Thursday, February 7, 2013

MLK project updates and recent site visits

The blog has been quiet for a couple of weeks, but our VISTAs have been busy. We have news to share from MLK Day service events and recent visits to four VISTA host sites.

Though some MLK project sites had plans disrupted by winter weather, our VISTAs supported much successful service on MLK weekend. In Raleigh, VISTA Jennifer Evans served at Wake Tech Community College's meal packaging event with Stop Hunger Now and later as part of the United Way's service day. Check out the local news report on Wake Tech's event, which features Jennifer's supervisor, Melody Wiggins, director of WTCC's Office of Volunteerism and Leadership. In Wilmington, Erin O'Donnell (Feast Down East) served with a Cape Fear Crop Mob project at LINC farm, working with local AmeriCorps members from Food Corps and other VISTAs from the QENO project. In Winston-Salem, Takira Dale (Wake Forest) helped organize the annual MLK Day Read-In, which collected new and donated books for kids and enlisted the help of community members and students from Wake Forest, Winston-Salem State, and Salem College. In Elizabeth City, VISTAs Marion Hudson and Tiara Pugh coordinated the service component of a day-long celebration, also partnering with other local higher education institutions. These are just a few of the great projects our VISTAs supported for this national day of service.

We have also made several site visits to meet with NC Campus Compact VISTAs, supervisors, and community partners to learn more about the things our members get done.

Sally (L) and VISTA Leader Rachel Rogers
First, we braved the ice to visit second-year VISTA Sally Parlier at Durham Tech Community College. Focusing on food security issues on her campus and in the community, Sally has worked with community partner Briggs Avenue Community Garden to develop plots for DTCC students and staff, coordinate volunteers for garden workdays and win over $1700 in grant funding to expand the garden. She has also started an on-campus food pantry to serve some of the low-income students on campus. Check out this great story in the Durham Herald. For the rest of her term, Sally will continue to connect DTCC with the Briggs Avenue garden, refine systems she's created for managing the on-campus food distribution, and build structures so the college can continue this work beyond the VISTA term.

Our visit to Chapel Hill offered the chance for a double-dip: we met with our community-based VISTA Monica Palmeira at the Jackson Center and with second-year VISTA Saarah Abdul-Rauf (UNC Chapel Hill). At the Jackson Center (located in the Northside neighborhood in the historic St. Joseph C.M.E. church), Monica has created key systems to manage the Heavenly Groceries food pantry, including a comprehensive volunteer handbook and internship positions that will be filled by UNC Chapel Hill's new Bonner Scholars. Monica also helped plan a community-wide civil rights celebration in November. Check out this local news video of the Jackson Center's civil rights photo exhibit, a center piece of that event.

Monica has an open-door policy at the Jackson Center.
Monica is now working to develop other partnerships with university units, including an upcoming wills clinic with the Black Law Student Association, and she is designing more internships and systems to coordinate volunteers for other Jackson Center programs. Also check out this recent UNC Chapel Hill spotlight article on Monica's supervisor and Center co-founder Della Pollock.

VISTA Saarah Abdul-Rauf spends time each week at her community partner, Volunteers for Youth. Saarah works to support UNC's student-led SMART mentoring program, which provides nearly 30 mentors to young people in VFY's mentoring program. Saarah has coordinated events; created an evaluation to assess satisfaction of mentors, mentees, and family members; and helped to review and refine the mentor training curriculum. Saarah is also the primary liason to the Community Action Center in Pembroke, NC, which is a key partner for the four UNC alternative break trips that visit the area each year. She is exploring other ways UNC can support this community and has created an alternative break partner evaluation that will be used with all break community partners.

Takira with a Demon Deacon.
Finally, this week we visited Takira Dale at Wake Forest University. Takira has created volunteer coordination and operations manuals for the Campus Kitchen project, and she visits kitchen partners regularly to review delivery schedules and offerings and to discuss how the project can better serve the food needs of partner clients. One new effort that has emerged from these visits is the kitchen's nutrition education program, which Takira is now developing. She is also creating a comprehensive training curriculum for students who volunteer as tutors or mentors with children and youth. This effort has led to NERD (Network of Educational Resources and Development), a new coalition of student organizations that undertake tutoring/mentoring activities.

We had the chance to visit a key kitchen and tutoring program partner, El Buen Pastor, a community agency serving Latino families in Winston-Salem's Old Town area. The agency's director was very excited about the ways WFU is connecting to her agency, and she sees the VISTA resource as a great support.

Thanks to all these VISTAs, supervisors, and partners for your hospitality, and keep up the great work!