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