Monday, June 30, 2014

Obsessed with Step

Throughout the month of June, North Carolina Campus Compact will be publishing articles written by our VISTA members. These pieces give readers access to first-hand experiences and reflections of VISTAs serving throughout the state. We are excited for them to share their perspectives on community and service with us! 

Please note: Any opinions expressed on the VISTA VIEW blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions, or policies of North Carolina Campus Compact, the AmeriCorps VISTA program or the Corporation for National and Community Service.

By Jess-Mara Jordan, NC Campus Compact VISTA at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and Open Doors of Asheville.

In the past eleven months, I have had many wonderful experiences and opportunities but one of the most memorable I’ve had stemmed from the fact that, at times, I can be a little bit loud and a tad bit “extra.”

This past January, while I was in full MLK Day of Service planning mode, the rest of the school was in full Homecoming planning mode. My alma mater’s Homecoming was in the Fall so the idea of a Winter Homecoming was very foreign to me. Nonetheless, the week’s events promised to be nothing less than extravagant. I was very excited. One day, when I went to the Intercultural Center to visit my supervisor, he was meeting with the Homecoming Step Show committee. Naturally, I offered to come back later, but they insisted I stay because they were “just talking about me.” We all know that statement can go either way. I expressed how excited I was that the step show was a regular part of their Homecoming celebration even though there are currently no National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations or step teams on campus. Little did I know that in the next few seconds they would make my whole day, week and possibly year with six simple words: “Will you host the step show?” Without hesitancy, I exclaimed “But of course!” As I mentioned earlier, I’m guessing my outgoing personality and love of the spotlight were some of the reasons they asked me to be their host, but little did they know that stepping is also my passion and has been for 13 years.

My love for stepping started at the age of 10. I was always one to hang out with the big kids so even though I was in 5th grade, many of my friends were already in middle school. In my neighborhood, it was ritual for kids to get home and rush to do their homework and other chores just to get outside and play. My friends and I would always be making up games, playing double-dutch, riding our bikes, or playing on my backyard jungle gym. One evening, my friends and I decided to go down to Brittany’s house. Brittany was in 7th grade and was like a cool, big sister to us. Brittany and her friend Maria were practicing this really cool dance-but-not-dance, cheer-but-not-cheer like thing that I later came to know and love as stepping. I was so fascinated and begged them to teach me. I caught on pretty quickly and from that day forward, my mother can attest, I have not stopped stepping. I would step in the house, in the street, in the grocery store, under the dinner table. I was, and still am, obsessed.

Jess-Mara (center) with a gospel step team she helped start at Elon.
When I moved on to middle school, I auditioned and made the PVMS Pride Step Team, the same step team that Brittany and Maria were on, and I remained a member for all three years. When I moved on to high school, I joined the Rapid Thunder step team and participated during my Freshman and Sophomore years. My Junior and Senior year, we unfortunately didn’t have an advisor and therefore weren’t able to have a team. In addition to my school step teams, I was also a member of Steppers in Unity, my church’s step team. Even in college, I kept stepping. My sophomore year I started “Order My Steps,” a step team under our gospel choir, and remained the President until I graduated. You can see why I was so excited about hosting this step show. Although the actual event was a great time, it’s the many other events that followed that have made this year truly special.

After the step show, I was contacted by Ms. Smith, a teacher’s assistant at one of the local elementary schools. She initially contacted me to get information on how to get the step teams that performed to come and do a workshop with the kids. When that proved too difficult, I offered to come and do the workshop myself. On one Tuesday morning I spent 2.5 hours with the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at Isaac Dickson Elementary School teaching them the history of step, my involvement with step and how they too could become steppers. It was an amazing day. A few months after, I got another email from Ms. Smith saying:

“I just heard from a fifth grade teacher this week that the 5th graders are obsessed with stepping now! When they went on their class trip to DC they stepped at every rest stop! One class is also going to incorporate stepping into their graduation ceremony! I had no idea that your talk with them made such an impression, but it did!”

