Thursday, June 27, 2013

VISTA Profile: Jennifer Evans

A favorite question for both existing and potential new VISTAs, is, "If you could have any superpower what would it be and why?" The answers are surprisingly telling. Jennifer's preferred super power was a pretty common one this year: the ability to read people's minds. The 'why,' however, was unique. She believes the ability to read someone's mind would help her to better understand how to reach out to them and provide them with the help they need. This heart of gold and instinct to help is part of what makes Jennifer a great VISTA.

Jennifer Evans is the North Carolina Campus Compact VISTA serving at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh. Her work supports a partnership between Wake Tech and Communities in Schools (CIS) of Wake County.

Like many VISTAs, Jennifer's first exposure to AmeriCorps service was the result of a conversation. Unsure what to do after completing her master's degree, she recalled the dialogue between her and a coworker about the life-changing nature of national service. Jennifer's coworker described her experience as an AmeriCorps member as having shaped her character and helped her find what would ultimately become her career path. "She told me if I ever have an opportunity to become an AmeriCorps member I should take it." With that strong push, Jennifer found her way to the AmeriCorps website and the North Carolina Campus Compact program.

While she's happy to be back in the world of higher education, being placed at a community college is a departure from her prior experience in a college environment. When working at a traditional, 4-year institution you work primarily with students who are 18-24. At a community college the age range is much broader including students who are right out of high school all the way up to grandparents. This has been both a challenge and a learning opportunity for Jennifer. She elaborates,

"How I explain what we do at the Wilmington Street Men's Shelter will differ for my 19 year-old student (who's going home to party after the event) from the 45 year-old student who's going home to cook for her 10 year-old son. It's an entirely different environment, but we all have the same purpose: to give our students the best possible education with sustainable skills once they leave our institution."

Jennifer Evans (left) and Rachel Rogers
Jennifer's work supports a partnership between Wake Tech and CIS of Wake County. Through this work she's come to realize exactly how much her community partner does for the students in Wake County's public schools. Jennifer is currently developing a proposal to further develop Wake Tech's partnership with CIS of Wake County that includes a long-term volunteer initiative.

Jennifer says she never imagined she would be in a position where she could constantly help the community and recruit others to do the same. She's had a good year so far and finds her experience as a VISTA rewarding and enjoyable. She likes the work she's doing and enjoys being able to meet new people and teach them about AmeriCorps VISTA.

Jennifer is one of the rare NC Campus Compact VISTAs that will finish her term of service in November instead of this coming August and she's already about how her next steps will fit into her long-term interest in higher education: She plans to pursue a PhD in Higher Education Administration or Higher Education Organizational Leadership. She completed her graduate work in Leadership and Training at Liberty University in 2011 and her undergraduate work in English at NC Wesleyan College in 2007.

The youngest of five children, Jennifer is 13 years younger than her oldest (and only!) brother. She describes her family enthusiastically: "Growing up my family was a little like 'The Cosby Show' meets 'Tyler Perry's House of Payne.' There were tons of laughs, tons of food, tons of family, and tons of dancing to the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever...not much has changed." She loves to spend time with her nieces and nephews. When she's not on call as a VISTA, Jennifer is an avid reader, enjoys writing, sewing, arts and crafts, and is a fan of NCIS and the WWE.

Friday, June 21, 2013

NC Campus Compact sponsors 16 VISTA sites in 2013-2014

Since 2003, NC Campus Compact has sponsored an AmeriCorps VISTA program that places VISTA “volunteers” at member campuses to support community engagement projects that address local, poverty-related needs. In 2013 – 2014, sixteen sites across the state will host NC Campus Compact VISTAs.

Typically, a member campus hosts a VISTA in partnership with a local non-profit or K-12 school, but for the first time next term, we are flipping the model to allow several community-based organizations to host VISTAs in partnership with a campus. We expect this approach will position our VISTAs to be even more responsive to community needs and find new ways to engage campus resources in community-based work. All of the 16 projects will address one of the priority focus areas identified by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps programs. The focus areas are education, food security, and economic opportunity. Short summaries for each our 2013-2014 projects are below.

