Tuesday, December 3, 2013

VISTA Camille Smith reaches out at Raleigh College Center

VISTA Camille Smith shares info about area colleges.
While a student at NC State University, Camille Smith often found herself working in the Raleigh community. The Anderson, SC native led her alternative break team in monthly pre-trip service with Habitat for Humanity of Wake County, interned with Stop Hunger Now, and organized campus-wide service events as co-chair of the Student Government's Community Service Commission. But since becoming the Raleigh College Center VISTA in August, Camille is reaching out to new people and organizations, and learning about the city along the way.

"One of the highlights for me so far was the 75th Anniversary of the John Chavis Memorial Park, which served as a meeting place for segregated blacks leading up to the Civil Rights movement, and a gateway for community involvement for students of local HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities)," Camille explains. "I represented the Raleigh College Center, handing out brochures and our event calendar. It was a great chance to learn the history of the area and get to know the people the John Chavis Community Center serves. It is definitely one big happy family!"

As a VISTA, Camille supports the development of the Raleigh College Center (RCC), an effort hosted by the John Chavis Community Center in southeast Raleigh. The College Center opened in 2012 as part of the Raleigh Promise. The Promise is a collaboration among local higher education institutions, philanthropies, non-profits, businesses, and the City of Raleigh. The group's goal: double the number of low-income youth in Raleigh who earn a post-secondary credential and living wage employment by 2025. As a hub of college information for youth and families, the Raleigh College Center is a key part of the effort.

During her first few months in the VISTA role, Camille has started a weekly newsletter to share RCC events and keep the Promise partners informed. She has also helped coordinate college fairs and financial aid information sessions at Chavis, and worked with the Parks & Recreation Department's Teen Outreach Program (TOPs) to coordinate college visits for groups of local teens. The College Center also offers free SAT prep courses for community youth and has laptops available on site to turn the space into a computer lab.

Camille spends several days a week at Chavis, coordinating RCC programming and collaborating with community center staff. She also works out of NC State's Career Development Center, one of the lead administrative offices for the RCC. Dr. Kelly Laraway of the Career Development Center is Project Coordinator for the Raleigh Promise and Camille's VISTA supervisor.

"I'm thrilled with the College Center, seeing how it's going in a quality direction," says Dr. Laraway. "Camille is doing great. She's innovative, focused, and brings a new perspective to the project."

Major funding for The Raleigh Promise project was provided by a grant from the Gates Foundation. Since the grant period ended last summer, the collaborative has been planning next steps for the Promise project and for the College Center in order to sustain momentum toward its 2025 goal.

Camille looks forward to increasing the College Center's outreach and program offerings in the months ahead, to creating a way to evaluate participant satisfaction, and to streamlining the coordination and tracking of College Center presenters and participants.

Though she now loves living in Raleigh, Camille took some time finding her way to NC State. After high school, she attended Virginia Union University to play volleyball, but she realized it wasn't the right fit. After transferring to State as a sophomore, she became involved in Student Government and in programs organized by the Center for Student Leadership, Ethics, and Public Service, including several alternative break experiences. Camille led two trips to the Dominican Republic during her time at State, and she credits these experiences with cementing her desire to focus on community building. After she graduated in December 2012 with a BA in Political Science and minor in Nonprofit Studies, she learned of the NC Campus Compact VISTA program and the placement at the Raleigh College Center.

In her spare time, Camille enjoys running, attending Wolfpack sporting events, and taking advantage of the many festivals and special events in the state capital. She also volunteers her community relations skills as she spends time with friends who've started a local "community conscious design and apparel company" called Boss Manatee.

To learn more about the Raleigh College Center and receive the weekly newsletter, email Camille at casmit21(@)ncsu.edu.