I was elated. I couldn’t believe that my obsession had spread so quickly and was taking this school by storm. Also in the email, I was asked to come to their End of Grade (EOGs) Testing Pep Rally to step. Unfortunately, I was out of town for that event, but I sent in a video of me stepping and encouraging them to do well on their EOGs to be played at the pep rally.

To this day, whenever I visit the school, I’ll hear students whispering “Hey, that’s the girl from the video!” No big deal, but I’m kind of a local celebrity. As Ms. Smith mentioned, one of the 5th grade classes had incorporated step into their graduation assembly and even asked me to come help and fine tune it. However, something strangely amazing happened. When I got there and they showed me their step, it was PERFECT! You could tell they had been practicing so hard and that they were really enjoying what they were doing. Instead of changing anything about the step, I taught them a new one to be done at the end of the assembly.

Watching them perform at their graduation ceremony a week later brought tears to my eyes. It took me back to when I too was in 5th grade and finally found my niche. I wasn’t good at sports like my brother and sister, I wasn’t very graceful in dance like my friends, and I was too girly for martial arts. But I could step and I could step well. Now 13 years later, I am able to mix the two things that I am most passionate about, children and stepping.

One of the things that I remember from our Pre-Service Orientation for incoming AmeriCorps VISTAs last year was our leaders telling us to find that work-life balance and incorporate what we love into our year of service outside of our work hours. As a returning VISTA for 2014-15, I plan to help develop an after school step club at both the elementary and middle school this upcoming school year, offer step as a physical education activity at the alternative middle school and teach a step workshop at an end of school year youth conference. And I owe it all to the fact that, at times, I can be a little bit loud and a tad bit “extra.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

AmeriCorps VISTA: The Key to Opportunity

Throughout the month of June, North Carolina Campus Compact will be publishing articles written by our VISTA members. These pieces give readers access to first-hand experiences and reflections of VISTAs serving throughout the state. We are excited for them to share their perspectives on community and service with us! 

Please note: Any opinions expressed on the VISTA VIEW blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions, or policies of North Carolina Campus Compact, the AmeriCorps VISTA program or the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA 
has opened the door to so many 
opportunities and helped me find 
my purpose in life. 
By Brittany Johnson, NC Campus Compact VISTA at the Hospitality House of Boone

Before serving in AmeriCorps I knew nothing about the program and did not even know it existed. I had no idea about the opportunities it presented and how it would change my life.

Originally from Eastern NC, I grew up in a very small town that I never quite fit into. After a failed attempt at college right after High School, the start of my 20’s was filled with uncertainty and confusion. At 22, I decided to go back to school and figure out my purpose in life. I transferred to Appalachian State University my junior year of college, and since then things have started falling into place. Majoring in Public Relations, I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do after graduation as there were many paths I could take. It wasn’t until my last semester of college that my path became clear.

After loading over $3000 cans donated to 
the Hospitality House, the late Ron Hurst
 and I stopped to take a photo together. 
Ron was a resident at the HH who inspired me
 and reminded me that he and others like him
 are why I do my job. He is greatly missed. 
For my senior capstone project, I was paired with Todd Carter, Director of Development for Hospitality House of Boone, to work on a campaign to raise funds and awareness for the nonprofit. After being educated on the homeless and poverty issues in Watauga County and receiving a tour of the amazing facility, I was hooked. I immediately wanted to know more and how I could get involved. Todd was an amazing mentor and his passion was so strong. He inspired me to look beyond my own assumptions of poverty and homelessness and open my eyes to the reality. Throughout the semester- long project I continued to learn so much and develop a passion of my own. I’ve always enjoyed helping people but it was more on a customer service level. Now, I have reached a level that was beyond my imagination and discovered my purpose: to serve others in need.  Todd informed me about the AmeriCorps VISTA program and how Hospitality House was trying to apply for a VISTA to manage a very unique project.  Filled with excitement, I knew this was the program and project for me. After a lot of research, I applied and became the NC Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA for Hospitality House of Boone, and it has been the best decision I’ve made since deciding to go back to college.

