Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Gap

Natasha Vos

There have been a lot of conversations this year about the financial model that AmeriCorps VISTA uses to pay its members. Currently, the stipend for the year is set at 105% of the poverty line of the county that the member is serving in. For me, that means I can expect to receive around $11,400 for the year, or $442 every two weeks. The logic behind this is that we can have (in at least a small way) a shared experience with those living in the communities we serve. We intensively plan out budgets, enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), seek out public transportation, and look for cheap housing. If anything, my experience has informed me that those living in poverty are actually the best at using financial resources, because they have so little to work with in many cases. I recognize the limitations of this model in its inability to account for factors such as family size and support, transportation, personal, physical and emotional health, education, etc. which is why I say a shared experience, 'in at least a small way'. Many AmeriCorps members elect to go through application processes for benefit programs such as SNAP, and recently the Healthcare Marketplace.

This year I turned 26. The only birthday milestone that you do not look forward to because you officially get the boot from your parents’ health care plan. As an AmeriCorps member in North Carolina, I fall in this health care limbo referred to as “the gap.” Try to follow me here because it gets a little complicated. I exist in an income level with my stipend that is too low to qualify for monthly federal tax credits to help me pay for the most basic health care plan. However, because North Carolina as a state did not expand Medicaid, this same income level (105% of the poverty line in Forsyth County), was too high to qualify me for Medicaid. The consolation prize? An exemption that would prevent me from being penalized on my taxes for not having health care.

Fortunately, being a second term AmeriCorps member I had earned my educational award of $5645 to be used towards my existing student loans. Because the education award is a taxable source of income, using it entirely this year, bumps me up into the next income bracket, qualifying me for tax credits and an affordable health care plan. Fantastic right? Here’s the drawback: the education award is a taxable source of income that taxes have not been taken out of, so I will end up owing several hundred dollars for using it all this year in addition to state taxes I will owe, because they are not taken out of our weekly paychecks. Many AmeriCorps members choose to use their education awards slowly over time to pay a minimum in taxes on them. I had to essentially do a cost benefit analysis. Not having health care was not an option. Purchasing my own plan would have cost me $200 per month, but using my education award would result in $300-400 in taxes once. Easy choice, but I’m still forking over a couple hundred dollars, which for someone making $11,400 a year, is challenging.

AmeriCorps offers its members a $6600 allowance per year to be used on approved health care costs, but you have to a have plan first. This is not a critique of AmeriCorps or its policies. This is using myself as a personal example to demonstrate challenges that low income individuals face to providing basic care for themselves and their families. I had the luxury of choosing to use my education award to ensure that I make enough to qualify for tax credits and an affordable health care plan. There are millions of families and individuals that do not have this luxury. The Affordable Care Act has provided healthcare to millions in this country for the first time. It has withstood many challenges to its constitutionality, and that should be (and has been) celebrated. But cracks have appeared that allowed states to choose whether to expand Medicaid and in over half of the states, that choice was no. However you feel about state’s rights, the fact is that because of North Carolina’s decision not to expand Medicaid millions of individuals and families still do not have health care. Progress is never content and we need to continue to find these gaps and close them.

Friday, December 4, 2015

VISTAs Raise Awareness About Hunger and Homelessness

Food and shelter are two of the basic necessities every person needs to build a stable life. But unfortunately for millions of Americans, these two basic needs are not met. Bringing focus to these issues is the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (HHAW). Traditionally held the week before Thanksgiving, HHAW gives communities the opportunity to reflect and take action on these issues.

At NC Campus Compact, our VISTA members utilize HHAW to educate their campus communities and provide students with opportunities to engage in their communities.

