Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hump Month Blog #4: Note to self: a beloved community doesn’t have to be perfect

This is our fourth and final post in our Hump Month blog series! All month, our 2014-15 VISTAs shared their thoughts at the half-way point of their 12-month service commitment.

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 Hannah Paek
AmeriCorps VISTA at East Carolina University 

Hannah with the volunteers on
Make a Difference Day
Ever since I got the email from Perdita asking for a Hump Month blog post, I had been racking my brains on what to write about. At first, I was worried that I would have nothing to write about. But now I realize that that might have been an “easier” problem – I could have made something up, for all anyone would know. The actual problem, though, is that there are too many blog-worthy topics. Do I write about this crazy period of transition that both endlessly frustrates me but also humbles me? Should I write about my wonderful co-workers and supervisor who have helped me (and are still helping me) get through these transitions, and discover and unpack my self-identity? Do I focus on my work in my office at East Carolina University, or should I share more about the sense of community that I feel in “West” Greenville? 

I decided to try to incorporate all of the above into one blog post – so bear with me, it might get messy.

Exactly one week before MLK Day of Service, everything that could go wrong, went wrong – some were my mistakes, others were things that were out of my control. Whoever’s fault it was, I was the one that had to rectify all of those mistakes. I thought that because Make a Difference Day went pretty smoothly (some bumps here and there), MLK Day would go just as smoothly, if not more. Nope. Having everything blow up in my face a week before D-day really freaked me out. All the way up until the day of service, I was nervous. This was going to be bigger than Make a Difference Day; this was a day celebrating Dr. King; this was an entire day that I organized. If it was a bad day, I would be R U I N E D.

Not really.

ECU Students Volunteering
on MLK Day
The day went as smoothly as any day of service could go. We had a solid kick-off with breakfast, speeches, and a brief pre-service reflection activity. Students went off to their service sites, then participated in a post-service reflection activity. This activity involved them drawing out their own vision for a “Beloved Community” and coming up with 3-5 ways that they wanted to live out this vision. Students came back for a closing ceremony where they had an opportunity to share their illustrations and their commitments.

Numbers-wise, it was a successful day – we nearly doubled Make a Difference Day’s numbers and last year’s MLK Day. But what made this day particularly memorable for me was the blow-up from the week before and the post-service reflection activity.

This day of service wasn’t about me. It was about the students, it was about community. The theme for this day of service was “Beloved Community.” I wanted the day to be about envisioning this and living this out. Yet there I was, a week before the day of service, crying with frustration because of everything that went wrong and thinking up all the ways that this day of service could go even more wrong.

I almost let the logistics and the administrative details make me forget about the meaning of this day. I almost let my desire for a perfect day tear me away from why I’m in this field to begin with.

At the closing ceremony, a few students from each project site shared about their experience. Hearing them make their own connections from their project to Dr. King’s vision for the “Beloved Community,” and listening to them talk about what “Beloved Community” means and looks like – this! This is why I love what I do and this is what inspires me.

2015 MLK Day of
Service at ECU
You know how in interviews, the employer asks the potential employee “What’s one of your weaknesses?” and one of the clich├ęd responses is “I’m a perfectionist.”? (*rolls eyes*) Well, that’s me. (*rolls eyes again*) I don’t think I truly realized why that’s a weakness until I sat down with my supervisor, post-blow-up, to unpack this.

As a young professional, I think it’s easy to let perfectionism get the best of you – especially if you’ve been a perfectionist for the past 20+ years. You want things to go well, you want to get recognized, you don’t want to be known as THAT woman/man that messed up, etc. But what I’ve been realizing is that sometimes those mistakes and those “failures” (for lack of a better word) are very much necessary to sober you up and keep you focused. In this field of work, especially, where education, children, social justice, and community involvement intermingle; it’s important for you not to get caught up in the numbers or the attention.

I am here to serve. I am not here to teach, to help, or to advise – because that would imply that I’m better in some way. I’m not. I’m here to grow and learn alongside everyone else through what I do – and that’s service. Individuals and communities always make mistakes. But it’s how you respond to those mistakes that determines what kind of individual and community you build. So embrace those imperfections instead of being critical of yourself and others because of those flaws. Embrace them to raise yourself and others up into a stronger community.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Campus Compact VISTAs lead 1300 volunteers on MLK Day of Service

On Monday, January 19th, we celebrated the life and legacy of one of the most prominent role models of this country-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In addition to being the leader in the fight against racial inequality, Dr. King is also a preeminent figure in the fight for social and economic equality. On MLK Day, communities across the nation came together in a day of service to continue Dr. King's dream of a just society.