Since August I have been working on the Enterprise Project, a thrift store that will act as an economic
Celebrating a successful fundraising 
event at the Color Blast 5K, raising over
 $8,000 for my project and Western
 Youth Network, another community nonprofit!
resource to Hospitality House as well as a training facility for building job skills and financial literacy for Hospitality House clients. Starting a business from the ground up is not easy. Eager to apply my marketing and PR skills, I had to reroute that energy into writing a business plan, something I never had done before.  In addition, the location that was originally promised to us by a donor fell through, leaving us with no prospects for the store location. Refusing to quit and be discouraged, I continued to move forward, determined to stop at nothing until the project was successful. In February, I started planning a 5K and a Flapjack Fundraiser to raise money for the business startup costs.  The fundraisers were a success and we earned over $4,100 for the store. The hard work finally started paying off. On June 1st we signed a lease for our new thrift store, Welcome Home Thriftique, where we will sell upscale items such as furniture and home goods. It is so exciting to see this vision come alive. As the repairs are made and walls are painted, what seemed to be impossible at one time is now coming in to focus.

Looking back on a challenging yet amazing year, I realize that I have grown so much. The VISTA program has allowed  me to apply the skills I have in a field that suits my interests and every day I learn something new. Without the amazing staff at Hospitality House, the support of this beautiful community, and the guidance and wisdom of two amazing VISTA supervisors, this would not be possible. The lessons I have learned about the business of nonprofits, poverty issues, and the people I serve are priceless. Fueled by my passion, I work hard for something I truly believe in and realize that I am one of the lucky ones who get to do what they love every day. Being a VISTA has taught me to go beyond my comfort zone and realize my own potential and that with hard work and dedication, anything can be done. I am happy to announce that I have signed up for a second year in this program and I cannot wait to see what the next route of this journey has in store.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why Summer Learning Matters

By Grace Troccoli, VISTA Summer Associate at NC Campus Compact. Grace is a rising senior at Elon University, majoring in Special and Elementary Education and minoring in History. 

As a future teacher, nothing irks me more then when kids return to school in the fall and have forgotten all of their multiplication facts or have fallen several months behind in reading. Yet this phenomenon is a common occurrence in classes I work with and in other classes across America each fall.

Why? Because the lack of kids’ summer learning causes learning loss.
("Summer Learning Day")

In fact, studies since 1906 have consistently shown that most students regress in their learning during the summer. Over the summer, students have been shown to lose about two months of learning in math. Additionally, low-income students typically lose two months of learning in reading while their middle-class peers typically make slight gains in reading.  These consistent summer learning losses add up; summer learning loss accounts for two thirds of the ninth grade achievement gap in reading (Fairchild, 2008).

Yet despite these facts, an estimated 43 million children in the United States miss out on summer learning opportunities (Fairchild, 2008).This means that 43 million children in the U.S. are at risk for summer learning loss or are at risk for falling behind in school.

This reality is especially true for low-income families.  An analysis from an early childhood longitudinal study found that 46% of low-income children visited a library over the summer months compared to the 80% of their high-income peers who visited a library. 20% of low-income children visited an art, science or discovery museum over the summer while 62% of high-income children visited a museum.  Lastly, 43% of high-income children attended a camp over the summer while only 5% of low-income students attended a camp  (Blazer, 2011).

The disparities are great and the learning stakes are high, so what do we do about summer learning loss?

I am part of a VISTA Summer Associate program sponsored by AmeriCorps and North Carolina Campus Compact. Several of my fellow Summer Associates are supporting great summer learning programs. Here in Alamance County, Anna Lewis is supporting the Elon Academy which is a college access and success program for academically promising high school students with a financial need and/or no family history of college.  This summer the 69 scholars will spend a month on Elon University's campus taking college planning classes and academic enrichment courses in addition to participating in leadership development community service activities. Additionally, Jenna Nelson is supporting a program at the Boys and Girls Club that provides educational and leisure activities for kids in grades K-12.

In Madison County, NC, four Summer Associates are supporting the PAGE summer program. The Partnership for Appalachian Girls Education (PAGE) offers two, 3-week sessions for local adolescent girls from low-income families. The program focuses on digital literacy, college access, and literature while building on girls' critical thinking and leadership skills.

