|VISTA Willie Jones|
Willie serves at Western Carolina University as the AmeriCorps VISTA Community Outreach Coordinator for the Center of Service Learning. In this role, Willie coordinates gleans and is the glean leader for the Jackson County Glean Team, a group which he created. Gleaning, in this sense, means to gather excess crops from local farmers and distribute it throughout the community to those in need. You can get Willie's insider perspective on gleaning from this documentary he put together!
Currently, Willie is spending the majority of his time revitalizing WCU’s Campus Kitchen Garden, which is maintained primarily by students, staff, and volunteers, who then distribute the produce to local agencies that combat food insecurity. Though there are many moving variables in this project, Willie is excited to see how it will turn out, because through all of these partnerships, there is room for a really creative and collaborative venture that, in Willie's words, "will create a more environmentally aware, and sustained community through incorporating organic farming techniques and gleaning. When it's all set in place, we will have a constantly evolving program that is sustainable, educational, and will actually strengthen and be beneficial for the community!"
Willie recalls his first glean at Ms. Bonnie's garden picking apples. "It all started when she came into the office and gave us 10 gigantic jars of apple sauce."
|Jackson County Glean Team|
The way Willie learns has helped him shape this shared-story approach to recruiting and training volunteers as well. "In some cases I have to teach myself how something should be done or learned...This...allows me to gain a better connection with not only myself, but [also] my volunteers. It allows me to see things from different perspectives: my struggles, strengths and weakness...I know the struggle of trying to learn the information or method, so that personal experience [helps] me to relate to them on a personal level when I’m teaching them."
|Pumpkin gleaning with the Jackson County Team|
His biggest hurdle so far has been creating a gleaning calendar so that he can send out a notice to recruit volunteers a couple weeks before (as opposed to a day or two) farmers need their crops gleaned. Coordinating schedules is easier said than done, but ultimately will benefit the community with more fresh, organic produce, and benefit the farmers with a bigger tax deduction.
Revamping the Community Kitchen and gleaning the fields of local farmers is hard work. If you're interested in volunteering, and you are a WCU student, join the Campus Kitchen Garden list serve by either emailing or calling Willie. If you don't go to Western, but are interested in volunteering, join the Jackson County Glean Team Facebook page! By joining either of these groups, you will have access to weekly garden and glean reports. As soon as Willie's gleaning calendar is ready to roll, he will also be placing that information in the local paper. Make sure to read about Willie's Homecoming Food Drive and MLK Day of Service event successes too!
Willie embarked on his journey as an NC Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA back in August, and has been working on Campus Kitchen's organic farming part of the program since January, but Willie isn't new to the environmental or community engagement scene. In fact, his undergraduate degree from Brevard College is in Environmental Science, with a concentration in Environmental Science, and while at school, was the service coordinator for the Multicultural Center. It was here that he met and worked with several AmeriCorps VISTA members, through whom he first learned about AmeriCorps. Immediately he noticed that as an AmeriCorps VISTA, he could combine his degree with two of his other passions; higher education and service, all the while gaining valuable skills, paying off student loans, and staying in touch with his community, family, and friends.
|Willie volunteering for MLK Day of Service|
"I think my girlfriend and I spend a lot of our time, and a lot of my VISTA stipend, eating!" Willie says enthusiastically.
After completing his VISTA years, he will have the skills and tools to conquer his next challenge; graduate school. Willie plans to attend graduate school for Higher Education and Sustainability, so that he can continue helping communities grow, develop, and become sustainable. Willie Jones is taking his growth and his story with him and he has a clear vision for his future.
"I’m striving for creating highly educated and environmentally aware communities throughout the world."