Our AmeriCorps VISTAs have each dedicated a year of service to fight poverty all across North Carolina. For the past few months, many of our members have been planning MLK Day of Service projects to mobilize students and community members for not only a day of service, but to use this day as a catalyst for a long term increase in community-engagement. This year, our VISTAs provided service opportunities for over 1300 volunteers who served for a combined 4600 hours.  

UNCA Volunteers
encourage reading
At UNC Asheville, VISTA Jess-Mara Jordan serving with the Key Center, mobilized over 140 volunteers who worked at nine different service project sites From organizing donations at Habitat ReStore, making arts and crafts for children, to beautifying the streets in Downtown Asheville, the volunteers collectively served for approximately 900 hours. Jess-Mara also spoke of how it warmed her heart to see “everything and everyone, including our new Chancellor, come together for my second MLK Day of Service at UNC-Asheville. Last year was record-breaking and it felt great to see so many people invested in service but to see that the culture has not only remained, but is still growing has made every late night and every little detail worth it.” Read the UNCA News Feature.

Volunteers at HPU
packaging meals 
VISTAs Kemi Ademuyo, Anna Mahathey, and Shannon Barr of  High Point University‘s Campus Support Program’s Office coordinated an entire weekend of events. On Monday, January 19th, 679 volunteers decided to make it a day ON and volunteered at 20 different community sites in High Point, collectively serving over 2000 hours in a single day. Volunteers participated in a street clean up, packing essential items for the homeless, preparing and cleaning a community garden at the Macedonia Family Resource Center, painting and sprucing up various churches and spending time with senior residents at the Piedmont Christian Home. They also packed over 20,000 meals with Stop HungerNow and hosted a field day at the Hartley YMCA for the children. Our Executive Director Leslie Garvin stopped by to help out as well. The volunteers and their projects were also featured on the local news here.

VISTA Hannah Paek at East Carolina University's Volunteer and Service-Learning Center coordinated a Day of Service with the vision of celebrating Dr. King’s legacy of creating a “Beloved Community.” Over 240 volunteers led by student leaders participated in an opening ceremony which included a screening of the I Have a Dream speech, serving at 10 project sites and a closing ceremony which allowed the volunteers to share their visions and hopes of a “Beloved Community.” The volunteers were featured in this news segment. 

6th Annual Read-In at
VISTAs Naijla Faizi and Natasha Vos with Wake Forest's Pro Humanitate Institute collaborated with Winston-Salem State University and Hand-On Northwest NC to host the 6th AnnualRead-In. Over 160 volunteers participated to work with 115 elementary school aged children. The children were encourage to read, learn the history of the civil rights movement and each were presented with three free books. Naijla worked with several on-campus and off-campus organizations to make the Read-In a success. She collaborated with the sororities at Wake Forest University who hosted a book-drive for the Read-In that collected enough books for not only this year, but also the next! Our own VISTA Leader Catherine Casteel dropped in to participate in the Read-In. 

VISTA Kali Hackett at UNC Greensboro Office of Leadership and Service-Learning coordinated 9 projects with 70 volunteers throughout the city. In addition to mural painting at Youth Focus, street cleanup, baking goodies for hospice patients, some of the volunteers also participated in the Day of Service event hosted by the Greensboro Volunteer Center at the Four Seasons Mall. NC Campus Compact Program Coordinator Chad Fogleman also stopped by to participate in a service project with the volunteers.

App State students
volunteer with
Hospitality House
VISTA, Brittany Johnson with the Hospitality House of Boone, led a team of 20 volunteers who cleaned, painted and did minor repairs at the Welcome Home Thriftique as part of the MLK Challenge. The volunteers also got a chance to visit the Hospitality House and learn about its services. Brittany shared that “My favorite thing about this day of service is that students choose to have a day on rather than take a day off for the sake of helping others. The students who volunteered at the Thriftique were so excited to dive into the work needed. Their teamwork and passion made a huge difference for our project. I was thrilled to be able to share our cause and purpose with them. These student volunteers accepted and completed the challenge, proving that anything is possible and how working together can create change.”

Our VISTAs continue Dr. King's legacy day in and day out, as they tirelessly work to build the capacities of their community organizations and universities for the growth of a more engaged and better-served society. They believe, as Dr. King did, that “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hump Month Blog #3: A VISTA Thanksgiving

Our Hump Month blog series continues! Our 2014-15 VISTAs share their thoughts now that they are half-way through their 12-month service commitment.