Other Summer Associates are supporting hunger-related projects that include nutrition education, which creates opportunities for summer learning on topics related to science and health. In addition to these programs, many other campus- and community-based programs across our state and nation are working to prevent summer learning loss.

If you care about summer learning loss, please join us in celebrating Summer Learning Day this Friday, June 20th! 

Summer Learning Day is a national advocacy day, sponsored by the National Summer Learning Association, that promotes the importance of summer learning.

There are many ways that you can celebrate Summer Learning Day!

For example, you can:
  • Celebrate Summer Learning Day with children you work with by: 
    • Reflecting with kids about what they want to learn this summer and help them form summer learning goals.
    • Creating a way to celebrate kids’ summer learning. For example, you could display kids' summer learning work around the room.
    • Implementing a long-term summer learning challenge. For example, you could challenge kids to read for a certain amount of minutes by the end of the summer. 
  • Spread awareness about the importance of summer learning in your community by sharing the Achievement Gap Info Graphic or Summer Learning Day Key Messages.
  • Spread awareness about Summer Learning Day through social media  by: 
For more ideas, check out the National Summer Learning Association’s suggestions here.

So, on Friday, June 20th, highlight the importance of summer learning in your community by celebrating Summer Learning Day and remember…

“You're never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”- Dr. Seuss

Works Cited
Blazer, C. (2011). Summer Learning Loss: Why its Effect is Strongest Among Low-income Students and  How it can be  Combated. Information Capsule , 1011.  
Fairchild, R. (2008). Summer: A Season When Learning is Essential. Afterschool Alliance Issue Briefs (33).
"Summer Learning Day." National Summer Learning Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 June 2014.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Looking Back while Moving Forward: Reflections from an "organized" VISTA

Throughout the month of June, North Carolina Campus Compact will be publishing articles written by our VISTA members. These pieces give readers access to first-hand experiences and reflections of VISTAs serving throughout the state. We are excited for them to share their perspectives on community and service with us! 

Please note: Any opinions expressed on the VISTA VIEW blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions, or policies of North Carolina Campus Compact, the AmeriCorps VISTA program or the Corporation for National and Community Service.

By Devin Corrigan, NC Campus Compact VISTA at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the Interactive Resource Center

Hello from Greensboro!  As I wind down my service, I am reflecting on this year and some of the things I’ve learned.  I figured to share a few in my blog post.

1. Get Uncomfortable
Prior to my year as a VISTA, most of my interactions with “homeless people” were confined to my own silent deliberations about whether to part with spare change as I passed them on the streets.  So weak.  Since working at the Interactive Resource Center, I have gotten much more close and personal with homelessness.  I have been privileged to have raw, vulnerable conversations about HIV, domestic violence, addiction, incarceration, and poverty.  These conversations have completely changed my views.  Homelessness is truly something that happens to someone, not something someone is born with.

2. Service is chaos
Service is an odd stew of people with different motivations, intentions, goals, skills, and passions coming together to achieve the loose end of “doing good.”  It is not linear.  It is not cause and effect.  It doesn’t lend itself to check-boxes.  As someone who loves order, structure, and writing blog posts in list form, this was originally pretty disconcerting for me.  Being highly organized (see also rigid) works for me and was not necessarily something I wanted to give up.  I adapted by structuring my to-do lists with more “relationship-oriented” rather than results-oriented tasks.  Instead of organizing myself to “accomplish x, y, and z,”  I started framing my days around “reach out to a new IRC guest” or “get this student’s input about MLK Day marketing.”  I got a lot more accomplished and was able to build more of the relationships that make service rewarding.  At the end of the day, “doing good” happens even if it doesn’t look like what you anticipated.

3. Ask for help
For someone who is driven to “help” others, I have a pretty big aversion to asking for help myself.  It feels uncomfortable (see #1) and screams “I can’t do something.”  (God-forbid!)  However, this year has made me realize how willing people are to help when asked.  For example, very early on in the year we contacted dentists’ offices to donate toothbrushes for care packages for our IRC guests.  I didn’t think anyone would donate, but we were able to fill more than 60 care bags.  Since then I have tried asking for help more, whether that means saying “I don’t know how to handle this situation.  Can you help?” or “Can you show me how you design those fancy flyers?”  Asking for help usually says “I want to learn” and not “I can’t.”

