Wednesday, September 25, 2013

UNC Pembroke remembers, serves in honor of 9/11

By Dalton Hoffer, NC Campus Compact VISTA at UNC Pembroke

UNC Pembroke volunteers served the community Saturday 14th, 2013 for UNC Pembroke’s 4th Annual 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance. Over 100 UNCP students, faculty and staff served at eleven community sites in the Pembroke and Lumberton areas, engaging over 50 community members.

The day started with a remembrance ceremony on the UNCP campus.  The Air Force ROTC color guard opened with the raising of the flag.  Four (4) UNCP students harmonized to sing the national anthem.  Mike Clawson, retired Army Colonel and Program Coordinator UNCP Military and Veteran Services gave an inspiring and motivating message to the on-looking volunteers.  The day of service was led by 18 student site leaders.  Site Leaders and volunteers worked on several different projects including a cleaning along and removing debris from the Lumber River, gardening and repairing garden beds, washing and walking sheltered dogs, cooking and serving homeless citizens, registering walkers and participating in the Hunger Walk and several outdoor maintenance projects.

At the end of the service day, site leaders led a reflection with volunteers at the service sites.  Each volunteer was given a card and asked to write a word that described their day of service experience.  Volunteers listed “awesome”, “inspiring”, “fulfilling” and “tough” as some of the words that described their experience.  Each volunteer shared their word and how that word described their experience.  On the other side of the card volunteers were asked to write their age on 9/11/2001.  Student volunteers shared how the 9/11 events impacted their lives until now.  Sharing volunteer reflections highlighted the importance of day of service. Many students shared that they look forward to new service opportunities and continuing their service at UNC Pembroke.

P.S. A UNCP alum and former student worker in the university's Office of Civic Engagement, Dalton had participated in 9/11 Day of Service events in the past. But as the VISTA and lead coordinator this year, he said, "I had to step up." Dalton implemented several changes including extensive social media advertising and closer collaboration with student site leaders. The leaders, including a number of first years, were identified early in the semester; and they helped with planning, identifying service sites, and recruiting volunteers. Dalton organized meetings and trainings for the leaders, including a session on 9/11 in advance of the day of service, where leaders participated in reflection, tie-dyed leader t-shirts, and prepped for the event. "At the end of the day, I was most impressed with the involvement of the site leaders and their dedication," Dalton says. The experience taught Dalton lessons too, including the importance of being flexible and sharing tasks. "It was overwhelming at times because I put a lot on myself." In future projects, he expects to make delegating to capable students a priority.

Dalton is looking forward to his next project, a one-night retreat with 20 students to design a mentoring program that will support local high schoolers. He'll be working with community partner, Pembroke Housing Authority, and involving some of the same student service leaders that helped with 9/11 Day of Service.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Elizabeth City VISTA connects campus to community school

ECSU VISTA Marion Hudson describes his service in 6 words.
When he began his VISTA service at Elizabeth City State University in August 2012, Marion Hudson had some advice for fellow VISTA Tiara Pugh, who was new in town: "Elizabeth City is what you make it: if you aren't willing to go out and do something, you're gonna be bored."

From his experience as a student at ECSU, Marion knew the largest city in northeastern NC had plenty to offer, despite its rural surroundings. As an undergrad, he was involved in many volunteer and service activities with his fraternity Kappa Alpha Si, and his experiences working with kids at a nearby alternative school drew him to the VISTA opportunity at his alma mater. The VISTA positions would be used to increase the university's involvement with H.L. Trigg Community School, the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Public School System's alternative school for middle and high school students who have difficulty succeeding in a traditional school setting.

"I was pretty familiar with Trigg. We did service work over there such as putting on Black history programs and homework help," he recalls. "I knew the kids could use extra support."

As a VISTA, Marion worked to coordinate university student volunteers at Trigg, while Tiara planned enrichment programming that leveraged university resources, including career exploration days and college access programs. Marion also recruited and coordinated volunteers for ECSU's campus-wide community service events such as the MLK Day of Service. For Marion, working with Tiara was a "very, very great thing. Whenever I got stuck she would give me ideas. If one of us was hesitant, the other would say let's do it."

