working with Tiara was a "very, very great thing. Whenever I got stuck she would give me ideas. If one of us was hesitant, the other would say let's do it."

One of his proudest accomplishments this service year was the "Extreme Makeover" project for the Trigg school library. During Trigg's spring break week, ECSU volunteers spent several days re-painting the library and re-organizing materials, including new books and supplies collected
VISTA Tiara Pugh (R) sprucing up the Trigg school library.
through an earlier donation drive on-campus.

"The principal told us at the end of the year that was the most help they'd received in a long time," he recalled.

This past spring, Marion decided to re-enroll for a second year of VISTA service. He will continue working with ECSU students and with Trigg, and he is excited about a plan to develop Project Shadow, a college access program that will let Trigg students "shadow" ECSU students to see what college is like.

Already this year, Marion has had success, working with ECSU and Trigg administrators to create 4 work study positions to staff the Trigg school library that he helped renovate last year. (The school does not have a full-time media specialist.) He is also organizing a charity basketball tournament for the 9-11 Day of Service and Remembrance. In the year ahead, he'll keep working to help others "go out and do something" in the Elizabeth City community.

"The work has impacted me because it taught me to use patience with people and situations and not to let it deter me from my ultimate goals. Between H.L. Trigg and Elizabeth City State University, using the VISTA program, it's in the process of bridging the gap between the two and it's a lot closer than it's ever been."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Community Partners share their Stories of Impact

Last week we posted Stories of Impact from our 2012-2013 VISTA cohort. We shared stories told in the VISTAs' own voices about how their work impacted their campus, their community, and themselves. This week we look at service from the other side of the coin: the community partner.

One of our project's goals is to increase the organizational capacity of community partners or community-based projects. To learn if we're succeeding, we surveyed community partner representatives in March and July of 2013. A total of sixteen individual community partner organizations responded to the survey, and the results were very positive.
A Virginia Tech student at the MLK DayCare Facelift

Let's talk numbers: When asked about the VISTA's overall impact on their project or organization, 87.5% of respondents indicated the impact was "significant" or "very significant." Over 68% of respondents said VISTA efforts led to "significant" or "very significant" increase in the resources available to the partner organization. Eighty-seven percent of partners agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "As a result of the VISTA member's work, my organization is now able to offer clients new or more effective services," and 68% agreed that their "organization is now able to operate more effectively or efficiently." Clearly, community partners were satisfied with the VISTA members' contributions to their projects and organizations. VISTAs make a difference!

Several community partner respondents shared reflections on their experience with the VISTA this year. Many gave the VISTAs high praise for their commitment and hard work. For example, Homeward Bound staffer Emily Ball declared, "Jacqui [Trillo] added critical capacity to a new project of ours, which works on getting furniture & housewares into the apartments of people we're moving out of homelessness and into housing of their own. Jacqui helped us create so many new systems for our Welcome Home project!"

Eric Howard, a social worker at William Randolph High School, described VISTA Sara Brown as "not only an outstanding ambassador for the program, she was also a mentor, a leader, and very supportive of all students and staff. We had the most applications and acceptance to college, largely because of the work of Ms. Sara Brown."

Rebecca Oats, Executive Director at the Lyon Park Community Center, described VISTA Jeri Beckens as "innovative." She continues, saying Jeri "works well with others who look to her for guidance, direction, and attention. She is an excellent writer and speaker. She has good moral values and a love for family, which has played out in her life of giving back and always looking for opportunities to help individuals. She has looked for ways that she could help to make this community better. She embraced her work with enthusiasm."

Anne Faris of the New River Valley Head Start program had similar praise for Wyatt Taylor, VISTA at Virginia Tech, and his work:
"Head start now has more partnerships with VT staff and students. With Wyatt's direct contact with the VT campus, he has been able to formulate volunteer databases of the students; provided recruitment opportunities for staff and students through campus venues; contacted professors concerning service opportunities for staff and students; he also has given student groups volunteer training information/materials. Our connections to the VT community have grown with 2 groups adopting specific centers for the upcoming year and hopefully years to come; continued focus on Head Start centers with the MLK Day of Service; and 5 contacts with specific VT staff and students for specific projects that can enhance our Head Start classrooms and centers."
Michelle Wallace of the NC Cooperative Extension office and the Briggs Avenue Community Garden. Michelle worked closely with Sally Parlier, VISTA at Durham Technical Community College. Michelle credits Sally as a "true asset to the garden" and someone who has "really made a difference in the overall success of the program" by leading volunteers to work in the plot, strengthening a relationship with Durham Tech, searching and applying for grants, and providing valuable contributions at advisory board and plot owner meetings. This spring, Sally and Michelle presented together at the NC Master Gardener Association Conference. They talked about their work and about campus-community garden collaborations.

