Monday, February 25, 2013

VT VISTA supports engagement with Head Start

As an alumnus of the University of Virginia, VISTA Wyatt Taylor knew a little about in-state rival Virginia Tech. But since he began serving in the VT Engage office to strengthen partnerships with New River Valley Head Start, he's begun to feel like a true "Hokie." (Whatever that is.)

"People rib me about it in the office," Wyatt says of his alma mater. He doesn't seem to mind. Even a winter snow storm that postponed his biggest service event couldn't chill his enthusiasm for Blacksburg. In the fall he enjoyed hiking and other outdoor pursuits, but he spent much of his time visiting community Head Start sites as part of his work to strengthen VT's partnership with the agency. An added bonus has been the community of other VISTAs in the area: "We get together and have pot lucks."

VT volunteers clean a bus used to transport Head Start kids.
Recently, Wyatt coordinated one of VT's premier service events, the MLK Day Care Face Lift. Originally scheduled for January 26 but postponed due to winter weather until February 9, the project sent 53 students to five local Head Start day care centers to clean, paint, and spruce up facilities. The event continues work begun by previous VISTAs, but Wyatt's emphasis has been on connecting student organizations - like VT's men's lacrosse team - directly with Head Start centers so they can continue a volunteer relationship beyond the MLK event. Wyatt also conducted a needs assessment of sites during the event planning stage to ensure the day of service met centers' most pressing needs.

Wyatt has worked with the New River Valley Head Start system to conceive new ways for VT students to support the children. For example, a new bus buddies program will utilize VT student volunteers as bus monitors to accompany children to and from centers. Wyatt has also worked with students and faculty in VT's Agriculture department to create garden boxes at five Head Start centers. A group of students is designing and implementing age-appropriate lesson plans that incorporate gardening activities.

Wyatt Taylor (far left, VISTA shirt) with student volunteers.
Also in the fall, Wyatt helped coordinate service placements for VT's Week of Engagement and the campus's Remember Serve Learn initiative, which involves students, faculty, and staff in service to commemorate tragedies of 9-11 and the Virginia Tech school shooting on April 16. Wyatt included several local Head Start sites in those events. In the spring, he is looking forward to facilitating ongoing connections between student organizations and the New River Valley Head Starts, clarifying student leadership responsibilities, and strengthening the new service efforts.

His own experience doing community service as an undergrad led him to VISTA. "The idea of student engagement is one I put a lot of stock in," he explains. "It was a big part of my college experience." A native Mississippian with two university professor parents, Wyatt sees the Campus Compact VISTA experience leading him to a career that blends higher education and community engagement.

"Coming to VT was a great option for me," he says. "It couldn't have worked out better."

Monday, February 18, 2013

VISTAs join the Civic Engagemnet Institute & PACE

North Carolina Campus Compact hosts two back-to-back conferences at Elon University in February. The first is the Civic Engagement Institute, a members-only, day-long conference that brings together multidisciplinary faculty, staff, student, and community partner teams from NC Campus Compact member campuses. This year's theme was: Becoming Citizens, Becoming Community and participants discussed community development and engaged citizenship. The second conference, PACE, is open to all and provides workshops on research, theory, and practice of community engagement and service-learning. More than 450 people from 50 institutions in 10 states participated over the course of the two days.
Top (L to R): A. Mitchell, A. O'Connor, W. Taylor, J. Trillo, R. Rogers
Bottom (L to R): S. Abdul-Rauf, M. Palmeira, J. Beckens, A. Piotrowski

North Carolina Campus Compact VISTAs were invited to attend and participate in both conferences. During one session, VISTAs got a chance to sit down together, share stories, trade trips, and bond as a cohort.

One VISTA commented, "The PACE conference was a great opportunity for VISTA bonding. At lunch we all crowded around one table rather than separate because it is so rare that more than two or three of us get together at a time. When it was suggested that we make our own fourth session and call it VISTA Pow-Wow, everyone that could, was on board. During our fourth session it was nice to have time to just enjoy each other’s company, hear funny stories, give each other advice on issues and just relax in a group of our peers."

Monday, February 11, 2013

Farewell Anya and good luck as a VISTA Leader!

Anya and her UNCG supervisor Joe Frey.
NC Campus Compact VISTA member Anya Piotrowski will end her year of service this month. (Most of our VISTAs serve August - August terms, but Anya's placement began in February 2012.) Anya has made a great impact at her host site, UNC-Greensboro, and community partner, the Interactive Resource Center (IRC). Throughout her year, Anya has worked to help the IRC, in partnership with local grassroots organization Transition Greensboro, build a sustainable community garden at the IRC day shelter. Anya's made herself an amateur expert on organic and permaculture gardening through classes at the local Cooperative Extension office; organized over 400 volunteers for workdays throughout the year; and raised over $5000 in cash, grants, and in-kind donations to support the garden. She helped create internship positions that will support the IRC's housing department and the garden, and will leave behind a comprehensive garden manual to guide the intern and other volunteers managing the project.