One of his proudest accomplishments this service year was the "Extreme Makeover" project for the Trigg school library. During Trigg's spring break week, ECSU volunteers spent several days re-painting the library and re-organizing materials, including new books and supplies collected
VISTA Tiara Pugh (R) sprucing up the Trigg school library.
through an earlier donation drive on-campus.

"The principal told us at the end of the year that was the most help they'd received in a long time," he recalled.

This past spring, Marion decided to re-enroll for a second year of VISTA service. He will continue working with ECSU students and with Trigg, and he is excited about a plan to develop Project Shadow, a college access program that will let Trigg students "shadow" ECSU students to see what college is like.

Already this year, Marion has had success, working with ECSU and Trigg administrators to create 4 work study positions to staff the Trigg school library that he helped renovate last year. (The school does not have a full-time media specialist.) He is also organizing a charity basketball tournament for the 9-11 Day of Service and Remembrance. In the year ahead, he'll keep working to help others "go out and do something" in the Elizabeth City community.

"The work has impacted me because it taught me to use patience with people and situations and not to let it deter me from my ultimate goals. Between H.L. Trigg and Elizabeth City State University, using the VISTA program, it's in the process of bridging the gap between the two and it's a lot closer than it's ever been."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Community Partners share their Stories of Impact

Last week we posted Stories of Impact from our 2012-2013 VISTA cohort. We shared stories told in the VISTAs' own voices about how their work impacted their campus, their community, and themselves. This week we look at service from the other side of the coin: the community partner.

One of our project's goals is to increase the organizational capacity of community partners or community-based projects. To learn if we're succeeding, we surveyed community partner representatives in March and July of 2013. A total of sixteen individual community partner organizations responded to the survey, and the results were very positive.
A Virginia Tech student at the MLK DayCare Facelift

Let's talk numbers: When asked about the VISTA's overall impact on their project or organization, 87.5% of respondents indicated the impact was "significant" or "very significant." Over 68% of respondents said VISTA efforts led to "significant" or "very significant" increase in the resources available to the partner organization. Eighty-seven percent of partners agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "As a result of the VISTA member's work, my organization is now able to offer clients new or more effective services," and 68% agreed that their "organization is now able to operate more effectively or efficiently." Clearly, community partners were satisfied with the VISTA members' contributions to their projects and organizations. VISTAs make a difference!

Several community partner respondents shared reflections on their experience with the VISTA this year. Many gave the VISTAs high praise for their commitment and hard work. For example, Homeward Bound staffer Emily Ball declared, "Jacqui [Trillo] added critical capacity to a new project of ours, which works on getting furniture & housewares into the apartments of people we're moving out of homelessness and into housing of their own. Jacqui helped us create so many new systems for our Welcome Home project!"

Eric Howard, a social worker at William Randolph High School, described VISTA Sara Brown as "not only an outstanding ambassador for the program, she was also a mentor, a leader, and very supportive of all students and staff. We had the most applications and acceptance to college, largely because of the work of Ms. Sara Brown."

Rebecca Oats, Executive Director at the Lyon Park Community Center, described VISTA Jeri Beckens as "innovative." She continues, saying Jeri "works well with others who look to her for guidance, direction, and attention. She is an excellent writer and speaker. She has good moral values and a love for family, which has played out in her life of giving back and always looking for opportunities to help individuals. She has looked for ways that she could help to make this community better. She embraced her work with enthusiasm."

Anne Faris of the New River Valley Head Start program had similar praise for Wyatt Taylor, VISTA at Virginia Tech, and his work:
"Head start now has more partnerships with VT staff and students. With Wyatt's direct contact with the VT campus, he has been able to formulate volunteer databases of the students; provided recruitment opportunities for staff and students through campus venues; contacted professors concerning service opportunities for staff and students; he also has given student groups volunteer training information/materials. Our connections to the VT community have grown with 2 groups adopting specific centers for the upcoming year and hopefully years to come; continued focus on Head Start centers with the MLK Day of Service; and 5 contacts with specific VT staff and students for specific projects that can enhance our Head Start classrooms and centers."
Michelle Wallace of the NC Cooperative Extension office and the Briggs Avenue Community Garden. Michelle worked closely with Sally Parlier, VISTA at Durham Technical Community College. Michelle credits Sally as a "true asset to the garden" and someone who has "really made a difference in the overall success of the program" by leading volunteers to work in the plot, strengthening a relationship with Durham Tech, searching and applying for grants, and providing valuable contributions at advisory board and plot owner meetings. This spring, Sally and Michelle presented together at the NC Master Gardener Association Conference. They talked about their work and about campus-community garden collaborations.