We appreciate community partners working with VISTAs, sharing their perspectives, and giving us feedback. In 2013-2014, new and returning VISTAs will continue to develop many of these partnerships and projects.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Guilford VISTA draws on family heritage to support immigrant youth

Bevelyn Ukah grew up in Atlanta, Georgia in a very close knit, international household. She draws on her experiences as a Nigerian-American woman to better understand the immigrant families she works with as the AmeriCorps VISTA at Guilford College.

Located in Greensboro, NC, Guilford is a private school founded by the Quakers of about 2,700 students. They are also one of 27 Bonner Scholars campuses in the country. The program financially supports students who would otherwise be working full or part-time jobs in exchange for them performing acts of service. A Guilford alum, Bevelyn completed a double major in Sociology/ Anthropology and International Studies with a concentration on Africa in May 2010.

It was her graduate studies, however, at the SIT Graduate Institute on Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management that brought her to VISTA service. Her program required her to complete a practicum. Each degree candidate does at least six months of field work to help them translate academic theory into practice. She wrote a proposal that allowed her to return to Guilford College, her alma mater, where she knew she would have a strong community to support her learning. Because her interdisciplinary degree focused on community engagement, VISTA offered an opportunity to work within her field and make a difference in a community she cares about.

Bevelyn and James Shields
Bevelyn describes her position as an NC Campus Compact VISTA as "amazing." She continues,
"I have learned so much about the Greensboro community and could not have accomplished any of my goals without community support. The Bonner Center for Community Service and Learning is an exceptional VISTA post as there are so many opportunities and connections to engage in community building. James Shields and Andrew Young have been great mentors in understanding community and strategic planning in affinity with the communities being served. I use the word affinity because far too often service imposes the goals and ambitions of privileged groups onto the marginalized. The Bonner Center at Guilford encourages spaces to challenge these notions and to find ways to apply self reflective and community reflective processes to the work that we do."
Working out of the Bonner Center, Bevelyn has ample opportunity to see how special the center really is. One of the center's missions is to create a cultural shift on campus and increase community learning. She describes the culture at the center as one of honesty and flexibility. There is space there for creativity, relationship building, critical dialogue, and application.

Bevelyn's service has focused on building a stronger partnership between Guilford College, Elimu Empowerment Services, and the American Friends Service Committee. Her work with Elimu includes supporting the development of after-school and summer programs for immigrant and refugee youth, establishing Elimu as a designated Bonner Center partner, and recruiting and training a Bonner Scholar to serve as a liaison/coordinator with the organization in the new academic year. She has also helped establish partnerships between Guilford and other local nonprofits that support the immigrant community.

Bevelyn is a self-described workaholic, but says she's working on building a stronger personal life outside of work. She says,
"I love to laugh, to be with family, to dance, to engage in deep conversation, to learn about people and culture, and to travel. I really wish that I could travel a lot more and am scheming to see how I can do this more often in life."
As a workaholic, Bevelyn is looking forward to continuing the work she has started as a VISTA. She would like to work with social enterprise and explore alternative forms of economy that are more entrenched in humanity from a grassroots perspective. Another big goal is acting as an advocate for, consulting, creating, and supporting alternative learning spaces. She is currently considering another year of service as well as scoping out community coordinating, consulting, and action research positions.

Bevelyn's work has connected her with immigrants and refugees from many backgrounds and of many ages. These relationships, in combination with her own personal work experiences, have helped her become a charismatic and effective communicator. No wonder her chosen superpower would be to talk in multiple languages including the language of plants and animals. "If I could talk to a tree," she exclaims, "oh the lessons!"

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Stories of Impact: VISTAs reflect on their year of service

Have you heard about the Aspen Institute's Franklin Project? The Franklin Project argues national service is good for young people and good for our country, and the organizers, including General Stanley McChrystal, propose vastly expanding national service experiences for millions of young Americans. In fact, several NC Campus Compact member campus presidents and chancellors are part of the effort.

