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.