Hunger and Homelessness Awareness event at UNCG put on by NC Campus Compact VISTA Devin Corrigan with the Interactive Resource Center and Office of Leadership and Service-Learning, listened in on a VISTA-led webinar, and gotten to talk one-on-one with almost all of our VISTAs! I am so excited to join the Campus Compact team and am soaking up all of this knowledge like a sponge (that roughly translates into spending most of my time readingreadingreading!).
"How did I get here?" you ask. Great question! Let's start from the beginning, shall we?
I grew up in Decatur, Georgia, with my two sisters, Rose and Maya, and my Mom. My younger sister Maya is still close to home in Athens, GA, and my older sister now works in Washington DC at the Environmental Investigation Agency. If you're in the area, also check out her band! My two younger brothers, Ed and Nico, live with my Dad in Greenville, NC. As of right now, Ed (15) wants to be an aerospace engineer, but is first learning the magic of operating regular cars, and Nico (12) is seriously considering zoology and currently is running his own massage business around the house.
I grew up wanting to be a three-way tie between professional soccer player, car mechanic, or librarian, but also always really enjoyed being on a team. My love of team sports evolved into a passion for volunteering, fostered both by my family, and my close-knit community of Decatur. I started out my volunteering stint because my older sister was doing it, and so it must be the coolest, right? My older sister went on a mission trip every summer to work for the Appalachia Service Project, spending a week in Appalachia repairing the homes of low-income families. I tried it out, not thinking I would like it, but I kept coming back year after year, not because it was cool, but because of the people; the people who volunteered beside me, yes, but more especially the families I met. Sure we came for a week and repaired a leaky roof, but I left with a strong sense of community. These families lived without adequate access to so many things, but they were rich in the bonds they had with each other, and together they got by. I started to think more deeply about what community meant, and how I could live my own life to engage in a bigger community. What did it mean that I could go back to my warm bed after a week working on a home far less safe than mine, and then say I lived in community with those people? The answer for me was that I couldn't. I wanted to learn more about the inequalities that pervade our society and what it meant to stand beside someone in their struggles, and yet not make them out as my own.
So, I started college at Montclair State University in New Jersey where I played lacrosse, was an Academic Assistant, and acted as Vice President of my Residence Hall Student Council. I finished up with a degree in Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, joining the ultimate frisbee team and working with the Student Power Union to engage students in their school governance. Every summer in between my college terms though, I worked on staff for the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) in Kentucky, where I oversaw volunteer groups just like mine and got to know the families for which we worked for a whole summer, instead of just a week. After graduating from UNCG, I went back to Kentucky and worked as an AmeriCorps Office of Surface Mining/VISTA with the Housing Development Alliance (HDA), which builds and repairs homes for low-incomes families and teaches financial literacy.
While I believe that providing quality housing to low-income families (and everyone) is important, what drew me to these organizations was their over-arching missions of building a stronger communities. ASP is often referred to as a relational ministry with construction on the side, while HDA seeks to strengthen communities by creating quality homes. While ASP and HDA have laid their foundations with housing, NC Campus Compact works through education to build these strong communities. I believe the causes of poverty and inequality overlap in so many different ways, from lack of access to quality housing, or education, or healthy food, but I believe that that core of the solution lies in connecting people with one another and strengthening the ties between them.
These NC Campus Compact VISTAs are building the systems that help non-profits sustain communities, but more than that, they are breaking down the systems that challenge our communities by connecting people with one another. As Liz Seymour, the Executive Director of the Interactive Resource Center of Greensboro, so aptly said last Tuesday night at a "Faces of Homelessness" Panel, "After all, we're a community of people, not a community of systems."
I am so excited to see how Campus Compact VISTAS are working with and within their communities across North Carolina to engage volunteers in their local non-profits, and how I can best support each of our VISTAS in a successful year of service!