VISTA Annah Wells at Western Carolina University hosted a week of events in Cullowhee. The opening event, "Weigh the Waste," challenged students to think about food waste by measuring and visualizing over 225 of food thrown away at the dining hall during lunch. Annah also led three groups of students volunteer at the  Community Table and where volunteers unloaded trucks from larger food pantries with donations and served a hot meal to neighbors in need.  At the Hunger Banquet, students learned the realities of global poverty and world food distribution.  The week wrapped up with a Hunger Games Dodgeball event where students competed against other "tributes" in a fun game while learning about social injustice and unequal access to resources. Throughout the week students also participated in a "Live Below the Line Challenge" to see if students can live off of $1.25 a day for a week, the same budget the average American receiving food stamps has to spend on food.

UNCG students volunteer at BackPack Beginnings for HHAW.
At the University of North Carolina- Greensboro VISTA Allison Plitman planned seven events, one for every day of HHAW. The variety of programming offered students the opportunity to volunteer with servGSO at BackPack Beginnings and the Pathway Center, a film screening and panelist discussion, an Empty Bowls event, a Stop Hunger Now packing event, and Soup for Hoops. At Soup for Hoops, a canned food drive, UNCG student groups donated hundreds of cans of food at the men's Basketbath. All of the donations went to UNCG's on-campus food pantry, the Spartan Open Pantry.

“College is a great time to get engaged with the community,” said Allison. “It’s so fulfilling to make a difference, especially a tangible difference like packaging food or serving a meal.”

25 Meredith students participated in the HHAW bingo event.
At Meredith College second-year member Meghan Engstran held an event called "A Night of Chance: Bingo Under the Stars." The event caught the attention of the student population by offering what appeared to be an ordinary night of Bingo. But this game of bingo had a twist- winning a round of bingo does not grantee a satisfying prize. Each aspect of the event simulated situations a person dealing with homelessness or hunger might go through. Meghan states "The purpose of tweaking the bingo cards was to show that not everyone starts with the same and advantages in life."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Lead the way-Be a NC Campus Compact VISTA Leader!

NC Campus Compact is now accepting applications from candidates for a 2015-2016 NC Campus Compact AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader.  VISTA Leaders work with the VISTA program coordinator to support NC Campus Compact VISTAs serving in community that addresses local needs in one of three areas: education (K-12 success or access to post-secondary education), economic opportunity (housing or financial literacy), or healthy futures (food security). 

NC Campus Compact VISTA members work to develop partnerships between universities and community partners that address these issues by mobilizing campus resources, including student volunteers, faculty and staff expertise, or financial/in-kind contributions. Please click here to learn about our 2015-2016 VISTA members and projects.

To apply and learn more about the process please click here.

The VISTA Leader will support the current cohort of 17 VISTA members whose terms began in August 2015. The VISTA Leader will play a key role in recruiting new members for the 2016-2017 year. Other duties include, but are not limited to, advising members to ensure VISTA project success; managing performance measurement system for monthly VISTA reporting, providing summaries, and assisting with submission of CNCS reporting; enhancing member communication with calls, emails, and site visits; and co-coordinating training and presentations.

QUALIFICATIONS: Applicants must have one full year of prior VISTA service to apply. Strong candidates will have: Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree; experience with college service programs and programs serving low-income adults and/or youth; strong writing and organizational skills; knowledge of social media platforms and MS Office products. The VISTA Leader role demands passion for the VISTA mission of fighting poverty and for the Campus Compact vision of higher education as a path to active citizenship. Applicants must be a U.S. Citizen or have permanent legal resident status. The VISTA Leader will serve at the Compact’s office in Elon, NC, on the campus of Elon University. Elon University is a selective, independent university renowned as a national model for engaged learning. Learn more at

CNCS benefits include: Education award upon successful completion of service, health coverage,  living allowance,  professional development,  relocation allowance,  childcare assistance if eligible. NC Campus Compact offers an additional living stipend to support the VISTA Leader.

The start date for the position is flexible, but is expected to be be filled by mid-January. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

In addition to the online application, please send a letter of interest and a current resume to Program Coordinator Carolyn Byrne at

Thursday, October 15, 2015

VISTA Alumni Network Newsletter- Fall 2015 Edition

Check out our latest edition of the VISTA Alumni Network Newsletter! This issue contains news from our NC Campus Compact Network, highlights the work of our VISTAs and also has announcements of potential alumni involvement.

