|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|
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.|
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!