On campus, she spear-headed the university's first campus-wide Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week and advised a group of students who organized themselves to sustain the event and continue engaging UNCG with these issues. Check out the Prezi Anya created to sum up her work.

Anya will take what she's learned about building community partnerships and higher ed engagement to her new position as the first VISTA Leader at Carson-Newman University in Tennessee. She'll lead a project that places VISTA members at local community-based organizations to build capacity and engage college and community volunteers. Good luck, Anya!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

MLK project updates and recent site visits

The blog has been quiet for a couple of weeks, but our VISTAs have been busy. We have news to share from MLK Day service events and recent visits to four VISTA host sites.

Though some MLK project sites had plans disrupted by winter weather, our VISTAs supported much successful service on MLK weekend. In Raleigh, VISTA Jennifer Evans served at Wake Tech Community College's meal packaging event with Stop Hunger Now and later as part of the United Way's service day. Check out the local news report on Wake Tech's event, which features Jennifer's supervisor, Melody Wiggins, director of WTCC's Office of Volunteerism and Leadership. In Wilmington, Erin O'Donnell (Feast Down East) served with a Cape Fear Crop Mob project at LINC farm, working with local AmeriCorps members from Food Corps and other VISTAs from the QENO project. In Winston-Salem, Takira Dale (Wake Forest) helped organize the annual MLK Day Read-In, which collected new and donated books for kids and enlisted the help of community members and students from Wake Forest, Winston-Salem State, and Salem College. In Elizabeth City, VISTAs Marion Hudson and Tiara Pugh coordinated the service component of a day-long celebration, also partnering with other local higher education institutions. These are just a few of the great projects our VISTAs supported for this national day of service.

We have also made several site visits to meet with NC Campus Compact VISTAs, supervisors, and community partners to learn more about the things our members get done.

Sally (L) and VISTA Leader Rachel Rogers
First, we braved the ice to visit second-year VISTA Sally Parlier at Durham Tech Community College. Focusing on food security issues on her campus and in the community, Sally has worked with community partner Briggs Avenue Community Garden to develop plots for DTCC students and staff, coordinate volunteers for garden workdays and win over $1700 in grant funding to expand the garden. She has also started an on-campus food pantry to serve some of the low-income students on campus. Check out this great story in the Durham Herald. For the rest of her term, Sally will continue to connect DTCC with the Briggs Avenue garden, refine systems she's created for managing the on-campus food distribution, and build structures so the college can continue this work beyond the VISTA term.

Our visit to Chapel Hill offered the chance for a double-dip: we met with our community-based VISTA Monica Palmeira at the Jackson Center and with second-year VISTA Saarah Abdul-Rauf (UNC Chapel Hill). At the Jackson Center (located in the Northside neighborhood in the historic St. Joseph C.M.E. church), Monica has created key systems to manage the Heavenly Groceries food pantry, including a comprehensive volunteer handbook and internship positions that will be filled by UNC Chapel Hill's new Bonner Scholars. Monica also helped plan a community-wide civil rights celebration in November. Check out this local news video of the Jackson Center's civil rights photo exhibit, a center piece of that event.

Monica has an open-door policy at the Jackson Center.
Monica is now working to develop other partnerships with university units, including an upcoming wills clinic with the Black Law Student Association, and she is designing more internships and systems to coordinate volunteers for other Jackson Center programs. Also check out this recent UNC Chapel Hill spotlight article on Monica's supervisor and Center co-founder Della Pollock.

VISTA Saarah Abdul-Rauf spends time each week at her community partner, Volunteers for Youth. Saarah works to support UNC's student-led SMART mentoring program, which provides nearly 30 mentors to young people in VFY's mentoring program. Saarah has coordinated events; created an evaluation to assess satisfaction of mentors, mentees, and family members; and helped to review and refine the mentor training curriculum. Saarah is also the primary liason to the Community Action Center in Pembroke, NC, which is a key partner for the four UNC alternative break trips that visit the area each year. She is exploring other ways UNC can support this community and has created an alternative break partner evaluation that will be used with all break community partners.

Takira with a Demon Deacon.
Finally, this week we visited Takira Dale at Wake Forest University. Takira has created volunteer coordination and operations manuals for the Campus Kitchen project, and she visits kitchen partners regularly to review delivery schedules and offerings and to discuss how the project can better serve the food needs of partner clients. One new effort that has emerged from these visits is the kitchen's nutrition education program, which Takira is now developing. She is also creating a comprehensive training curriculum for students who volunteer as tutors or mentors with children and youth. This effort has led to NERD (Network of Educational Resources and Development), a new coalition of student organizations that undertake tutoring/mentoring activities.

We had the chance to visit a key kitchen and tutoring program partner, El Buen Pastor, a community agency serving Latino families in Winston-Salem's Old Town area. The agency's director was very excited about the ways WFU is connecting to her agency, and she sees the VISTA resource as a great support.

Thanks to all these VISTAs, supervisors, and partners for your hospitality, and keep up the great work!