Read the newsletter by clicking here!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Orientation 2015: Starting Off on the Right Foot

Learning. Serving. Bonding. These three words perfectly summarize the month of August for our 2015-16 cohort of VISTAs.

This year North Carolina Campus Compact welcomed twelve new members and welcomed back five returners. Read more about our members here and about this year’s projects and host sites here.

VISTAs are young professionals who have dedicated a year of service in a low income community to build the capacity of an organization meeting certain needs of that particular community. Our VISTAs are at both colleges/universities as well as community partner organizations. The members started off their year with lots of learning, from the intensive on-site orientation planned by their hosts to the various webinars and orientation we provide as supplements to equip them with what they may need for their year of service.

All new members to the VISTA program must attend a Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) hosted by the Corporation of National and Community Service. Our new members attended one from August 3rd to 6th in Atlanta, GA where they spent an intensive four days of learning about poverty in the United States, familiarizing themselves with their detailed Volunteer Assignment Descriptions (VADs), and meeting many other VISTAs from all over the country. On August 5th, VISTA program coordinator Carolyn Byrne and VISTA Leader Catherine Casteel, traveled to Atlanta to meet with this enthusiastic cohort. They met during lunch and dinner, and it was the first time the entire team got a chance to meet each other, and learn more about Campus Compact and the history of civic engagement in higher education institutions. Carolyn and Catherine gave the VISTAs a chance to get to know one another and later facilitated a discussion about exploring the history of university-community relationships in the places they will be serving. The VISTAs definitely left Atlanta excited about learning and serving at their sites!

After being sworn in on August 6th, the VISTAs traveled straight back to their placements to begin their year of service on August 7th. It was also the last day of service for our outgoing VISTAs, so some of our new members were able to meet their predecessors and get some last minute, on-the-ground advice. Our returning members just rolled into their second year on the very same day. The host sites conduct their own on-site orientations that allow the VISTAs to shift from learning broader themes to and settle into their specific assignments for the year. NC Campus Compact also hosted two webinars in the weeks that followed, covering topics such as asset based community entry, performance measures and monthly reports and preparing the VISTAs for the upcoming orientation at Elon University.

This year, for the first time, Campus Compact hosted our VISTAs for a two-day training at Elon on
VISTA Natasha Vos sharing her Impact Story
August 27th to 28th. The two days were filled with workshops of different topics presented by both staff and guest speakers. The goals of having an intense two-day orientation were to allow the members ample opportunity to bond with each other as a cohort, learn more about specific topics and tools that they will need to succeed in their year, and also hear from experts in the field. Each carefully planned session was made better by the eager participation, great questions, and thoughtful reflections from all the VISTAs. August 27th started bright and early as our members drove in from all corners of North Carolina. After introductions, our five returning VISTAs shared their IMPACT stories- a summary of their year of service with both highlights and challenges and projects that they are proud of. Shannon Barr, (High Point University), Justin Brantley (Feast Down East), Meghan Engstran (Meredith College), Matthew Kauffmann (Community Empowerment Fund) and Natasha Vos (Wake Forest University) had different approaches to their presentations but each highlighted the importance of clear communication and innovation when faced with any challenges. Hearing of real experiences allowed the new members get a perspective on their year ahead and gave them the opportunity to ask questions.

Over the two days the NC Campus Compact staff led different workshop sessions that were both informative and interactive. VISTA Program Coordinator, Carolyn Byrne, led thought provoking sessions on Cultural Competency, setting goals for the year, the importance of self-reflection and revisiting the topics discussed at PSO. Chad Fogleman, NC Campus Compact Assistant Director, offered information about theories of change and logic models which led perfectly into VISTA Leader, Catherine’s session on performance measurements and the importance both numbers and narratives as they reported each month on their progress. VISTA leader, Perdita Das also led a session on project and event management on the second day to conclude the orientation. The sessions gave the VISTAs a chance to break out into their focus areas (Education, Economic Opportunity, and Healthy Futures), and have meaningful discussions and share experiences.