We appreciate community partners working with VISTAs, sharing their perspectives, and giving us feedback. In 2013-2014, new and returning VISTAs will continue to develop many of these partnerships and projects.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Guilford VISTA draws on family heritage to support immigrant youth

Bevelyn Ukah grew up in Atlanta, Georgia in a very close knit, international household. She draws on her experiences as a Nigerian-American woman to better understand the immigrant families she works with as the AmeriCorps VISTA at Guilford College.

Located in Greensboro, NC, Guilford is a private school founded by the Quakers of about 2,700 students. They are also one of 27 Bonner Scholars campuses in the country. The program financially supports students who would otherwise be working full or part-time jobs in exchange for them performing acts of service. A Guilford alum, Bevelyn completed a double major in Sociology/ Anthropology and International Studies with a concentration on Africa in May 2010.

It was her graduate studies, however, at the SIT Graduate Institute on Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management that brought her to VISTA service. Her program required her to complete a practicum. Each degree candidate does at least six months of field work to help them translate academic theory into practice. She wrote a proposal that allowed her to return to Guilford College, her alma mater, where she knew she would have a strong community to support her learning. Because her interdisciplinary degree focused on community engagement, VISTA offered an opportunity to work within her field and make a difference in a community she cares about.

Bevelyn and James Shields
Bevelyn describes her position as an NC Campus Compact VISTA as "amazing." She continues,
"I have learned so much about the Greensboro community and could not have accomplished any of my goals without community support. The Bonner Center for Community Service and Learning is an exceptional VISTA post as there are so many opportunities and connections to engage in community building. James Shields and Andrew Young have been great mentors in understanding community and strategic planning in affinity with the communities being served. I use the word affinity because far too often service imposes the goals and ambitions of privileged groups onto the marginalized. The Bonner Center at Guilford encourages spaces to challenge these notions and to find ways to apply self reflective and community reflective processes to the work that we do."
Working out of the Bonner Center, Bevelyn has ample opportunity to see how special the center really is. One of the center's missions is to create a cultural shift on campus and increase community learning. She describes the culture at the center as one of honesty and flexibility. There is space there for creativity, relationship building, critical dialogue, and application.

Bevelyn's service has focused on building a stronger partnership between Guilford College, Elimu Empowerment Services, and the American Friends Service Committee. Her work with Elimu includes supporting the development of after-school and summer programs for immigrant and refugee youth, establishing Elimu as a designated Bonner Center partner, and recruiting and training a Bonner Scholar to serve as a liaison/coordinator with the organization in the new academic year. She has also helped establish partnerships between Guilford and other local nonprofits that support the immigrant community.

Bevelyn is a self-described workaholic, but says she's working on building a stronger personal life outside of work. She says,
"I love to laugh, to be with family, to dance, to engage in deep conversation, to learn about people and culture, and to travel. I really wish that I could travel a lot more and am scheming to see how I can do this more often in life."
As a workaholic, Bevelyn is looking forward to continuing the work she has started as a VISTA. She would like to work with social enterprise and explore alternative forms of economy that are more entrenched in humanity from a grassroots perspective. Another big goal is acting as an advocate for, consulting, creating, and supporting alternative learning spaces. She is currently considering another year of service as well as scoping out community coordinating, consulting, and action research positions.

Bevelyn's work has connected her with immigrants and refugees from many backgrounds and of many ages. These relationships, in combination with her own personal work experiences, have helped her become a charismatic and effective communicator. No wonder her chosen superpower would be to talk in multiple languages including the language of plants and animals. "If I could talk to a tree," she exclaims, "oh the lessons!"

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Stories of Impact: VISTAs reflect on their year of service

Have you heard about the Aspen Institute's Franklin Project? The Franklin Project argues national service is good for young people and good for our country, and the organizers, including General Stanley McChrystal, propose vastly expanding national service experiences for millions of young Americans. In fact, several NC Campus Compact member campus presidents and chancellors are part of the effort.