Reviewing final capstone projects and service portfolios from our outgoing 2012-13 VISTA class offers some insight into the value of national service -- both to those who serve and to the communities where they work. We wanted to share a few of their inspiring responses to the prompt, "briefly describe how your work impacted: the campus, the community, and YOU."

Leah, green sweater, helped students get their garden on.
I was able to mobilize students to volunteer throughout our community and campus, donating hundreds of hours during the school year. For example, twenty students did over 690 hours in just two weeks during our May Term class both on and off campus. Many hands make light work in community organizations, from the more menial washing and sorting of Capri Sun juice boxes to the dedicated work of interns at my community partner, Project GROWS, on marketing strategies and farm layout plans. Externally, my work made it possible for a lot of people to get involved in the Staunton community and allowed organizations to utilize their willingness to more quickly and efficiently advance a sustainable food system in our region. Personally, I realized I had the skills and organizational know-how to effect positive change in my community. By coming to understand that I am capable I have been able to convince other people that they are, too.
- Leah Pallant, Mary Baldwin College VISTA

Elizabeth worked with Campus Kitchen
Campus Kitchen at ECU has come a long way in the last three years.  Since August of 2012, we have added a new partner (Joy Soup Kitchen), secured funding through March 2014, created constitution and legacy materials for student leaders.  My VISTA service has made me reflect on and be more empathetic to the experience of people in poverty.  I have also realized the work that goes into “behind the scenes” efforts that I have often taken for granted.  This year I have often reflected on the value of a proactive approach to this work.  A VISTA cannot be a reactionary.  To be successful you have to have a vision and work to fulfill it. I have a greater awareness about hunger issues in the U.S.  and what that often looks like.
- Elizabeth Corney, East Carolina University VISTA

I think I can safely say my work has played a big role in establishing the Jackson Center as a lasting community center.  During my time we have both received non-profit tax exempt status and organized a move to a neighboring building that will give us 10 times the space we previously had.  Though I am sad to leave a community that has taught me what it means to REALLY be a neighbor, a giver, what service means, all these things, I am confident my contributions will be lasting.  The programs at the Center are at a much more sustainable point, there are systems and guides in place that allow work to continue. This work has transformed me completely, this is the work of my life.  I want to study City and Regional Planning in graduate school and continue to work on the neighborhood level on issues of community renewal. But this work and this community have become my home, where I have found myself. I will always be back!
- Monica Palmeira, Marion Cheek Jackson Center VISTA

The Southwest Central Durham community is so much closer to having a commercial kitchen right in the center of it all. This will be a huge step toward alleviating the status of Food Desert in the area, as well as a space for education and congregation. Students who participated in our events this year are more knowledgeable of their surroundings, so close to where they exist for four years. They have been exposed to little ways they can contribute to the community they are a part of and the great effect that small effort can have. As a result of this year, I am a stronger leader and organizer.

- Jeri Beckens, Duke University Community Service Center VISTA

Jacqui set up donation collection systems.
The work I did with Homeward Bound put into motion long term changes that will further enable them to meet their 10-year plan to end homelessness in Asheville. The overall product of my work with them is a streamlined process of donation solicitation, collection, organization, and distribution.  Additionally I laid groundwork for case mangers to work with [the new volunteer coordinator] in a collaborative way and to begin to see the significance of getting donations to individuals as they move into new homes. My work with Warren Wilson College was two fold.  First it strengthened and deepened the Service Program Office’s relationship with Homeward Bound. [The volunteer coordinator] and I have talked about having a WWC student intern in the fall and we’ve been planning projects for when students return. Also this year, my coordination of the [alternative] Break Trip Program brought to light the need for a part-time staff position to be solely dedicated to the program. In turn we have hired [a new staff person] who will continue the progress I made in organizing and deepening the program. My work helped clarify how I want to be an active member in my community. I get a lot of energy from working directly with volunteers but also want to find an organization that empowers the clients. Through my VISTA work I discovered that I want to activate people. I am a facilitator/coordinator at heart and this year gave me numerous ways to practice and increase my skills.