Community Empowerment Fund (CEF)
Partner: UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity
Focus Area: Economic Opportunity

CEF is a student-led non-profit organization based at UNC-Chapel Hill with the dual mission of empowering members to sustain transitions out of homelessness and developing student leadership. The goal of the VISTA project is to increase the capacity and effectiveness of CEF’s Advocate Program, which pairs student volunteer advocates with clients. Advocates support clients through financial coaching, job readiness support, financial literacy education, and connection to housing, mental health, and higher education services. The VISTA will refine and develop CEF’s outreach, intake, and training processes for volunteers, including the creation of a volunteer handbook, implementation of ongoing training curriculum for volunteers, and creation of internal communications systems and protocols. The VISTA will also refine the client intake system and strengthen an existing partnership with the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity.

Duke University, Community Service Center
Partner: Lyon Park Community Center
Focus Area: Healthy Futures

The goals of the Lyon Park Commercial Kitchen VISTA project are to provide access to healthy food for residents of the West End Community and to develop programs that will educate residents on food preparation and healthy eating. The VISTA member will assist with the final stages of the kitchen development and work closely with the Programming Committee to develop programs that meet the needs and interests of community members. The VISTA will develop leadership capacity of committee members by modeling strategic planning methods. Additionally, the VISTA will network with local organizations to develop collaborative programming to teach healthy eating and cooking habits.

Duke University, Partnership for Appalachian Girls Education (PAGE)
Partner: Madison County Schools
Focus Area: Education

The goal of the project is to help young girls and young women in economically-distressed Appalachian communities (Madison County) achieve educational success, including high school completion and college matriculation. The VISTA will carry out activities that support this goal and help PAGE achieve long-term sustainability. The VISTA will collect and compile data on graduation rates and student needs and challenges; assist with an assessment of PAGE programs’ impact on participating students; and develop a strategic fundraising plan. Finally, the VISTA will develop a publicity and outreach plan directed at recruitment and retention of clients and at informing a wider audience of volunteers and supporters.

East Carolina University
Partner: Third Street Community Center
Focus Area(s): Education

At ECU, the VISTA will be hosted by the Volunteer and Service-Learning Center (VSLC). VISTA work will take place on campus and in the community with the Third Street Community Center (TSCC), a new faith-based non-profit meeting youth and workforce development needs in west Greenville. The VISTA will work primarily to support TSCC by developing a volunteer management system, recruiting ECU student volunteers, identifying potential campus partners, and creating an after-school program at TSCC.

Elizabeth City State University (ECSU)
Partner: H.L. Trigg Alternative School
Focus Area(s): Education

At ECSU, the VISTA will be hosted by the Student Life Office. VISTA work will take place on campus and in the community with H.L. Trigg Alternative School, an alternative school serving at-risk students located beside the ECSU campus. The VISTA project aims to support teachers and students at Trigg, engage ECSU students and campus resources in service at Trigg, and to establish appropriate mentoring, tutoring, or afterschool enrichment programs for Trigg students. The VISTA will enhance volunteer recruitment and training, support the development of student organizations that will partner with Trigg, and make on-campus enrichment opportunities available to Trigg students. The VISTA will also coordinate national day of service events.

High Point University
Partner: West End Ministries
Focus Area(s): Economic Opportunity

At High Point University (HPU) the VISTA will be hosted by the Service Learning Program, which is home to the new Bonner Leaders Program. The VISTA’s work will take place on campus and in the community with West End Ministries (WEM), a non-profit agency that provides services such as emergency assistance and adult life skill classes. The VISTA will improve WEM’s volunteer coordination and training systems to support the emergency assistance program. The VISTA will also help develop financial literacy training for WEM clients. The VISTA will serve as a model of how HPU Bonner Leaders can act as liaisons with partner agencies and will help develop supports for students in these roles. The VISTA will also coordinate MLK Day of Service.

Hospitality House of Boone
Partner: Appalachian State University
Focus Area(s): Economic Opportunity

The goal of the VISTA project is to develop the “Enterprise Project,” a thrift store program that will provide an earned income funding source for Hospitality House, act as a resource to meet clients’ needs, and serve as a job skills training program and facility for residents and outreach clients. The VISTA project will build the capacity of Hospitality House to stay sustainable and to continue impacting the community in positive ways through the increased collaboration with the Appalachian State University ACT Program. It will further increase community awareness of the agency and its work, while serving as a new way to recruit and cultivate volunteers to give of their time, talents and treasures.

Lenoir-Rhyne University
Partner: El Centro Latino of Hickory
Focus Area(s): Education, Healthy Futures

At LRU, the VISTA will be hosted by the Office of Engaged Learning and Community Service, which coordinates campus volunteers and service learning opportunities. VISTA work will take place on campus and in the community with Centro Latino of Hickory, a local non-profit agency serving the needs of Latino families in Catawba Valley. This is the 2nd year of the partnership. The VISTA will support Centro’s after-school tutoring program through volunteer recruitment and training. The VISTA will also assist in the development of new food and nutrition programs at Centro. The VISTA will aid in creating a social media manager position at Centro. She will also coordinate food drives and national days of service at LRU.

