Tuesday, May 28, 2013

VISTA Starts Music Therapy Program

Today's post comes to us via the VT Engage website. It is written by Alejandra O'Connor, current Virginia Tech VISTA, and features her work and the work of Victoria Ho, graduate student at Radford University.

VISTA Starts Music Therapy Program
by Alejandra O'Connor

Radford University student Victoria Ho works with
several students in Roanoke
Once a week, Radford University graduate student Victoria Ho travels from Radford to Roanoke. She meets with children at the Jamestown Community Center to play music. Ho brings a trunk full of instruments including drums, tambourines, castanets, egg shakers and maracas. Her goal is to use music as therapy for children in the United States on refugee status.

Music Therapy is the use of music to reach non-musical goals such as promoting self and cultural expression, increasing social awareness, decreasing anxiety, promoting positive peer interactions and enhancing relationship-building skills. Practitioners must meet a minimum clinical hour requirement and pass a board certification exam. The Music Therapy program in Roanoke is part of Ho’s clinical practice at Radford University. Ho is supervised by her professor James Borling; a Music Therapy professional for over 30 years. Borling has seen music bridge cultural differences and encourages participants to use music to tell stories. “Vicky has a really unique perspective. She has been able to practice the skills that she learned in the classroom. Her desire to help people has been her driving force in this program and you can really see that in her work”.

Ho is the child of a Vietnamese family who first came to the United States as refugees. “I chose to work with refugee children because of my family background. I saw the hardship my parents had to go through in order to become acclimated to US culture. I know that kids in these types of families sometimes hear terrible stories of what life was like back home and it takes a toll on their emotional well-being. Music can provide a way for those emotions to get out so the child can heal. I also like that I can combine my initial career goal of practicing psychiatry with my love of music”. The participants are primarily from Iraq and South Sudan. Ho successfully uses music to bridge age, gender and cultural boundaries of participants. As they learn from each other, their fear of the unknown becomes significantly less prominent in their lives.

Music Therapy provides a safe place for children to learn how to play an instrument while confronting conscious or unconscious issues resulting from forced deportation. It also provides a unique way for children to integrate into their new homes and become successful students and citizens of the United States.

The partnership between Radford University and VT Engage: The Community Learning Collaborative is managed by AmeriCorps VISTA member Alejandra O’Connor.

For Alejandra, home is where the heart is. The daughter of a Marine, she lived many different places growing up, but for high school and college her family settled in North Carolina and she still calls the state her home. She did her undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and in 2011 earned a Global Master of Arts in International Relations from Webster University.

An interest in humanitarian issues, a strong background in service, and a drive to impact communities made VISTA service a perfect next step for Alejandra. She relocated to Blacksburg, VA to be one of two NC Campus Compact VISTAs at Virginia Tech. Initially Alejandra thought the relocation might leave her on her own a lot, but she's found a friend in fellow NC Campus Compact VISTA Wyatt Taylor and met some great people on and off campus who have made her job adventure amazing. She's also been impressed with how the students and faculty on campus take Virginia Tech's motto Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) to heart.

When she's not at work Alejandra is an avid reader and likes to exercise. She's recently picked up boxing thanks to an on-campus club. She also volunteers with her sorority, Theta Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority Inc., supervising recruitment for several undergraduate and graduate chapters. After her year of VISTA service Alejandra plans to join the Peace Corps.

Monday, May 13, 2013

LRU VISTA continues serving Hickory community

As a Hickory native, Ariel Mitchell has always been part of the community surrounding Lenoir-Rhyne University. But now, after three years as a student at LRU and another nine months as an AmeriCorps VISTA working with Centro Latino of Hickory, Ariel is finally feeling she's making a difference in her hometown; and she doesn't want to move on just yet.

"There are a lot of things we've started this year," she explains, "and I want to see them through. Now that my relationships with Centro Latino and the ladies who work there are strong, I feel my work isn't done."

Ariel's passion for the university's new partnership with Centro Latino of Hickory led to her decision to continue as a VISTA at LRU. She'll start a second term of service in August.

Her initial work with Centro Latino - which provides English language and adult skills classes, immigration services, an after-school program, and other services to Latino residents - was challenging due to language barriers, scheduling issues, and financial constraints. But Ariel was able to spend time at the agency learning about its work and the growing Latino community it serves; and she had some early successes last fall, organizing a Centro Latino fundraising event at an LRU soccer game and creating a community work study position at the site.