Workshop presenters at orientation
We were very excited to hear from an array of guest speakers over the course of the two days as well. We welcomed back three VISTA alums, Sara Acosta (2010-12), Derald Dryman (2010-13), and Mariel Steinbeiser (2010-11), to join us for lunch the first day to share their experiences. We were also excited to welcome Dr. Robert Korstad, professor of Public Policy and History at Duke University who talked about the North Carolina Fund and some statistics on the poverty in North Carolina. He was joined by Adrienne Harreveld, Program Coordinator for the Research Network on Racial and Ethnic Inequality. On August 28th, we welcomed Hudson Vaughn and George Barrett (who served as a VISTA last year) from the Marian Cheek Jackson Center in Chapel Hill, who led a fun session on creative tips and best practices of effective community partnership development. We also had Mary Morrison, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement at Elon University, lead an energetic workshop on student volunteer recruitment, management, and recognition. Hearing from those with such extensive experience in the field gave our VISTAs knowledge and confidence as they embark on their own journey of this new experience.

Apart from these thrilling workshops, the VISTAs had an opportunity to serve together as well. On the morning of the second day, the VISTAs along with the VISTA leaders and program coordinator , had the opportunity to work on a house with Habitat for Humanity of Alamance County in Burlington.  It was a beehive of activity as they shoveled around the foundation, cut boards, picked up glass and much more. Although it was only an hour and a half, the large group of volunteers helped Habitat take care of many small assignments in one day and the VISTAs learned more about Habitat, their application process, the volunteer hours needed per house and as they reflected when they returned to Elon, they wanted to "know more" and it "made them feel more together as a cohort."

The VISTAs serving with Habitat for Humanity
The two days were long, fun, full of conversations and laughter and a great start for a great year. As the members reflected upon the orientation, they shared words like "cohort," "support," "knowledge" and "inspiration." We are inspired too and cannot wait to see what this year brings. Good luck VISTAs! 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Meet the 2015-16 VISTAs!

We are excited to introduce our 2015-16 cohort of NC Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTAs who started their first day of service today. We have thirteen new members, who were selected from over a pool of over 85 candidates, and we also have five returning members as well. Our brand new VISTAs returned from PSO in Atlanta only yesterday and we are looking forward to having all our members at Elon University on August 27th-28th for a day and half of orientation. We thank all our members for their commitment to service and are looking forward to another inspiring year!

We asked our VISTAs to share a little more about themselves including what motivated them to become a NC Campus Compact VISTA, what they are looking forward to most this year and their favorite free time activities!

Shannon Barr
Host Site: High Point University
Focus Area: Education 
Hometown: Lexington Park, MD
Graduated from: High Point University with a major in Exercise Science and a minor in Psychology 

 I became a NC Campus Compact VISTA to contribute to a shift in campus culture, to increase access to educational opportunities for youth, and to gain skills that will serve me as I continue to pursue my passions after VISTA.
 I am looking forward to seeing the college students with whom I work continue to challenge themselves and grow.
 I love to hang out at local coffee shops or find local festivals, concerts, or spoken word poetry events going on in the Triad.

Victoria Binder

Host Site: 
High Point University
Focus Area: Healthy Futures
Hometown: Pleasanton, CA
Graduated from: High Point University with a major in Business Administration

 Food insecurities in High Point, North Carolina motivated me to become a VISTA.
 Looking forward to working with the Washington St. Project to alleviate hunger through planting community gardens 
 Favorite free time activities: Hiking and traveling 

Justin Brantley
Host Site: Feast Down East
Partner Site: UNC Wilmington
Focus Area: Healthy Futures
Home Town: Wilmington, NC
Graduated from: UNC Wilmington with a major in Public Sociology and
Minor in Psychology 

 I am re-enrolling as a second-year VISTA with NC Campus Compact out of my desire to learn more about the community to better serve it.
 I'm looking forward to reaching new beneficiaries at different sites.
 Favorite free time activity: playing guitar.

