Monday, November 25, 2013

New VISTA Leader, Carla Davis, joins NC Campus Compact Community!

I've jumped into the thick of things here at North Carolina Campus Compact! Since Tuesday the 19th, my first day, I've already gotten to attend a 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!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Campuses, VISTAs serve and learn during Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week

The week before Thanksgiving is a time when many college campuses focus on the needs of community members who are struggling to find food and shelter. Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, an event co-sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless and National Student Campaign Against Hunger & Homelessness, takes place this year November 16-24; and many of our VISTAs are leading or supporting related programs on their campuses.

At Western Carolina University, VISTA Willie Jones coordinated a week of events, including an Everything Drive to collect donations for United Christian Ministries and the Community Table, an Oxfam Hunger Banquet, and a five-day interactive poverty simulation called Live Below the Line. Willie also helped organized a partnership with Aramark, so that for every $100 spent on Nov. 18 at the campus convenience, Aramark would donate a turkey to the Community Table.

In Boone, VISTA Brittany Johnson of the Hospitality House is working with Appalachian State University's ACT office to organize the 3rd Hunger Games, which raises canned food donations to support Hospitality House's Bread of Life Community Kitchen. Already, 1600 cans have been collected. The Hunger Games event takes place this Friday at 5 p.m. on Duck Pond Field off of Stadium Drive in Boone. Read the High Country Times article on the event.

At UNC-Greensboro, VISTA Devin Corrigan has worked with a team of student leaders to coordinate a week-long slate of events, including a panel discussion with local advocates, non-profit staff, and community members facing challenges of hunger and homelessness; a campus/community food drive to collect canned food items for the Spartan Open Pantry, UNCG's students/staff food bank; and a Thursday evening service event at Second Harvest Food Bank in Winston-Salem. Devin's VISTA work supports a partnership between UNCG and the Interactive Resource Center, a day-center in Greensboro serving people at risk of homelessness, and she drew on this relationship in planning the week.

 At Wake Forest University, VISTA Anna Donze has coordinated a screening of the documentary Inocente (Wed., 7 PM, Byrum Welcome Center), which tells the story of an undocumented 15-year old girl's struggle with homelessness and the San Diego arts organization that offers her a creative outlet. The film ties the issue of homelessness to Anna's work with her community partner, El Buen Pastor Latino Community Services, and an on-campus group, NERD (Network for Educational Resources and Development), a coalition of WFU student service organizations involved in community-based mentoring and tutoring. Among other WFU Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week events is Campus Kitchen's annual Turkeypalooza. Check out the Channel 14 local news story on Turkeypalooza!

At UNC-Pembroke, VISTA Dalton Hoffer has worked with a team of student mentors to host a community Thanksgiving dinner at his community partner, the Pembroke Housing Authority. Student volunteers will decorate gingerbread houses with children, then serve a dinner to the children and their families. Dalton expects about 100 community members to attend.

If your campus also recognizes Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, please email us to share your story.

Graphic courtesy of UNCG's Office of Leadership and Service-Learning.