In recent months, she has helped the agency develop plans for a new "Adopto un Abuelito" (Adopt a Grandparent) program that will pair women in the agency's health group with older Latino residents to deliver food assistance and serve as companion/advocates. She helped shape the program through discussions with Centro's executive director and with women in the group, and she connected Centro leaders with other local food assistance programs to learn best practices and get advice on program design. A parallel effort to create an emergency food pantry at Centro is also underway.

As these programs expand in the coming months, Ariel looks forward to connecting students, faculty and staff at LRU with Centro to support these and existing projects like the after-school program. She has already created a volunteer manual and application process for the agency to better manage student and community volunteers.

First year LRU students at Hands on Hickory last fall.
 In addition to her work building a partnership with Centro Latino, Ariel helps LRU students engage with the Hickory community in other ways. She organized the university's Hands on Hickory event for first year students and coordinated community service sites for the MLK Day of Service in January. She has spoken to a number of LRU's "first year experience" classes about local service opportunities, and she brought a number of community agencies onto campus for a service fair.

Even before she became a VISTA, Ariel's own educational experience played a part in broadening her vision beyond the campus. Before transferring to LRU as a sophomore, Ariel attended a state school, then took classes at Catawba Valley Community College. Her studies as a human and community services major at LR helped prepare her for her VISTA role. This year, building relationships with LR student leaders and volunteers has been another positive for Ariel. She hopes to take advantage of all these relationships to help more people connect with Hickory the way she has.

"With those relationships, and another year of service, I think we can make our volunteer involvement grow immensely," she says.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Mary Baldwin VISTA cultivates new projects

Leah Pallant likes to make things. She bakes sourdough bread, brews her own kombucha (a fermented, sweetened tea), and she's recently gotten back into amateur bookbinding. She also likes to help things grow and spent the winter nudging new life into a few seedlings in her room. She's excited to give them a new home in her yard when the weather gets warm enough.

Leah is the VISTA working out of the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement at Mary Baldwin College, a small, liberal arts school in Staunton, VA. Mary Baldwin has just under 800 residential students which can make the volunteer pool seem dauntingly small. But Leah praises the culture of service at the school and highlights their big push toward service learning for their residential students. Back in October she had great participation at the Food Day events she organized and more recently she lead a group of students on an alternative break experience.

When she's not at Mary Baldwin, Leah spends her time with Project GROWS. Project GROWS is a nonprofit community farm that helps educate the population on nutrition and food security. Leah has established a relationship between the organization and the college that she is confident will continue to flourish after her VISTA term is done in August. Currently, she's working with them to develop a manual on volunteer best practices. She's also connected more than 40 students with volunteer opportunities at Project GROWS. That's 5% of the Mary Baldwin student body!

Leah describes her life so far as a VISTA as both a challenge and a joy. She says she didn't know what to expect when she joined and remembers talking with former VISTAs who told her to get used to ramen noodles and late nights. Others praised the experience. Eight months in Leah says VISTA is what she hoped it would be: "I am autonomous and my coworkers respect me, but I am also getting better at asking for help. Money is tight, but it's nothing a good budget (and a lot of wishing that my car won't break down) can't deal with."

Leah grew up in a small town in North Western Pennsylvania called Meadville. She shares her hometown with Talon Zippers, Dad's Dog Food, and Allegheny College. She did her undergraduate work at Oberlin College and Conservatory and graduated in May of 2012. While there she focused on environmental studies and waste-water treatment and spent all four years working at (and eventually running) the Living Machine.

VISTA was another opportunity for Leah to get creative, get her hands dirty, and give back. Forty percent of the Meadville population lives below the poverty line. Looking back at her experience growing up she says, "Knowing so many people who do so much with so little, I can't imagine doing anything with my life other than giving back everything I can to the people around me." It is this sentiment which reflects what she describes as the driving force behind her service: Tikkun Olam, which translates from Hebrew to 'healing the world' or 'repairing the world.' Leah describes what it means to her:

"The underlying concept is that, though no one person is expected to fix everything, everyone is expected to contribute. I'm not sure what exactly my parents did to make tikkun olam so central to my life, but they did a good job of whatever it was, and I've always known that I want to spend my life working towards social justice. When it came time to graduate college, becoming a VISTA seemed like the perfect next move: a chance to get my hands dirty and build skills that would help me towards my future career while also helping a community."

