Monday, March 10, 2014

Hospitality House VISTA Brittany Johnson lives to serve

VISTA Brittany
Though VISTA Brittany Johnson is from the close-knit community of Dunn, North Carolina, she has found her own community in Boone, North Carolina. Brittany attended Appalachian State University, graduating with a degree in Public Relations and Sociology.

While in school, she wanted to get more involved with the greater Boone community, having developed a passion for service in her own hometown growing up. She soon found the campus organization, the Appalachian Popular Programming Society, which is the campus event programming board, and eventually became the Vice President of their Public Relations team. Through this office, she worked often with the student organization, Appalachian and the Community Together, more commonly known as ACT. An apt acronym for Brittany, and act she did.

She started volunteering at the Hospitality House of Boone (HHB), a nonprofit crisis agency helping those living in crisis, poverty and homelessness rebuild their lives. Brittany volunteered at least three times a week, working at the front desk, and helping where needed. Brittany now serves as the NC Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA in the role of Project Manager for Hospitality House.

Currently, Brittany is spending most of her time organizing a a 5K fundraiser run on Memorial Day weekend. The funds raised will go to support Brittany's primary goal; creating a Hospitality House Thrift Store that will act as a source of sustainable revenue for the non-profit.

In fact, Brittany will soon put out a call for volunteers to help with the upcoming 5k, both with day-of coordination, as well as preparatory work like logistics planning, advertising design, and social media management. Earlier this year, Brittany was on the planning committee for Appalachian State's Annual Hunger Games Food Drive Event. Through the Hunger Games, Brittany helped raise over 3000 pounds of food for the community kitchen at Hospitality House.

Though Brittany is a whiz at program planning, her passion lies in the people she meets. Her favorite part of the experience is the chance to meet other people and get to know their stories. "Every day when I walk through the doors at the Hospitality House I am greeted by one or more residents. This makes my day always. I love being on a first name basis with most of the residents that we serve." Brittany explains.

Brittany with Hospitality House
volunteers, heading out for
MLK Day of service.
A constant source of rejuvenation, Hospitality House clients and residents help Brittany see the positives in her challenges. So far, the biggest set-back to the opening of the Thrift Store has been the lack of a location. After the original building location fell through, the store opening has been delayed. Brittany is looking on the bright side of this challenge, however, saying "it has allowed for other areas, such as fundraising and the business plan, to gain more attention." Brittany has recruited a team of MBA students to draft the thrift store business plan for class credit; a great example of non-profits and higher education working together. Once the thrift store project is open and running, there are plans to have a website about the project with a link that informs people about the volunteer program that will be available.

Until then, Hospitality House is always looking for volunteers.

For Brittany, volunteering was a way to get involved with an organization she loves, and that has allowed her to do the work she is passionate about. "I believe that I was born to serve, and AmeriCorps has given me the opportunity to take the skills I have and use them towards something I care about and will make a difference in the community. I cannot wait to see this project grow. I will continue to strive to reach the ultimate goal of this project: to serve our clients effectively and efficiently, and provide them with the tools that can help them succeed."

Brittany spends her time outside of work visiting family and hanging out with friends. She counts some of her favorite activities as hiking, dancing, singing, photography, concerts and music festivals, and is especially looking forward to Merlefest in April, where she will be volunteering.

Though Eastern Carolina is where she grew up, Brittany has come to love the mountain-town of Boone. In fact, she has already planning to serve a 2nd VISTA year at Hospitality House. "In the future," she says, "I would love to stay at the Hospitality House and serve permanently on staff. However, if this does not work out, I would like to work at another crisis center in the development department or start my own nonprofit in efforts to continue to defeat poverty in America. I am excited to see what is in store."

A people-person at heart, Brittany says wherever her journey leads her, helping people out of poverty and making those one on one connections with them along the way, is what she lives for. "We are here to serve and make a difference in our client’s lives, but at the end of the day it is them who make a difference in mine."