Elizabeth Busby
Partner Site: Various Winston-Salem agencies
Focus Area: Education
Home Town: Fayetteville, NC
Graduated from: Wake Forest University with a major in History with and double minor in Politics and International Affairs, and English.

 I am passionate about economic justice, and intend to pursue a career in economic law.
 I am looking forward to strengthening financial literacy, advocacy, and economic justice tools within Winston-Salem this year.
 I like to read, blog, go on runs, and spend time with good friends in my free time.

Meghan Engstran
Host Site: Meredith College
Focus Area: Education
Hometown: Andover, MN
Graduated from: University of Minnesota Duluth with a major 
in Political Science

 My desire to serve motivated me to become a NC Campus Compact VISTA and to serve a second year. 
 I am looking forward to continuing my project this year.
 I love water activities!  

Ethan Flynn
Focus Area: Economic Opportunity
Home Town: Marion, NC
Graduated from: Appalachian State University with a major in Sociology

 Sociology has guided me toward social and human services. My choice to become an NC Campus Compact VISTA came from learning how this AmeriCorps program can help me continue the type of work I have passion for. 
 I am most looking forward to putting my best effort into making my project successful and enjoyable. I already love the organization I am going to be working for, and I couldn't be happier to begin something new with them. 
 In the cold months I snowboard as much as possible with a close group of friends. Being on a snowboard has been my getaway for the past few years, and I can't imagine living anywhere other than the mountains.

Rachel Glasser
Focus Area: Education
Hometown: Columbia, SC
Graduated from: Furman University with a BA in English and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Wake Forest University with a MA in English

 I'm hoping to build a career in education and the nonprofit sector.
 I'm looking forward to growing as a writer, teacher, and activist, meeting new people, and using my education and expertise to impact my community.
 I like to read, run, and update my blog.

Erin Karpovich
Partner Sites: West End Ministries
Focus Area: Healthy Futures
Home Town: Ramsey, NJ
Graduated from: High Point University with a major in Human Relations and minors in Non-Profit Leadership and Management, Spanish and Leadership.

 I enjoy community development and empowering others.
 I am looking forward to bridging gaps between the University and the city to increase involvement and understanding of both sides this year.
 I love to travel! :)
 I love meeting new people and am excited to share this experience with so many!

Matthew Kauffmann 
Focus Area: Economic Opportunity
Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC 
Graduated from: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a major in Philosophy 

 I'm passionate about civic engagement and higher education
 I'm looking forward to helping CEF with its strategic plan and with its data and analytics.
 Favorite free time activity: Running! 

Zachary Kopkin 
Focus Area: Economic Opportunity
Hometown: Marietta, GA
Graduated from: Appalachian State University with majors 
in Anthropology/Peace Studies and Civic Engagement

 Service-learning was an essential element of my college experience. 
 Looking forward to being involved in and learning alongside a new community, contributing to a very unique project and perspective on community that bridges past and present to advocate for justice.
 I like to hike and play the mandolin.

Allison Plitman
Partner Site: Backpack Beginnings
Focus Area: Healthy Futures
Home Town: High Point, NC 
Graduated from: UNC-Asheville with a major in International Studies, and minors in Africana Studies and Sociology 

 My volunteering work in the larger Asheville community, including hosting volunteering events for my student clubs motivated me to become a VISTA. 
 Looking forward to having new experiences, growing as a person, and meeting new people most this year!
 I love to craft; I can etch glass, knit, crochet, make dream catchers, paint, etc.

Kenya Shakir
Focus Area: Education
Hometown: Fayetteville, NC
Graduated from: Eastern Carolina University with a major in Sociology

 Service motivated me to become a NC Campus Compact VISTA.
 I am looking forward to impacting the community and making connections this coming year. 
 I like to watch movies in my free time.

Lizzie Shepard
Partner Site: West Greenville Community Youth-Based Partners
Focus Area: Education
Hometown: Walkertown, NC
Graduated from: Queens University of Charlotte with a major in Psychology

 I enjoy giving back to the community and I was encouraged to join by a past VISTA.
 I am looking forward to help those in need and to be a positive role model while gaining experience this year.
 I like to spend time with friends in my free time.