- Jacqui Trillo, Warren Wilson College VISTA

At her host campus: "I coordinated various days of service such as MLK Day and Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week. I also worked with UNCA faculty to increase service-learning opportunities at Randolph." At her community partner: "I increased presence of UNCA off campus, in the larger Ashville community especially at Randolph by maintaining their volunteer program. I have created a comprehensive 'Volunteer Coordinating Manual' for the new VISTA through Asheville City Schools Foundation. My support of co-curricular programming between UNCA and Randolph. I brought Randolph students to campus multiple times for lectures, performances, or exhibits that seemed relevant to either them or their coursework. These experiences seemed meaningful and helpful for the Randolph students in multiple capacities." On herself: "I learned a lot about my personal values this year. I have been in the place to either respond or initiate really complex dialogues about some deep-seeded issues in Asheville that has been a completely new experience to me. I never really saw myself working with youth, especially disenfranchised youth honestly.... For me, getting to know these kids has been the biggest impact. Although I have developed a wealth of professional development skills this year, what I will 'take-away' the most is to just view all people as people and ask the tough questions. I strongly believe that if there is a dialogue and room for action, inequalities and disparities can be alleviated."

- Sara Brown, UNC Asheville VISTA

The work has impacted me because it taught me to use patience with people and situations and not to let it deter me from my ultimate goals. Between H.L. Trigg and Elizabeth City State University, using the VISTA program, it's in the process of bridging the gap between the two and it's a lot closer than it's ever been between the two.
- Marion Hudson, Elizabeth City State University VISTA

Sally at the garden, even in January
My work in creating the food pantry to support those experiencing poverty on campus developed into a community of its own. Many of our pantry participants are also donors and volunteers, giving back when they are able and taking what they need when necessary. We have developed and are developing partnerships with many groups in Durham who understand the importance of addressing students' basic needs in order to help them succeed academically. We have fed over 250 households, and we have the capacity to sustain our work into the fall semester, when many more students enroll who are in need of financial assistance. On a personal level, this program has truly shown me the importance of building a network of support and creating a social program which allows the recipients of aid to contribute to the success of the work. I am very proud to be a part of a project which empowers others to give and respects the dignity of those experiencing hardships.
- Sally Parlier, Durham Technical Community College VISTA

This year I was able to add a lot of infrastructure... through the development of curriculum and sustainable programming efforts. I have also been able to connect the Office of Service and Social Action with new community partners and programs. Through the Campus Kitchen, community partners have received an increase in fresh produce and redistributed food to serve the community as a result of an increase in student and faculty/staff involvement. Although the N.E.R.D. Program was not launched this academic year, the curriculum developed for this program will help to better prepare students when working with community partners that have an education based mission. My VISTA service has made me very humble and thankful for what I have. There are so many skills and experiences that I have had a major influence on my plans for the future. I have realized that I love programming and collaborative efforts. I have also realized that I have a strong passion for people and for social injustices.
-Takira Dale, Wake Forest University VISTA

This job is all about getting Queens students excited to volunteer.  After they go and volunteer for the first time their expierence will take care of the rest. Sedgefield appreciates Queens so much its easy to want to return....Working as a VISTA with Queeens has helped me gain many valuable skills such as: management, program development and coordinating, and some great networking opportunites. I feel confident in these new skills and believe that they will greatly help me in the future
- Christina D'Aulerio, Queens University of Charlotte VISTA

My VISTA service made an impact on my host site, in that I was able to increase the knowledge students have about food insecurity through talking with multiple classes about the topic and its implications. I was also able to open a new work-study opportunity for students through the creation of the work-study maintenance position at Centro Latino. My VISTA Service made an impact on my community partner in many ways. One way that my service impacted my partner is that we were able to come up with a volunteer manual for all current and new volunteers. This manual was incredibly helpful for the organization of volunteers, and for the volunteers to understand exactly what their responsibilities were. My VISTA year impacted me in that I learned three valuable skills that I will take with me everywhere I go. First I learned patience. I learned that you have to be willing to contact people with enough time to wait for them to get back with you. You also have to have the patience to wait.... Along with patience I learned persistence. When someone does not call you back do not hesitate to send them another email or try calling them a second time. From experience I know that emails can easily get lost in your inbox.... Lastly, I learned how to budget. As a VISTA, we understand that we will not be making tons of money during our year of service. While this is not a huge issue for us because we are not in the VISTA position for money, it teaches you to look at what you really need and what you don’t need.
- Ariel Mitchell, Lenoir-Rhyne University VISTA