Thursday, January 30, 2014

UNCP VISTA stages huge events where community is the star

"I feel like you have to have passion to do this kind of work. I have a strong passion and pride for the community that I work with here in Pembroke," says Dalton Hoffer, NC Campus Compact's AmeriCorps VISTA working in the University of North Carolina at Pembroke's Office for Community and Civic Engagement.
UNCP volunteers fill emergency food bags.

Five years ago, Dalton moved to UNCP from the small North Carolina town of Sneeds Ferry to pursue a degree in Public Relations. At first, he wasn't sure he was going to stay, because he'd been looking for an experience in a bigger school and city than the small fishing town where he grew up. After becoming involved in community service, he realized Robeson County was large and its community welcoming.  Robeson County is, in fact, the largest county geographically in North Carolina, but it also has the highest poverty rate of any county at 30.6%.

Dalton grew attached to the place through volunteering with UNC Pembroke's Office for Community and Civic Engagement, eventually becoming a student service leader. Dalton recalls, "As a student leader I developed my passion for service and empowering others to do great things [and] VISTA allows [me to continue] all of those."

Dalton checking-in students for MLK Day service projects
As an AmeriCorps VISTA, Dalton primarily does student outreach on campus to introduce students to service. He has coordinated various days of service including the Freshman Day of Service, the Back to School Bash, and the MLK Day of service where he recruited over 200 volunteers to work at 10 community organizations! Aubry Swett, Director for the CCE Office where Dalton works beautifully summarized the day's events:

"One group worked at the on campus community garden near the Pine Cottage north of campus. Two other groups worked at local soup kitchens, My Refuge and Lumberton Christian Care, preparing and feeding members in the community. UNCP's largest group worked with the Robeson County Church and Community Center (RCCCC) doing a total five projects. Those projects included but were not limited to: power washing windows, moving furniture, cutting wood, organizing the food pantry, cleaning products, sweeping and mopping the home store. This group also built a ramp at a local community member’s home, creating access for her to easily become more engaged within the community. Partnering with the Lumberton Housing Authority another group engaged local K-12 students in a Reading Party led by students from UNCP and RCCCC.  Children danced, read books, played games and did activities focused on healthy eating. Another group prepared 140 food bags and organized the clothing house for clients at Borderbelt AIDS Resource Team (BART). Other student volunteers served at the local Odum Home across the street from the University organizing and cleaning their food pantry. The group that served at the Rape Crisis Center prepared and organized 156 hygiene bags for future clients that will be in need. The last groups served at the Humane Society walking, washing, and playing with cats and dogs alike." NC Campus Compact's own Leslie Garvin, Associate Director, jumped in to the action as well, saying of the event, "I was really impressed with Dalton's organization of so many different volunteer opportunities. Tons of people turned up, and I had a lot of fun!"

Dalton & service leader Evan Long
act to engage student volunteers.
Through these one-day events, Dalton says, he hopes to "engage students to participate in more powerful and meaningful experiences." For instance, Dalton's main project is developing and implementing the Brave Impact Mentoring Program as a partnership between UNCP and the Pembroke Housing Authority (PHA). Dalton works closely with PHA's Director of Residential Services, Sandy Jacobs, to create the mentoring program so that it both fits the needs of the participating high school youth as well as appeals to other area high schoolers. On the UNCP side of things, Dalton recruited and now manages the Brave Impact TEAM, consisting of 18 UNCP students. As part of the program's design, Dalton led the students in a weekend retreat, not only to be trained as mentors but to collectively lay the foundation for what the program will look like.

Dalton recounts of the retreat, "I brought Sandy in the second night and we had a little fire where we got to roast marshmallows and create smore’s while we discussed the needs of the youth we will be working with.  I really thought I would have to kind of push or ask questions.  However, once we all circled around the fire,...just about everyone was asking questions and sharing backgrounds and personal history and I was amazed by how much passion they had and [had] developed for the program. After we talked for a while, we sat [around the fire for another hour] reflecting on the weekend so far and what our hopes for the program were.  At that point I realized that the TEAM we created was headed in a really great direction."

The TEAM now meets every other week with Dalton to develop and fine tune the programs and activities, and the program is set to launch this week!  "We expect hiccups, however we should be prepared enough to iron out the wrinkles" says Dalton confidently. As a hands-on kind of guy, Dalton loves to jump right in to his work, but for the mentoring program, his planning has paid off, and he has still gotten to implement a learning-by-doing approach by having his mentors help plan the program together! "That's why we put "TEAM" in all capitals," Dalton said. "We wanted to emphasize that we were all in this together."

Saying Dalton's only star role is his VISTA work would be a major understatement, or a minor understatement, if you take into account his minor in Musical Theatre. While an undergrad at UNCP, Dalton acted in many productions; he played Seymour in "Little Shop of Horrors," Amos in "Chicago," and Wilbur in "Charlotte's Web." Dalton says he is "planning on playing a part in the musical they are doing this spring at UNCP, “Man of La Mancha.” Dalton's passion for engaging others reaches throughout his work, whether on or off the stage. After his VISTA service is over, Dalton wants to pursue a master's degree in higher education. "I love pushing students out into the community and learning to engage in a new experience," says Dalton. "I have never had the same experience twice here in the great and powerful, yet small Pembroke, NC."