Jade Umberger
Partner Site: Greenville Harvest
Focus Area: Healthy Futures
Home Town: Mt. Sterling, Illinois
Graduated From: Illinois State University with a major in Family & Consumer Sciences: Food, Nutrition, & Dietetics

 Volunteering on various Alternative Break trips in college, and my love of community and sharing resources motivated me to become a VISTA.
 I am looking forward to meeting new people and making a lasting impact this year.
 I enjoy reading (Game of Thrones, Harry Potter), making food for/with friends, and trying new things in my free time.

Natasha Vos
Partner Site: Various Winston-Salem agencies
Focus Area: Healthy Futures
Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC
Graduated from: North Carolina State University with a major in Animal Science and Poultry   Science

 My commitment to service and working as part of a university community to engage students motivated me to serve a second year as a NC Campus Compact VISTA.
 Looking forward to exploring more of Winston-Salem, expanding on Campus Kitchen partnerships and running a marathon this upcoming year.
 Favorite free time activity: Running. All of the running.

Rachena Webb
Host Site: Degrees Matter!
Focus Area: Education
Hometown: Raleigh, NC 
Graduated from: Eastern Washington University with a major in Interdisciplinary Studies and a minor in African Studies 

 I loved working as a VISTA making a difference  in my local community  and I felt  that  being a NC Campus  Compact VISTA I could help build a stronger relationship  between college campuses  and the local community. 
 I believe that if we can educate the community that we are in, then it will be easier to mobilize ourselves for change.
 I am excited about working at my site because I am passionate about my agency’s mission. 
 I am looking forward to building better relationships with the parents and colleges as well as following the success of all the families involved.
 Favorite free time activity: star gazing.

Annah Wells
Partner Site: The Community Table
Focus Area: Healthy Futures
Home Town: Asheboro, NC
Graduated from: NCSU with a major in English  
 I served last year with another education-focused AmeriCorps program in Miami, FL. I loved the experience and wanted to strengthen communities by serving a second year with AmeriCorps. 
 I chose NC Campus Compact because I want to help college students realize the potential they have to be forces of social change.
 I'm looking forward to learning from and working alongside the wonderful staff at the Center for Service Learning at Western Carolina.
 I love to read when I have free time; there are so many books I want to read that I'm usually reading 3-4 at a time. I also can't wait to enjoy the outdoor activities in the mountains of Western NC.   

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A life without helping is a life without living

by Christian Gray
AmeriCorps VISTA at Raleigh College Center 

Eleven months ago, I agreed to the terms of AmeriCorps to become the new VISTA for the Raleigh College Center via North Carolina State University. I remember it like it was yesterday, the night prior I was so anxious I could not sleep. August 11, 2014 was the start to one of the most influential years of my life.


Prior to any major change in one’s life; I feel as humans we naturally begin to visualize, and anticipate the changes ahead of us. In some cases our expectations match and in others they do not. Luckily, I was able to both experience and learn a tremendous amount in such a short period of time. It amazes me how vividly one can think, as my imagination and expectations allowed me to visualize the entire year at a glance. I visualized myself stepping into the position,  as the new VISTA for the RCC (Raleigh College Center), and making a ton of change. Being young and passionate, you sometimes forget that change takes time and that there are rules and hierarchy systems you must follow in order to reach certain outcomes.

Expectation: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.

Expectation was probably my biggest foe during this year long journey. The most relevant example would be when I fell short on establishing a “Mentor/Mentee” program. As I mentioned earlier, being young and passionate, I sometimes lost my patience or never established any. Once my idea was proposed I wanted change immediately, but life doesn’t work this way. I had to rethink and apply a new strategy, and with time, things did change.