Marian Cheek Jackson Center
Partner: UNC-Chapel Hill Communications Studies
Focus Area(s): Economic Opportunity

The Jackson Center is 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 VISTA will support the development of Jackson Center programs that serve the housing and financial literacy needs of local low-income residents. Key activities include the maintenance and expansion of service partnerships with university units (including the Communications Studies department), volunteer recruitment and coordination, and the development of a new neighborhood advocacy network to pair elderly residents with student and community advocates who can connect them with services.

NCSU/ Raleigh Colleges and Community Collaborative (RCCC)
Partners: Chavis Heights Community Center
Focus Area(s): Education

At NC State, the VISTA will be hosted by the University Career Development Center, the lead office in the Raleigh Colleges and Community Collaborative (RCCC), a group seeking to promote post-secondary access and success for under-resourced youth in Raleigh. The VISTA will work on campus and in the community with Chavis Heights Community Center,the main site for the RCCC’s College Center. The VISTA will coordinate services and programs at the existing College Center site and seek to expand the model to other partner agencies. Specifically, the VISTA will monitor community needs and catalog RCCC assets, conduct outreach, enhance volunteer management/training, create a participant database, and develop after-school and summer programs.

Queens University of Charlotte
Partner: Sedgefield Elementary School
Focus Area(s): Education

At Queens the VISTA will be hosted by the Center for Active Citizenship, the organization on campus that facilitates campus-community partnerships. VISTA work will take place on campus and in the community at Sedgefield Elementary School, a nearby Title I school where 96% of students are eligible for free/reduced price lunch. Queens will be in its 3rd year of partnership with Sedgefield. The VISTA will work to mobilize volunteers at Sedgefield, to plan enrichment opportunities for Sedgefield students, and to create and strengthen partnerships with university departments, faculty, and student organizations. The VISTA will also begin planning to evaluate the impact of the Sedgefield partnership. The VISTA will also coordinate national days of service.

Partner: Open Doors of Asheville
Focus Area(s): Education

At UNCA, the VISTA will be hosted by the Key Center for Service-Learning and Community Citizenship, which serves as a hub for campus/community engagement efforts. VISTA work will take place on campus and in the community with Open Doors of Asheville, a local non-profit serving at-risk youth through education, enrichment, tutoring, and mentoring. The goal of the partnership is to create mutually beneficial, long-term sustainable projects centered on improving educational and behavioral outcomes for low-achieving students in elementary, middle, and high schools in the Asheville area. Partnership objectives include supporting the development of a new mentorship program between Open Doors and UNCA’s Intercultural Center, building volunteer capacity for the Bright Ideas academic enrichment program serving Open Doors youth at two local Title I elementary schools, and promoting national days of service and community service related to K-12 at-risk youth.

Partner: Interactive Resource Center
Focus Area(s): Economic Opportunity

At UNCG, the VISTA will be hosted by the Office of Leadership and Service-Learning (OLSL), which develops experiential curricular and co-curricular leadership and service-learning initiatives. VISTA work will take place on campus and in community with the Interactive Resource Center (IRC), Greensboro’s day center for people experiencing homelessness. The first year of the project focused on food security with the development of IRC’s Community Garden. In this second year of the project, the VISTA will focus on economic opportunity, especially improving IRC housing services (Trailways Housing Program, Second Chance Renters program). Campus activities will raise awareness about poverty engagement opportunities and train campus leaders.

Partner: Pembroke Housing Authority Residential Services
Focus Area(s): Education, Healthy Futures

At UNCP, the VISTA will be hosted by the Office for Community & Civic Engagement, which supports the university’s mission to empower students to engage in responsible citizenship. The VISTA work will take place on campus and in the community with PHA Residential Services, which provides services for public housing residents. The VISTA will develop and implement university-community collaborations that: 1.) address social and academic issues for at-risk youth, and 2.) create a CARE resource center for distressed students and community members. The community will see an increase in opportunities for at-risk youth to be involved in positive youth development and increased youth involvement in the community through student-led service related projects. Community organizations and local leadership will support and sponsor more collaborations with the university to provide sustainable resources to area youth, local citizens and underrepresented communities.