If you want to learn more about the work going on in Pembroke, NC or you want to get more involved in the opportunities Dalton and the Office of Community and Civic Engagement provide, give Dalton a call! This Spring the CCE Office will host their last UNCP Day of Service for the year on March 29th, and could be the perfect opportunity for you to engage your own passion.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Campus Compact VISTAs Mobilize Communities in Honor of MLK

This Monday, January 20th, marked the 21st annual holiday celebrating one of America's greatest role models, Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King not only fought for racial equality, but also strove against wealth inequality, and believed in the power of education and access to education to create a more just society.

For months, North Carolina Campus Compact VISTAs have been planning to launch various MLK Day projects state-wide, not only as one time events, but as platforms to increase volunteer engagement in their local communities in the long-term. This week we want to highlight projects supported by our VISTAs. Collectively, our VISTAs mobilized over 1200 volunteers who served over 2700 hours, all in ONE day!

VISTA Devin Corrigan stationed at the UNC Greensboro Office of Leadership and Service-Learning headed up the large UNCG contingent of volunteers in collaboration with Bennett College and Greensboro College. Our own VISTA Leader Carla Davis joined the group to serve.

UNCP volunteers register for MLK day
VISTA Dalton Hoffer with UNC Pembroke's Office for Community and Civic Engagement organized various volunteer opportunities throughout Robeson County. Over 200 volunteers worked at 10 community partner sites on 13 projects. Projects ranged from feeding 100 people at a soup kitchen, making 140 food bags for BART (Borderbelt AIDS Resource Team) clients, hosting 11 kids at a reading party, building a ramp for an elderly woman, cleaning local churches, and making 156 hygiene bags for clients for the Rape Crisis Center to name a few. Our own Associate Director (and MLK Day grants coordinator) Leslie Garvin pitched in at Pembroke.

VISTA Shifra Sered in East Carolina University's Volunteer and Service-Learning Center organized five different project sites in the City of Greenville. Exactly 100 volunteers showed up in all and worked 250 hours at 8 different community sites.

HPU students pack food bags
VISTA Anna Mahathey with High Point University's Service-Learning Program organized thirty-five volunteer opportunities for HPU students and community members throughout the City of High Point. Approximately 400 volunteers showed their servant hearts in High Point, collectively serving 1690 hours at 13 different community sites. Volunteers worked with 25 children at the Read-in/Field Day event, and 60 children at the Zumba-thon, where volunteers also made 33 blankets for the elderly in the community. Volunteers also cleaned a mile of roadways, cleaned and beautified 40 feet of median, prepared, packaged, and distributed 360 meals to a local homeless shelter, and packaged 20,000 meals with the help of Stop Hunger Now. VISTA Program Coordinator Chad Fogleman also stopped by to serve. See the HPU volunteers on the news here.

VISTA Camille Smith with the Raleigh College Center (RCC) at the Chavis Heights Community Center worked with their Raleigh Fellows through RCC's Raleigh Promise program to put on a two-week clothing drive ending January 21st with a fashion show. Volunteers helped sort the clothes and modeled them at the finale fashion show.

VISTA Takira Dale with Duke University's Community Service Center gathered volunteers from Duke, Durham Technical Community College, and North Carolina Central University and teamed up with Million Meals Packaging Program. A total of 300 volunteers showed up and together packaged 100,000 meals! Read about it in the Herald Sun!

VISTA Anna Donze with Wake Forest University's Office of Service and Social Action organized a campus wide Read-In promoting literacy and volunteerism, where over 150 volunteers showed up. Anna worked with several organizations, one of which was El Buen Pastor, with which she works on a regular basis to coordinate WFU student volunteers.

ASU volunteers lend a hand
VISTA Brittany Johnson with Hospitality House of Boone organized a group of nine students to repair an old house that the Organization will be able to sell for additional revenue. After making repairs, Brittany led the students through a reflection on their day of service, and, having extra time, cleared space in the attic so that Hospitality House can start accepting clothing donations for their soon-to-be Thrift Store. The volunteers also went out into the community to collect needed items for the Thrift Store.

VISTA Ariel Mitchell with Lenoir-Rhyne University's Community Service Office organized a group of 12 volunteers to head over to the Hickory Soup Kitchen, where they made 100 food bags, 253 treat bags, and 46 one-gallon bags of dog food. The Hickory Soup Kitchen serves approximately 250 individuals a day and served 80,000 plates of food in 2013.

Feast Down East VISTAs organized building of raised beds.
VISTAs Erin O’Donnell & Melissa Rogan with Feast Down East worked with volunteers to give Wilmington's LINC Urban Farm some TLC. Thirty-six volunteers worked a total of 141 hours to build 54 4'x4' raised beds, and clear space for the beds to be placed. Timothy White of Food Corps said of the event, "not enough can be said about the fantastic partnership that made this all happen. The organizing efforts of FoodCorps, AmeriCorpsVISTA, Cape Fear Crop Mob and Feast Down East truly show that many hands make light work."

