Monday, February 25, 2013

VT VISTA supports engagement with Head Start

As an alumnus of the University of Virginia, VISTA Wyatt Taylor knew a little about in-state rival Virginia Tech. But since he began serving in the VT Engage office to strengthen partnerships with New River Valley Head Start, he's begun to feel like a true "Hokie." (Whatever that is.)

"People rib me about it in the office," Wyatt says of his alma mater. He doesn't seem to mind. Even a winter snow storm that postponed his biggest service event couldn't chill his enthusiasm for Blacksburg. In the fall he enjoyed hiking and other outdoor pursuits, but he spent much of his time visiting community Head Start sites as part of his work to strengthen VT's partnership with the agency. An added bonus has been the community of other VISTAs in the area: "We get together and have pot lucks."

VT volunteers clean a bus used to transport Head Start kids.
Recently, Wyatt coordinated one of VT's premier service events, the MLK Day Care Face Lift. Originally scheduled for January 26 but postponed due to winter weather until February 9, the project sent 53 students to five local Head Start day care centers to clean, paint, and spruce up facilities. The event continues work begun by previous VISTAs, but Wyatt's emphasis has been on connecting student organizations - like VT's men's lacrosse team - directly with Head Start centers so they can continue a volunteer relationship beyond the MLK event. Wyatt also conducted a needs assessment of sites during the event planning stage to ensure the day of service met centers' most pressing needs.

Wyatt has worked with the New River Valley Head Start system to conceive new ways for VT students to support the children. For example, a new bus buddies program will utilize VT student volunteers as bus monitors to accompany children to and from centers. Wyatt has also worked with students and faculty in VT's Agriculture department to create garden boxes at five Head Start centers. A group of students is designing and implementing age-appropriate lesson plans that incorporate gardening activities.

Wyatt Taylor (far left, VISTA shirt) with student volunteers.
Also in the fall, Wyatt helped coordinate service placements for VT's Week of Engagement and the campus's Remember Serve Learn initiative, which involves students, faculty, and staff in service to commemorate tragedies of 9-11 and the Virginia Tech school shooting on April 16. Wyatt included several local Head Start sites in those events. In the spring, he is looking forward to facilitating ongoing connections between student organizations and the New River Valley Head Starts, clarifying student leadership responsibilities, and strengthening the new service efforts.

His own experience doing community service as an undergrad led him to VISTA. "The idea of student engagement is one I put a lot of stock in," he explains. "It was a big part of my college experience." A native Mississippian with two university professor parents, Wyatt sees the Campus Compact VISTA experience leading him to a career that blends higher education and community engagement.

"Coming to VT was a great option for me," he says. "It couldn't have worked out better."