Reviewing final capstone projects and service portfolios from our outgoing 2012-13 VISTA class offers some insight into the value of national service -- both to those who serve and to the communities where they work. We wanted to share a few of their inspiring responses to the prompt, "briefly describe how your work impacted: the campus, the community, and YOU."

Leah, green sweater, helped students get their garden on.
I was able to mobilize students to volunteer throughout our community and campus, donating hundreds of hours during the school year. For example, twenty students did over 690 hours in just two weeks during our May Term class both on and off campus. Many hands make light work in community organizations, from the more menial washing and sorting of Capri Sun juice boxes to the dedicated work of interns at my community partner, Project GROWS, on marketing strategies and farm layout plans. Externally, my work made it possible for a lot of people to get involved in the Staunton community and allowed organizations to utilize their willingness to more quickly and efficiently advance a sustainable food system in our region. Personally, I realized I had the skills and organizational know-how to effect positive change in my community. By coming to understand that I am capable I have been able to convince other people that they are, too.
- Leah Pallant, Mary Baldwin College VISTA

Elizabeth worked with Campus Kitchen
Campus Kitchen at ECU has come a long way in the last three years.  Since August of 2012, we have added a new partner (Joy Soup Kitchen), secured funding through March 2014, created constitution and legacy materials for student leaders.  My VISTA service has made me reflect on and be more empathetic to the experience of people in poverty.  I have also realized the work that goes into “behind the scenes” efforts that I have often taken for granted.  This year I have often reflected on the value of a proactive approach to this work.  A VISTA cannot be a reactionary.  To be successful you have to have a vision and work to fulfill it. I have a greater awareness about hunger issues in the U.S.  and what that often looks like.
- Elizabeth Corney, East Carolina University VISTA

I think I can safely say my work has played a big role in establishing the Jackson Center as a lasting community center.  During my time we have both received non-profit tax exempt status and organized a move to a neighboring building that will give us 10 times the space we previously had.  Though I am sad to leave a community that has taught me what it means to REALLY be a neighbor, a giver, what service means, all these things, I am confident my contributions will be lasting.  The programs at the Center are at a much more sustainable point, there are systems and guides in place that allow work to continue. This work has transformed me completely, this is the work of my life.  I want to study City and Regional Planning in graduate school and continue to work on the neighborhood level on issues of community renewal. But this work and this community have become my home, where I have found myself. I will always be back!
- Monica Palmeira, Marion Cheek Jackson Center VISTA

The Southwest Central Durham community is so much closer to having a commercial kitchen right in the center of it all. This will be a huge step toward alleviating the status of Food Desert in the area, as well as a space for education and congregation. Students who participated in our events this year are more knowledgeable of their surroundings, so close to where they exist for four years. They have been exposed to little ways they can contribute to the community they are a part of and the great effect that small effort can have. As a result of this year, I am a stronger leader and organizer.

- Jeri Beckens, Duke University Community Service Center VISTA

Jacqui set up donation collection systems.
The work I did with Homeward Bound put into motion long term changes that will further enable them to meet their 10-year plan to end homelessness in Asheville. The overall product of my work with them is a streamlined process of donation solicitation, collection, organization, and distribution.  Additionally I laid groundwork for case mangers to work with [the new volunteer coordinator] in a collaborative way and to begin to see the significance of getting donations to individuals as they move into new homes. My work with Warren Wilson College was two fold.  First it strengthened and deepened the Service Program Office’s relationship with Homeward Bound. [The volunteer coordinator] and I have talked about having a WWC student intern in the fall and we’ve been planning projects for when students return. Also this year, my coordination of the [alternative] Break Trip Program brought to light the need for a part-time staff position to be solely dedicated to the program. In turn we have hired [a new staff person] who will continue the progress I made in organizing and deepening the program. My work helped clarify how I want to be an active member in my community. I get a lot of energy from working directly with volunteers but also want to find an organization that empowers the clients. Through my VISTA work I discovered that I want to activate people. I am a facilitator/coordinator at heart and this year gave me numerous ways to practice and increase my skills.