4.  Figure out your outlets before you need them
Bad days will happen.  Things go wrong.  Buses cancel two days before the big event.  You drop the ball on a project. It’s important to build your safety net before you are falling.  Some things that I have found particularly cathartic are weekly “family” dinners with co-workers, running along the lake, and baking pies while blasting Marilyn Manson.  It’s comforting to know when you are feeling yucky, that a few things will make you feel better, even if the situation doesn’t change.

5. Laugh
A lot of awkward, random stuff is going to happen.  And it’s going to be pretty hilarious.  Seriously, all of my funniest stories are IRC stories.  Embrace it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Guide to Finding (Non-Student) Housing in Chapel Hill

Throughout the month of June, North Carolina Campus Compact will be publishing articles written by our VISTA members. These pieces give readers access to first-hand experiences and reflections of VISTAs serving throughout the state. We are excited for them to share their perspectives on community and service with us! 

Please note: Any opinions expressed on the VISTA VIEW blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions, or policies of North Carolina Campus Compact, the AmeriCorps VISTA program or the Corporation for National and Community Service.

By Sarah Cohn, NC Campus Compact VISTA at the Community Empowerment Fund in Chapel Hill

VISTA Sarah Cohn showing
CEF  and VISTA pride
I have so many unforgettable stories to share from my VISTA year at the Community Empowerment Fund. One particular story keeps resurfacing for me, though, at this point in time. This story is of Thomas, age 70, whose search for housing began last August when he found himself back at the shelter. In March, after finally saving up enough to put down a deposit, Thomas found the perfect one-bedroom within his budget. When he brought his application in to the realtor, he was told flat out, “We don’t rent to homeless people.”

My stomach turns even as I write these words. The coldness and lack of humanity are so tangible. How can a fellow human bear to keep someone just out of reach of the most basic of human needs? How can one overcome such discrimination? Thomas’s story brings a much debated issue to the forefront of my thoughts – affordable housing.

Let me explain that a little further. “Affordable housing” is an issue we hear about all the time, in news articles and on campaign platforms. Of course it’s scarce - who has ever had an easy time finding an apartment within their budget that’s perfectly suited to their needs? But in some communities, the lack of affordable housing takes on a whole new meaning. One widely accepted definition of affordable rent is 30 percent or less of your income. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is no stranger to this norm, affirming that “families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care”. For someone who works full time at minimum wage, this should mean roughly $377 per month. And that’s working 40 hours every week of the year, before taxes. In Chapel Hill, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment ranges from $833 - $1,213. This is 2-3 times what that full-time worker can afford, leaving them with limited options: find a higher-paying job, move out of town, or possibly become homeless.

Our country’s paucity of affordable housing is well established, and I could prove so with dozens more numbers. But for a moment, let’s imagine that affordable housing is plentiful. Minimum wage has been increased to an actual living wage, perhaps around $12.00 per hour, and rental prices have come down. That same full-time worker can now put in applications with several rental companies. But what about the other barriers that can prevent someone from finding housing? To name a few, these are: bad credit, a criminal record, negative past rental history, not making three times your rent in monthly income, socioeconomic or racial discrimination, or, if you are a subsidy recipient, landlords not willing to accept your voucher. It turns out that the raw lack of affordable places to live is just one item on a long checklist of barriers to finding housing.

Last year, General Services Corp. (GSC) bought the majority of Orange County’s largest apartment complexes. GSC refuses to accept Housing Choice Vouchers (formerly known as Section 8), HUD’s housing subsidy program designed to supplement minimum wages and benefits to allow community members to rent at market value. The corporate buyout displaced many families last year and will displace dozens more in the coming months. CEF is one of many organizations that will provide services and advocacy to such individuals and families as they begin a complex and trying process. A housing crisis has dawned in Chapel Hill.

And it’s not just GSC – many private landlords don’t accept Housing Choice Vouchers, either. In North Carolina, they don’t have to. Although the vouchers allow tenants to pay full rent, their rent check is coming from the federal government, which means much paperwork and an inspection are required. Why would any landlord, let alone a huge corporation headquartered states away, want to spend time on paperwork and inspections when they can easily target college students and charge even more? It’s a simple business decision, but one that reeks of discrimination.