This cohort of NC Campus Compact VISTAs are part of a tradition of Campus Compact VISTAs leading MLK Day projects. You can read about our 2012-2013 VISTAs' MLK Day projects here and here.

Our VISTAs have done an outstanding job of collectively mobilizing over one-thousand volunteers for a single day of service. More amazing though, is the work that each of our VISTAs does to build the capacity of their community organizations and universities to better work together to serve the community.  Martin Luther King Jr. "refused to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation", just as our VISTAs refuse to believe it. And so these emerging leaders continue Dr. King's legacy and vision, knowing all too well that "we cannot walk alone."

Thursday, January 16, 2014

CEF VISTA empowers student volunteers to support community members

VISTA Sarah Cohn
August 9th, 2013 marked Sarah Cohn's first day of work as an official AmeriCorps VISTA at Community Empowerment Fund, but she was no stranger to CEF. In fact, when Sarah wasn't working toward her undergraduate degree in Biology from UNC-Chapel Hill, she was volunteering at CEF. Sarah first started working with CEF-Latino to keep up her Spanish fluency after studying abroad in Spain to complete coursework for her Spanish minor. She spent two years volunteering as a student Advocate, and once graduation rolled around, she couldn't pull herself away just yet. Lucky for her, two Americorps VISTA positions at CEF opened up during her last semester, so she applied for the Advocate Program Coordinator Position through North Carolina Campus Compact's VISTA program, and now has a hand in shaping CEF's future.

Initially founded as a project of UNC-Chapel Hill's Campus Y that connected students and local people experiencing homelessness, CEF is now a non-profit organization that still relies on student and community leadership. CEF offers a variety of opportunities to community members seeking a sustainable transition out of poverty through its financial education Member/Advocate pairing system. CEF pairs two volunteer Advocates with each Member (client) to work toward building assets and finding better housing and employment. Along with two volunteers, Sarah spends most of her time coordinating these pairings and continually checking in to provide support to both Members and Advocates as they work toward the Member’s goals. Not only is Sarah coordinating Advocate/Member pairs, she is also creating volunteer Advocate training, and updating CEF's Advocate/Member database. 

"I’m excited to have a part in building a Member-Advocate pairing system that runs smoothly and effectively," Sarah said. "I want to put processes in place that will allow the next Advocate Program Coordinators to be able to match Members and Advocates, follow up, and provide ongoing support to all pairings – without anyone falling through the cracks." 

CEF, founded in 2009, started off with only seven people and now that number is close to four-hundred! With its rapid growth, CEF needed a new pairing system. Before Sarah and her two volunteer recruits came on board, the Advocate Program Coordination  responsibilities were managed by one part-time volunteer!

"The VISTA program has been a great way for me to stay involved with CEF. I am so honored to have even a small part in building the infrastructure that will allow CEF to keep up with its growth in the future!" says Sarah."

Though Sarah spends much of her time and passion at CEF, outside of work she enjoys hiking, playing soccer, reading, cooking (and eating all those delicious things she whips up!) studying languages, and running around with her dogs. As for the future, Sarah doesn't yet have any steps set in stone, but she is considering what graduate school programs would be the best fit for her. In the meantime, Sarah hopes her position at CEF will help her develop professionally and learn more about social services and public policy.

"I have already learned a lot!" Sarah recounts enthusiastically. "No concrete plans yet. Maybe another VISTA term [with CEF, but] until [graduate school I] want to work in lots of different roles."

In the meantime, CEF, on the boundary of UNC's campus, is always looking for new volunteers. Approximately one-hundred and fifty students, as well as close to 40 community members from Durham, already volunteer, but new faces are always welcome. This Spring, the UNC Campus Y committee, Homeless Outreach Poverty Iradication (HOPE), from whom came the founding members of CEF, are hosting a fundraiser called "Box Out". People interested can get involved in several different ways. They can volunteer on the "Box Out" committee, sign up to be a program coordinator or team leader, or register as an individual!

"New volunteers are always welcome!" exclaims Sarah. "Being a CEF Advocate is the perfect way to spend one-on-one time serving fellow community members and, most importantly, getting to know people different from yourself. As an Advocate, I can say that working with CEF teaches many life-changing lessons, a big one being that the people you work with aren’t really different at all – we’re all in this together!"

CEF does not focus simply on serving needs; its Member/Advocate approach is about building community. Members and Advocates learn together, and Sarah learns along with them. Sarah focuses on making the best pairings possible, which requires getting to know a lot of faces. She attributes her ability to remember so many people to being a visual learner. In class, Sarah used to draw her notes out into pictures and diagrams to help her process the information, no matter what the class.

There is one big take-away for Sarah, though. "I am constantly moved by one aspect of my work at CEF above all others," Sarah says. "And that’s gratitude. Our clients express so much gratitude and positivity towards the work that we do, and volunteers are always grateful to be part of such an inspiring community."

With MLK Day right around the corner, North Carolina Campus Compact encourages everyone to find opportunities to engage with your own inspiring communities.