- Jacqui Trillo, Warren Wilson College VISTA

At her host campus: "I coordinated various days of service such as MLK Day and Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week. I also worked with UNCA faculty to increase service-learning opportunities at Randolph." At her community partner: "I increased presence of UNCA off campus, in the larger Ashville community especially at Randolph by maintaining their volunteer program. I have created a comprehensive 'Volunteer Coordinating Manual' for the new VISTA through Asheville City Schools Foundation. My support of co-curricular programming between UNCA and Randolph. I brought Randolph students to campus multiple times for lectures, performances, or exhibits that seemed relevant to either them or their coursework. These experiences seemed meaningful and helpful for the Randolph students in multiple capacities." On herself: "I learned a lot about my personal values this year. I have been in the place to either respond or initiate really complex dialogues about some deep-seeded issues in Asheville that has been a completely new experience to me. I never really saw myself working with youth, especially disenfranchised youth honestly.... For me, getting to know these kids has been the biggest impact. Although I have developed a wealth of professional development skills this year, what I will 'take-away' the most is to just view all people as people and ask the tough questions. I strongly believe that if there is a dialogue and room for action, inequalities and disparities can be alleviated."

- Sara Brown, UNC Asheville VISTA

The work has impacted me because it taught me to use patience with people and situations and not to let it deter me from my ultimate goals. Between H.L. Trigg and Elizabeth City State University, using the VISTA program, it's in the process of bridging the gap between the two and it's a lot closer than it's ever been between the two.
- Marion Hudson, Elizabeth City State University VISTA

Sally at the garden, even in January
My work in creating the food pantry to support those experiencing poverty on campus developed into a community of its own. Many of our pantry participants are also donors and volunteers, giving back when they are able and taking what they need when necessary. We have developed and are developing partnerships with many groups in Durham who understand the importance of addressing students' basic needs in order to help them succeed academically. We have fed over 250 households, and we have the capacity to sustain our work into the fall semester, when many more students enroll who are in need of financial assistance. On a personal level, this program has truly shown me the importance of building a network of support and creating a social program which allows the recipients of aid to contribute to the success of the work. I am very proud to be a part of a project which empowers others to give and respects the dignity of those experiencing hardships.
- Sally Parlier, Durham Technical Community College VISTA

This year I was able to add a lot of infrastructure... through the development of curriculum and sustainable programming efforts. I have also been able to connect the Office of Service and Social Action with new community partners and programs. Through the Campus Kitchen, community partners have received an increase in fresh produce and redistributed food to serve the community as a result of an increase in student and faculty/staff involvement. Although the N.E.R.D. Program was not launched this academic year, the curriculum developed for this program will help to better prepare students when working with community partners that have an education based mission. My VISTA service has made me very humble and thankful for what I have. There are so many skills and experiences that I have had a major influence on my plans for the future. I have realized that I love programming and collaborative efforts. I have also realized that I have a strong passion for people and for social injustices.
-Takira Dale, Wake Forest University VISTA

This job is all about getting Queens students excited to volunteer.  After they go and volunteer for the first time their expierence will take care of the rest. Sedgefield appreciates Queens so much its easy to want to return....Working as a VISTA with Queeens has helped me gain many valuable skills such as: management, program development and coordinating, and some great networking opportunites. I feel confident in these new skills and believe that they will greatly help me in the future
- Christina D'Aulerio, Queens University of Charlotte VISTA

My VISTA service made an impact on my host site, in that I was able to increase the knowledge students have about food insecurity through talking with multiple classes about the topic and its implications. I was also able to open a new work-study opportunity for students through the creation of the work-study maintenance position at Centro Latino. My VISTA Service made an impact on my community partner in many ways. One way that my service impacted my partner is that we were able to come up with a volunteer manual for all current and new volunteers. This manual was incredibly helpful for the organization of volunteers, and for the volunteers to understand exactly what their responsibilities were. My VISTA year impacted me in that I learned three valuable skills that I will take with me everywhere I go. First I learned patience. I learned that you have to be willing to contact people with enough time to wait for them to get back with you. You also have to have the patience to wait.... Along with patience I learned persistence. When someone does not call you back do not hesitate to send them another email or try calling them a second time. From experience I know that emails can easily get lost in your inbox.... Lastly, I learned how to budget. As a VISTA, we understand that we will not be making tons of money during our year of service. While this is not a huge issue for us because we are not in the VISTA position for money, it teaches you to look at what you really need and what you don’t need.
- Ariel Mitchell, Lenoir-Rhyne University VISTA