Leah's dedication to her work, her community, and her drive to serve embodies the VISTA spirit. She brings life to new projects and encourages growth in the partnership between Mary Baldwin and ProjectGROW. It's no wonder then, given the opportunity to have any superpower, Leah choose not flight or telepathy, but to have a real life green thumb so she could coax plants into growing even in rooms without windows.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Campus Compact and AmeriCorps VISTA Never Leaves You

Today's post was originally posted on the National Campus Compact VISTA Blog. It comes from a two time Compact VISTA Alumna and current VISTA Program Manager at Pennsylvania Campus Compact.

Campus Compact and AmeriCorps VISTA Never Leaves You
by Amy Carraux Price

I'm humbled and honored to introduce myself: I'm Amy Carraux Price and I'm self-identifying as a "Triple Campus Compact-o." You see, students at Tufts University, where Jumbo the Elephant serves as the campus mascot, may claim special "Triple Jumbo" status when they earn Tufts undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate degrees. While I can't claim a "Jumbo" status, I've had the great privilege of serving or working with three Campus Compacts: Massachusetts Campus Compact, North Carolina Campus Compact, and now Pennsylvania Campus Compact.

After graduating from Elon University with a Bachelors of Science and before completing my Master of Arts in Community and Organizational Leadership at Emory and Henry College, I completed two terms of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA. I served first with Massachusetts Campus Compact with Tufts University, and then completed my second year with North Carolina Campus Compact at Mars Hill College. A few years and experiences later, I've joined Pennsylvania Campus Compact as the Program Manager where I am responsible for leading our AmeriCorps programs. What can I say? I'm passionate and compelled by this important work and the mission of both Campus Compact and AmeriCorps. (I don't want to press my luck with a fourth Campus Compact experience, as I am confident I fooled each state! Shh, don't tell my great colleagues at PACC!

Two brief thoughts related to all this: my Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA experiences made me who I am today and the Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA programs are defining and equipping the next generation of leaders in our great field. I am humbled to feel it and see it every day.  

For me, two years of service provided professional and personal lifelong transformations. I can't extend enough gratitude to my fellow VISTAs and the Campus Compact staff, host site institutions and community partners. You pushed me, you stretched me, you provided definitions, and you gave support. You created intentional space that allowed us to wrestle with the challenges in our communities and beyond. You let me have a huge part of important and necessary community projects.  You trusted me. You helped me envision my future and set tangible goals to get there. You helped me define and develop my understanding of community, of equality, of partnership, of responsibility.

And being one of those staff members, now? I'm most grateful for the patience, kindness, and support of  my current VISTAs and my colleagues. I know I learn more from them than what I am able to share, but I hope to provide some of what I gained. Additionally, I am humbled and awed by the work of my fellow AmeriCorps VISTA Alums -- MA, NC, PA and beyond. Carly works for Corporation for National and Community Service in Washington, DC.  Sarah is a Civic Engagement Coordinator in Georgia. Jay is hosting a 2013-2014 AmeriCorps VISTA in Pennsylvania. There are other AmeriCorps VISTA Alums serving in Campus Compacts across our country. We are the next generation of leaders in this field. We are fighting the great fight, we are collectively raising the presence and value of our field, we are making our communities stronger, healthier and more just. We are doing it well and we are inviting others to join us.

So to wrap it up, Carly (who is working for CNCS, my former VISTA Leader in Boston, and a supportive mentor and dear friend), shared an article in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy. The article, written by Andrew Cohen and titled "You May Leave Boston, but Boston Never Leaves You," eloquently and emotionally captures the sentiments of many, including mine. And I also shamelessly offer, "You may complete a Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA term (or two, or three...), but Campus Compact and AmeriCorps never leaves you." From lessons learned in community to accomplishments shared, from forming friendships with community partners to hard discussions with fellow AmeriCorps VISTAs, from committing to a life of asset-based, mutually-beneificial and reciprocal partnerships to honoring, recognizing, and building social capital, the Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA experience is transformational and enduring.