Did I mention that the Housing Choice Voucher wait list in Orange County has been closed for over two years? If you don’t already have a voucher, your options for assistance are minimal to none. Better get to working that full-time job (if you’re lucky enough to get one – that’s a whole other set of obstacles) so you can start making not nearly enough to pay market rent!

The barriers to finding housing in Orange County are multiple, layered and woven into other systems of oppression and poverty. I am grateful to be part of an organization willing to adapt to changing social conditions and to advocate for others, but there is so much more that needs to happen. For now, I hope that CEF and our community partners can lend advocacy to all those trying to navigate the ever-growing obstacle course that is finding a place to live. For the long-term, I hope we can all invest a little more heart in our own communities.

You can learn more on local and national housing initiatives by watching this video for the Penny for Housing Campaign in Orange County or reading this article about The 100,000 Homes Campaign, a national effort with a task force here in Orange County.

Monday, June 2, 2014

VISTA Quarterly Report: Leveraging Resources for Long-term Impacts

Here's an update on how our VISTA members are mobilizing North Carolina's communities and
VISTA Willie Jones grows garden
program, Photo Credit: Tanner Hall

 continuing to fight poverty with the power of higher education!

Our measurable impact from the past four months:
  • $49,495 cash and grant resources generated
  • $7,221 in-kind resources generated 
  • 1,751 volunteers mobilized
  • 13,070 hours of service performed by volunteers
To date, our VISTAs and the programs and organizations they support have improved the lives of individuals:
  • 176 low-income people received housing-related or financial literacy services
  • 180 at-risk students completed participation in an education assistance program
  • 117 at-risk youth/mentor matches were sustained for the required time period
  • 11 new service programs met needs of low-income people or at-risk K-12 students and 72 new volunteer recruitment, management, and training processes supported these service programs.
VISTA Jess-Mara Jordan promotes Open
Doors' Annual Art Auction on the news
VISTA Jess-Mara Jordan transformed the STRIVE mentoring program at Open Doors of Asheville into a UNCA service-learning class for credit, and created a mentor curriculum which includes training on cultural competency, non-parent role models, college exposure, and much much more. Jess also volunteered at "Open Doors' Annual Art Auction" which raised $100,000.

VISTA Willie Jones turned his gleaning program into a gardening club to create a critical base of volunteers year-round. He and the new club members gleaned and secured 712.5 pounds of food this past quarter through the Fill-the-Bag Food Drive, which goes to the Community Table and other Cullowhee food pantries supporting over 25,000 people over the course of a year. His work was featured in this local news article. Apart from Willie's primary gardening and food distribution projects, he also helped raise over $3,000 for "The Unbroken Circle" Fundraiser, to support the victims of the mudslide in Oso, Washington and their families in Western North Carolina. Willie also participated in the "Cullowhee Fire Fundraiser", to benefit the victims of a fire which consumed 3 local businesses and left almost 30 workers displaced. 

VISTA Brittany Johnson secured a building location for Hospitality House of Boone's Thrift store! Once the store is operational, it will create a sustainable source of revenue for the organization. She is now developing a volunteer and recruitment program for volunteers to work at the store, teaming up with ACT to recruit Appalachian State University students. The 5k Memorial Day Fundraiser, notably named the "Color Blast", will support start-up costs for the thrift store.

VISTA Jacob Lerner with the Marion Cheek Jackson Center in Chapel Hill piloted a landlord research team to better determine students' relationships with landlords and what impact these relationships have on the community, and has also developed a student outreach team to help build networks among neighbors, learn more about what neighbors' issues, and connect folks with information about the Jackson Center. Jacob also supports volunteer efforts at the Heavenly Groceries food ministry, which welcomes close to 80 people each day, who then go home and feed their families. Jacob also had $600 worth of food donated to feed 300 people for the Marion Cheek Jackson Center's annual May Day Celebration.