Wake Forest University
Partner: El Buen Pastor Latino Family Services
Focus Area(s): Education, Healthy Futures

At Wake Forest University, the VISTA will be hosted by the Office of Service & Social Action. VISTA work will take place on campus and in the community with El Buen Pastor Latino Family Services, a local non-profit serving the needs of Latino families in Winston-Salem’s Old Town neighborhood. The VISTA will work to improve volunteer management and training at El Buen Pastor, recruit volunteers for its afterschool program, and develop nutrition education materials for children and families. The VISTA will also support a new on-campus network for student volunteers involved in mentoring and tutoring and coordinate the MLK Day of Service Read-In.

Western Carolina University
Partner: The Community Table
Focus Area(s): Healthy Futures

At Western Carolina, the VISTA will be hosted by the Center for Service Learning, the unit that coordinates campus-community partnerships. VISTA work will take place on campus and in the community with the Community Table, the primary food security agency in Jackson County, serving hot meals and food boxes. The goal of project is to strengthen the relationship between the partners, to build capacity at the Community Table, and to raise awareness about food insecurity. The project aims to provide the Community Table with the resources necessary to meet their customers’ needs, to train and manage volunteers, and to enhance publicity and outreach efforts. The project is also intended to increase awareness of food insecurity issues on campus and in the community through hunger-related projects and programs.

Monday, June 10, 2013

VISTA Profile: Takira Dale

Takira (2nd row, 3rd from right) & students
at Elon University's Hunger Dialogue

Takira Dale was not new to Winston-Salem or Wake Forest University when she started there as a NC Campus Compact VISTA this past August. She graduated in May of 2012 with a BA in Sociology and a minor in American Ethnic Studies and still proudly and enthusiastically identifies as a Demon Deacon. While at Wake she participated in a number of student volunteer organizations. She also got a chance to participate in a service trip to South Africa where she worked in a primary school. While there she encountered poverty and hunger on a scale she had not previously experienced. Her time in South Africa and her volunteer work while at Wake helped motivate her to work towards real change in her community and on her campus and ultimately lead her to NC Campus Compact and national service.

Life as a VISTA at Wake has been very rewarding for Takira though she says she wasn't quite sure what to expect when she started her service. She describes the campus community as cozy and says the culture of service at Wake is embedded in the fibers of the university. She finds the student body and the campus community as a whole to be a wonderful reflection of the school motto, Pro Humanitate (for humanity). Takira has found she's learned a lot about herself both professionally and personally over her year as a VISTA and feels the experience has helped her more clearly see the challenges facing communities all over the country.

This year her focus as a NC Campus Compact VISTA has been Healthy Futures and Education. She's worked with Campus Kitchen and El Buen Pastor. Through her work Wake has developed a stronger relationship with its surrounding community. Wake Forest community partners have received an increase in the amount of food donated to serve their clients and have benefited from better trained and supported student volunteers. Takira is particularly proud of the N.E.R.D. (Network of Educational Resources and Development) program she created. The program trains and supports students to be effective, informed, and culturally competent volunteers. She's also been involved in campus events like Turkeypalooza, an event hosted by Wake Forest Campus Kitchen. During the event faculty, staff, and students work together to prepare holiday dishes at the Campus Kitchen facilities. Volunteers then deliver the prepared food to organizations all over Winston-Salem.

Takira describes her experience this year as a Wake Forest VISTA as "amazing!" Because her time at Wake Forest was so positive she decided to continue as a VISTA for an additional year and take a step outside of her comfort zone at Wake Forest and apply to another NC Campus Compact VISTA host site. Takira talks about her decision-making process, "I thought Duke would be a perfect fit for me to gain more experience at a site focusing on healthy futures and because of it's location in Durham. Like most campuses, students rarely venture outside of their collegiate bubble. After helping to immerse students at Wake into the Winston-Salem community, I thought that it would be great to do the same at Duke. I am excited to learn more about North Carolina and Durham."

Takira hails from Henderson, NC, a small town of about 15,000 people on the border of North Carolina and Virginia. She shares her home with Kerr Lake and The Peanut Roaster (makers of delicious peanut flavors such as Ginger Wasabi, Ranch Bacon, and Carolina Barbecue), and the location for one of the first Wal-mart Super Centers within the three surrounding counties. She says growing up on a dirt-road in a place like Henderson was instrumental in shaping her passion for social justice issues and helping others. In her free time she loves to cook and try new recipes. She also enjoys spending time with her family and friends, traveling, and listening to live music.