Thursday, October 24, 2013

UNCG VISTA expands partnership to fight homelessness, hunger

Devin Corrigan wasn't exactly sure what to expect when she joined the North Carolina Campus Compact VISTA team in August of this year. But she describes life as a VISTA so far as undeniably awesome. Devin is the NC Campus Compact VISTA placed at UNC Greensboro in the Office of Leadership and Service-Learning and the Interactive Resource Center. The Interactive Resource Center (IRC) assists people who are homeless, recently homeless or facing homelessness reconnect with their own lives and with the community at large. Devin is the second NC Campus Compact VISTA hosted by UNCG to work with the IRC. Her predecessor, Anya Piotrowski, helped to start the IRC's community garden.

Though Devin has only been at her site for just a couple short months, she's already had a wealth of experiences and built up a knowledge base about the work she's doing. She says the biggest surprise for her was the chaos. She describes homelessness as being chaotic and unstable by nature and says she experiences some of it by proxy, working at the IRC. This has been a challenge for her to work through, but feels like she's learning to adapt to the fluidity of the organization and meet people where they are. She's proud of working "together with" the people the IRC serves, rather than "working for," or worse, "working on" them.

While at the IRC she will be piloting a financial literacy program for their guests. Many of the IRC's guests are "unbanked," meaning they do not have a bank account and utilize check cashing services as their primary financial institutions. This is problematic because many check cashing services are expensive, predatory, and discourage saving. One of Devin's goals is to develop an IDA (Individual Development Account) program at the IRC that would match guests' savings. She describes the IRC's needs for this year and the future:

"I think that capacity building is a huge need for the IRC and VISTAs are critical in making that happen. The number of guests we serve keep growing and we need to determine how to best utilize our resources to meet that need. As a VISTA, I am hoping to expand partnerships at the IRC so that we aren't duplicating services or competing for resources with other organizations in our community." 
When she's not at the IRC most recently she's been organizing student leaders on UNCG's campus to plan and execute UNCG's Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. She very pleased with both the administration at UNCG and the students. She says the administration is supportive and the students are both passionate and creative.

Devin spent four years at and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville in 2013.
While there, she double majored in Political Science, and Ethics and Social Institutions with a concentration in American Poverty. She loves Asheville and believes everyone should visit. She became a VISTA because she wanted to be engaged in the community full-time. As an undergrad she worked on different poverty alleviation efforts as an intern or volunteer. She wanted to learn, grow, and do more and AmeriCorps VISTA seemed like a good fit.She hopes this year of service will help her learn more about herself and what direction she would like to go in the future. She's open to more service, working as staff in the nonprofit world, traveling, or trying something totally new. Eventually she plans to attend graduate school but says she'll cross that bridge when she comes to it.

In her free time she likes to run, read, bake, go to concerts, and hang out with her friends. She just recently started playing ultimate Frisbee and says she's bad at it but earnest. One day she'd like to have both a motorcycle and a puppy. Devin grew up in a large Irish Catholic family in Queens, NY and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina with her family when she was in high school. She says she loves North Carolina, Asheville in particular, but will always call Queens home. She has two younger brothers, both of whom are about a foot taller than her, and who she says are by far the funniest people she's ever met. True to her roots, she's an avid Giants fan.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

VISTA Alumni Network Newsletter #1

This page contains the full text of features from our recent VISTA Alumni Network newsletter. Scroll down to find the following -

Alum Spotlight: Jessica Gagne Cloutier (ECU, 2004-06)
Alum Spotlight: Jodi Lasseter (Peace College, 2004-05)
VISTA 2012-13 Impact Snapshots
Blast from the Past! Photo Slideshow

Alum Spotlight: Jessica Gagne Cloutier (ECU VISTA, 2004-06)

Jessica as a VISTA
Sometimes a "gap year" becomes a career. Jessica Gagne Cloutier was thinking about her post-grad options as an Elon University senior when she decided to take the advice of NC Campus Compact VISTA Jessica Snow (Elon, 2003-04) and spend a year doing service before starting down the PhD road to a college professorship. "Then I fell in love with it," she recalls of her time at East Carolina University's Volunteer and  Service-Learning Center. "It allows me to serve on a college campus, as I had always envisioned - just in a different capacity."

Her two years of VISTA service at ECU helped Jessica gain skills and experience "straight out of undergrad that I continue to use every day" as the Coordinator of Community Service at Keene State College in New Hampshire. Hurricane Katrina happened during her term at ECU, and she remembers the urgency of engaging students for that disaster relief work. She also recalls her contributions to the alternative spring break program, "watching the program grow from 1-2 trips to more than 10 trips," and seeing students who had never traveled before get "an alternate perspective on the world."

Jessica also has fond memories of NC Campus Compact VISTA retreats at Seven Lakes and of former NC Campus Compact Executive Director John Barnhill drinking "tons of Diet Coke."

After two years as a VISTA at ECU, she was hired as a coordinator in the Volunteer and Service-Learning Office. During six years on staff at the VSLC, she helped other programs grow, including a community service learning community which "evolved from a residential community of like-minded students to a program with real academic tie-ins."

Jessica is glad to be in New England close to family, but she still appreciates her VISTA years. "It opened doors that might not have been opened, early in my career." And she has continued her connection to AmeriCorps VISTA by supervising other Campus Compact VISTAs over the years. "Once you complete a term of national service you are always connected with others from that network," she says. When she's at a meeting or conference and sees someone wearing the AmeriCorps logo, she feels that "immediate bond to them."