HPU Bonner Leaders tutor students at
the Macedonia Family Resource Center
Photo Credit: HPU Bonner FB page
VISTA Anna Mahathey at High Point University worked with the Bonner Leaders Program to develop Bonners Chats, inviting students and community members alike to discuss and learn about poverty, food insecurity, and other social justice issues specific to High Point. Their Chats included topics entitled "Childhood Literacy, Poverty, & the Impact it has on Children in School," , "Putting a Face on Homelessness," and "Immigrant and Refugee Justice," The chats engaged over 50 people.

VISTA Bevelyn Ukah at Guilford College launched the African Youth Initiative (AYI) Youth Advisory Board with 5 youth and 4 interns. In collaboration with the board, Bevelyn secured a $1,500 grant from the Community Foundation Teen Grantmaking Council  to support AYI Youth Ambassador operational functions. This advisory board creates space for youth ownership, learning, and creativity, and has most recently been focusing on food security. They have partnered with the Food Youth Initiative through the Center for Environmental Farming Systems to discuss forming a community garden and supporting local food education. 

VISTA Erin O'Donnell works with low-income Wilmington residents who not only participate in the Rent-A-Farmer CSA Produce Box program and Feast Down East's Fresh Market, but who also collaborate in planning and implementing new Feast Down East Projects. Erin worked with local farmers to donate $265 worth of fresh organic produce to these programs as well.

VISTA Ariel Mitchell at Lenoir Rhyne hosted several food drives for her community partner, Centro Latino, her largest spanning 15 days to end on National Volunteer Week. They collected over 200 food items to support Centro Latinos' emergency food bank. 

VISTA Takira Dale at Duke University's Community Service Center incorporated a donation drive into her Alternative Spring Break "Dive Into Durham", to donate 150 hygiene kits for Urban Ministries of Durham.

PAGE program youth working on
digital media project
VISTA Elizabeth McIntosh recruited 7 interns to support the PAGE summer program, an educational enrichment program for which she recruited 30 middle school girls. The program is set to launch on June 17th. Elizabeth developed a new partnership with Hot Springs Learning Center, and received sponsorships from both local groups such as the Presbyterian Women's Association, as well as groups at the corporate level including the Community Foundation of Central Florida. Most recently, she received a donation from a local family to start a Farm to Table initiative to address food insecurity in Madison County, and at PAGE's summer camp, where the participants will learn about healthy eating and farming.

VISTA Camille Smith spearheaded the Wake Up and Read Book Drive, which collected over 67,000 children's books to increase literacy in Wake County!

VISTA Sarah Cohn at the Community Empowerment Fund in Chapel Hill trained and supported 25 volunteer advocates this quarter, who in turn worked with 176 people experiencing homelessness to provide housing-related support. Forty-three of those 176 folks also attended financial literacy classes. Not only does Sarah match volunteers with clients, this quarter she also created an impact evaluation framework for CEF. The framework lays a foundation for CEF to improve data collection methods over time to better understand how CEF can meet client needs.

VISTA Shifra Sered recruited teachers and designed the program for "Arts on Third Street," in which 40 low-income youth in west Greenville participated. Shifra's primary achievement has been the creation of  a 30 page volunteer manual and the design of a volunteer orientation to support educational programming at the Third Street Community Center.

Queens University mentor with his
Sedgefield Elementary mentee
VISTA Christina Hudson sustained mentor relationships of Queens University students as pen pals, lunch buddies, and
after school care tutors and classroom assistants to students at Sedgefield Elementary. These efforts were supported by the elementary school's new emailing system informing volunteers of different opportunities to get involved. Christina also teamed up with Promising Pages to donate 398 books to Sedgefield, enough to start a new library.

The North Carolina Campus Compact VISTA impact spreads far and wide, and with it goes the word about AmeriCorps VISTA. One of our VISTAs shared, "I spread the word about AmeriCorps everywhere I go. I personally feel I can't tell people what I do or am trying to do without promoting AmeriCorps."

Read more about our VISTAs' work on Alternative Spring Break trips and MLK Days of service, and Devin Corrigan's large-scale MLK Day event in Greensboro. And if you missed our earlier project updates, learn about the rest of their work.