Vince Lombardi once said, “It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up.” I got up, and when I got up I started running. This one experience fueled me and motivated to do more and seek out new partners. After this occurrence I was able to develop patience and learn the proper process in regards to submitting ideas. I establish three new partnerships which all now play a critical role in the RCC. Between the three partners, I have conducted more than twelve events and reached over 300 individuals (families and students). I was doing some reading and I came across a quote which stated “most change not because they see the light, but because they feel the heat”, the heat in this situation was my idea not being implemented.

New Relationships

The most significant task I completed during this year was establishing new partnerships. I honestly believe that these partnerships have built a stronger and more reliable foundation for the VISTA program and the RCC. These partners provide a consistent population as well as a consistent supporting group. What really stood out during this process was the fact that these partners not only worked with VISTA but they worked with one another to establish relationships and collaborations. This is capacity building at its finest.  

This past year, I established partnerships with three organizations. First, The WELL (Wade Edwards Learning Lab), an organization that provides “the student community with opportunities for achievement, enrichment and service, in preparation for personal and academic success.” I also partnered with the Raleigh chapter of Habitat for Humanity, a national nonprofit which “brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.” And finally, I established a partnership with The Hope Center at Pullen, an initiative that “connects young people aging out of foster care in Wake County with the resources and the support they need for a successful transition to adulthood.”

Change and Impact

Free SAT/ACT testing sponsored by KAPLAN (Over 200 total students): From the months of September-January KAPLAN testing services provided free practice testing as well as examination reviews. My largest contribution in this regard was having a huge increase in participants both students and parents. Secondly, moving the events from the recreation center to college campuses which allowed students who generally would not be on a campus to be exposed to that lifestyle.

Parent college prep services: Throughout the year I conducted three parent college prep sessions. I invited representatives from local colleges/universities to speak and educate parents on the topics of post-secondary access. Many of the students who I deal with are or will be first generation students. Therefore, my approach was to educate parents on the topics of school. This was extremely beneficial because many parents not only learned information which would be helpful for their students but many also gained interest to sign up for night classes at the local community college.

Introduction into college seminar: these seminars were conducted for individuals 13-16 years old with the plan to increase college awareness. Many students are not even sure if they want to attend college let alone know the proper steps to be successful. These seminars provided tools and information in regards to the process leading up to applying for college.

Tools: One of my largest focuses was to provide the youth with tools therefore they can survive everyday life. There were a tremendous amount of presentations which were based on professional development, and leadership. The professional development programs covered topics based on proper dress, rules of social media, time management, elevator pitch, public speaking, self-confidence, and much more. The leadership program was set to develop soft skills.


This experience was by far one of the most influential things I have been a part of in my life. I was able to grow in so many aspects and develop not only as a person but as a professional. My professional network expanded tremendously and I was able to build relationships which will last a life time. The most important information I want readers to take from my short blog is to understand that life is going to knock you down and change is inevitable, but when you stay true to your heart and your beliefs, things will begin to work in your favor.

I believe that one of the most important things I did this year was continue to paint pictures of HOPE in the fight against poverty. In this position you realized that everything in life is larger than ourselves. Life is about helping and making a change when you can. Life is about happiness and enjoying it with passion. When you’re forced to become emerged in some of these communities you are awaken to many different things. I grew up in poverty and was under-resourced but stepping out and looking back into the box now is different from living in the box. Education is powerful beyond measures and it is something that no one can every deny you of. Once again, A LIFE WITHOUT HELPING IS A LIFE WITHOUT LIVING , what a great year!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

New VISTA program coordinator is also a VISTA alum

On Wednesday, NC Campus Compact welcomed Carolyn Byrne as our new VISTA Program Coordinator. Byrne brings a bevy of public service and higher education experience to the role. She served two terms as an NC Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA in UNC’s APPLES Service-Learning Program (2009-2011); worked as a student services specialist at UNC’s Carolina Center for Public Service; and recently completed a Masters in counseling at UNC Greensboro.

Just as she is familiar with AmeriCorps, Byrne is no stranger to Elon University, which hosts the Compact’s state office. An Elon alumna (’09), Byrne got her start in campus-community engagement as an undergraduate leader in the Alternative Breaks and LINCS programs at the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement.