"I'm forever grateful for the opportunity to find a career in which I feel fulfilled every day."

Alum Spotlight: Jodi Lasseter (Peace College VISTA, 2004-05)

Jodi Lasseter has never been afraid to strike out on her own as she attempts to bring people together. In 2003, she was part of the inaugural AmeriCorps team at City Year Boston, and in 2004 she became the first VISTA at Peace College (now William Peace University), where she helped establish the school's Office of Community Involvement. Now she's started her own consulting firm to share the expertise she gained from a decade of work in mediation, activism, and grassroots organizational development with groups like the Amazon Alliance and the national Engage Network.

After growing up in Asheville, North Carolina and attending UNC-Chapel Hill, Jodi joined City Year Boston, where she was part of the program's first cohort. After her term with City Year, Jodi became an NC Campus Compact VISTA at Peace College (now William Peace University) in Raleigh, NC where she relished the challenge of helping to create a civic engagement office from scratch.

When we spoke with Jodi this summer, she recalled the tremendous growth in the involvement of Peace students during her VISTA year. "Over the course of the year we went from having 50 students regularly involved to almost 500," she says. For example, students started a green team to focus on recycling and the environment. Jodi also remembered "one heck of a spring break trip" to South Carolina to work with Habitat for Humanity and to conduct coastal clean-ups with another agency.

Jodi says the most memorable part of her VISTA year was "working with students and supporting their leadership and seeing them come into their own about what it is they could do, what it is they cared about.... It was really beautiful to see young women really come into their leadership."

After VISTA, Jodi earned a Masters in International Development, Community and Environment from Clark University, and she pursued a passion for cross-cultural dialogue and positive social transformation through community-based work in East Africa, South America, Western Europe, Mexico and throughout the U.S. During four years as director of youth mediation for a community-based dispute settlement center, she created a statewide network of youth mediation programs. In her position as the Director of Organization Development for the Amazon Alliance, Jodi strengthened an international network of indigenous peoples' organizations spanning all nine countries of the Amazon Basin. She has recently worked with the national Engage Network to develop their What's Your Tree program.

This summer, the self-described "ecofeminist mountainwoman" started her own company based in Durham, Turning Tides Consulting, to "provide facilitation training and leadership develop for grassroots organizations, particularly those that have a focus on climate justice." She is also Board Chair of Clean Water for North Carolina, a board member of the Conflict Resolution Center of Durham, and a member of the leadership team for RePowering Durham.

When we asked Jodi what difference VISTA had made in her life, she told us: "VISTA service gave me an abiding sense of hope in what can really happen when people recognize we do have power to create the world we want to live in.... It was a lovely, lovely experience."

VISTA 2012-13 Impact Snapshots


Sally Parlier, Durham Technical Community College, 2011-2013
Sally in the garden.

The first NC Campus Compact VISTA ever at Durham Tech, Sally created a community service program from scratch. Over her two years of service, she built a partnership with Briggs Avenue Community garden to address local food insecurity. She developed garden plots for use by Durham Tech students, faculty, and staff, wrote successful grants on the garden’s behalf, and served on its advisory board. She also created the Durham Tech Campus Harvest Food Pantry. One of a handful of on-campus food pantries in the state, DTCH has served over 250 clients and collected 2500 pounds of donated food since it opened in January 2013. To support the pantry, garden, and related projects, Sally secured over $7000 in cash, grants, and in-kind donations and mobilized nearly 100 Durham Tech volunteers. Sally says, "I am very proud to be a part of a project which empowers others to give and respects the dignity of those experiencing hardships."

Christina D’Aulerio, Queens University of Charlotte, 2012-2014

Christina is the second VISTA at Queens to work with partner Sedgefield Elementary School. Since 2011, the university’s Center for Active Citizenship has led an effort to engage students, faculty, and staff in order to “move the needle” at the nearby Title I school, where 96% of students are eligible for free and reduced price lunch. In the past year, Christina coordinated dozens of Queens volunteers across various programs, including Reading Buddies to support the school’s literacy campaign, school beautification projects, and a new Garden Club involving 26 elementary students. For its efforts, Queens – after being nominated by Sedgefield – was one of 20 organizations in the state to receive the Governor’s Medallion Award for community service. For Christina, "The best part of the VISTA experience was watching the volunteers go above and beyond the service they were doing."

Monica Palmeira, Jackson Center, 2012-2013

Monica signing her AmeriCorps oath.
Monica was the first VISTA at the Jackson Center and the first NC Campus Compact VISTA to be hosted by a community-based agency. 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 Jackson Center grew out of oral history projects initiated by a UNC communications professor. During her year of service, Monica streamlined volunteer management and training, involving student interns and other volunteers in a variety of center-supported programs such as a food pantry and home re-hab projects. She also organized a wills clinic with the UNC School of Law, which drafted documents for 15 elderly residents. Most of all, Monica helped the organization develop and grow. During her tenure, it received its non-profit 501c3 designation, established various office protocols, and moved to a new, larger location. Her supervisor, Hudson Vaughan praised her work, noting, "She’s built community and community-capacity, deepened partnerships and created new ones, developed programs and relationships that will far outlast her here, and most of all, filled this community with a presence and a spirit that is unmatched."  

BLAST FROM THE PAST! Photo slideshow

Check out some of our favorite snaps from the VISTA photo archive. You might see a familiar face:

To read our most recent VISTA Alumni Network newsletter, visit our archive.