As VISTA program coordinator, Byrne will support a cohort of 18 full-time VISTA volunteers building campus-community partnerships at 13 campus and community sites.

“When this position became available… it felt like coming home to AmeriCorps,” says Byrne. “But also it was a chance to take four years of experience and new skills and understanding of personal and professional development and take that up a notch in working with VISTAs across the state.”

As a VISTA and later staff member at UNC Chapel Hill’s APPLES Service Learning Program and the Carolina Center for Public Service, Byrne helped expand community-based serving learning placements and student internships. Byrne oversaw student leadership teams for alternative breaks and internships, managing more than 150 community partnerships in the process. In May 2013, she was honored with UNC’s Student Undergraduate Staff Award.

In her most recent work at UNC Greensboro, Byrne worked as a graduate assistant and counseling intern at the Students First Office, where she provided academic counseling services and helped coordinate other interventions for struggling students.

Byrne is looking forward to working with VISTA members but also with supervisors and community partners.

“At UNC, my role involved working deeply with community partners and getting to see what they were working toward and supporting their mission with the institution’s resources … it felt like good and meaningful work,” Byrne recalls. “I reflect back on how impactful those relationships were but also how long and how much intention it takes to build them.”

“I’m excited to think about how to make NC Campus Compact an important part of the VISTA experience and a resource for VISTAs and supervisors.”

Chad Fogleman, who has managed the Compact’s VISTA program since 2012, will remain with the organization in the expanded role of assistant director, overseeing communications, network events, awards, and other programs. Learn more about our staff.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Celebrating 50 Years of Americorps VISTA

This year AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Often described as a domestic version of the Peace Corps, the VISTA program has engaged thousands of citizens in the fight against poverty since the first volunteers began service in 1965. To honor the occasion, VISTAs past and present gathered in Greensboro, North Carolina on June 20th for a day of service, reflection, and fellowship.

Over 60 people came to the Lifespan Creative Campus for the celebration. Lifespan is a nonprofit organization that provides education, employment, and enrichment opportunities to empower children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live, work and play in their communities.

VISTA alumni and members whose service spanned the 1960s to the present day worked  together at the Lifespan Creative Campus. The campus includes a garden, walking paths, and gazebo for Lifespan clients to enjoy. Participants in the service painted garden picnic tables, weeded the walkway, and cleaned the gazebo area.

The service project was followed by a luncheon and remarks from VISTAs past and present. The keynote speaker, Joseph Bathanti, served as VISTA in Charlotte, NC from 1976-1977. Bathanti worked with prison inmates, teaching writing, developing relationships, and ensuring that prisoners would be successful after their release.

Mr. Bathanti's experience as a VISTA heavily influenced his personal and creative life. He met his wife Joan, a fellow VISTA, working the same project, and joked that he likes "to tell people I met my wife in prison." A Pittsburgh native, Bathanti went on to become North Carolina Poet Laureate; he now teaches creative writing at Appalachian State University. Mr. Bathathi read poems from a collection titled "Concertina," a reference to the swirling wire that tops prison fences. His reflections on service reminded us why VISTA is such powerful and transformative experience. 

Mr. Bathanti's remarks were followed by VISTA alumnus K'aia Clarke who served with MDC in Durham from 2012-2014 and current VISTA member Leah Parks who serves at the Lifespan Creative Campus. Together the speakers made a strong case for the value of national service, not just for its cost-effective impact in communities but also for the opportunity these assignments provide to the individuals who accept them. Nationwide coalitions like Service Nation and the Franklin Project are working to preserve AmeriCorps VISTA and other service programs in the face of recent efforts to reduce or eliminate these programs.

Among the VISTA projects participating in the event were current and former members and staff from NC Campus Compact, Peacehaven Farm, Welfare Reform Liaison Project, Fayetteville State University's Office of College Access, and the Collaborative.

The day was organized by the NC state office of the Corporation for National and Community Service.