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 Meghan Engstran
AmeriCorps VISTA at Meredith College
My name is Meghan Engstran, and I am a North Carolina VISTA member working in the Office of the Chaplain at Meredith College.  When I introduce myself, I like to say I am a relocated Northerner. I was born and raised in Minnesota. After graduating from the University of Minnesota Duluth, I knew I wanted to complete a year of service with AmeriCorps; my only condition was where ever I ended up, it had to be warmer than home.  That is how I landed in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Meghan during a NC
Campus Compact Site Visit

As the VISTA, my main responsibilities are program and volunteer coordinating for Meredith's role in the Children’s Collaborative of Wake County which includes Meredith's  Campus Kitchen. The Collaborative is a community-based collaboration of agencies, whose primary goal is to break the cycle of generational poverty by creating systemic change, through providing birth-to-18 years aged children greater access to educational support and food.

As I started my VISTA year, I had limited understanding of what being part of a collaborative organization meant and even less understanding of its potential. However, now that I am halfway through my term of service, I understand the positive impact collaborations can have on a community.  So often, higher education institutions set themselves apart from the community they are located in but not Meredith College. It is understood that Meredith is an essential part of the community and the community is an essential part of Meredith College. One cannot thrive without the other.

Thanksgiving Dinner 
Being a VISTA comes with challenges, but it also comes with rewards. One of my most meaningful experience happened on one of my more stressful days. We planned a Thanksgiving Dinner for Campus Kitchens, to which we invited the families of the students we normally serve to join us. The day of the dinner, I was going non-stop, dealing with each situation as it came up. Finally though, the food was cooked and we were ready to serve. By this time I was not in a festive mood, however I pasted a smile on and told myself it will all be over soon. When it came time to clean up I was exhausted and thinking to myself never again. That is when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Standing behind me was a mom. What she said next is the reason why I am so committed to serving my community. She said "I have to work on Thanksgiving and I wasn't going to have dinner with my kids. Thank you for having the whole family eat dinner together tonight."

I could not be more thankful for the experience and lessons I have learned in the past six months, and I cannot wait to see what I will have the privilege to experience in the last remaining months of my year of service.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Hump Month Blog #2: Foodie?

January is Hump Month for our 2014-15 VISTAs - they are half-way through their 12-month service commitment! Every Wednesday this month, NC Campus Compact will be publishing a reflective piece written by a VISTA. In these posts, our members look back on their first 6 months and ahead to the rest of the year.

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 Natasha Vos
AmeriCorps VISTA for the Campus Kitchen program at Wake Forest University

Natasha at Turkey
My friends call me a foodie. What does that even mean? A year ago I suppose my interpretation of foodie aligned well with the commonly accepted definition: “A foodie is a gourmet, or a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and alcoholic beverages. A foodie seeks new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating out of convenience or hunger.” Living close to downtown Raleigh meant that I was always close to the newest and most exciting restaurants that served up unique dishes prepared with the freshest (and often local) ingredients. I considered myself a foodie because I spent much of my time and money exploring food culture, yet there was a part of me that felt a bit uncomfortable at times. While I was a student (and for some months after graduating) I worked as a bartender at a major chain hotel and I saw every day how much food went to waste. As a result, I began imagining how much food went to waste everywhere I went to eat.

Flash forward to today, halfway through my VISTA term with the Campus Kitchen program at Wake Forest University. I have moved to a new city, started working with a very different university community, and begun to unpack what food insecurity means and how it affects the larger community. The Campus Kitchen program at Wake Forest works to fight food insecurity in some of the most affected parts of Winston-Salem by partnering with several organizations to simultaneously reduce food waste. Food that has been prepared, but not served, is re-purposed into nutritional and delicious meals that are shared with our community partners. Additionally, a unique partnership with Fresh Market allows Campus Kitchen to bring fresh produce into areas of Winston-Salem designated as food deserts. Recently we have begun a partnership with the Cobblestone Farmer’s Market to glean leftover produce from farmers at the end of the weekly markets. All of this healthy and wonderful food, grown and harvested with care, goes to members of the community that struggle the most with obtaining fresh foods.

Produce from
Campus Garden
So what does all of this mean for me? Halfway through my VISTA year I am on a mission to rewrite the definition of foodie. I’m attempting to break the notion that we should only care about the final product in front of us. A true foodie should have a deep appreciation for food; where it comes from, how it was grown, who harvested it (and how they were treated), how it was prepared, and perhaps most importantly, who gets to eat it. Fresh and healthy food should not be a luxury afforded to those living in the right part of the city with the most money. If you care where the ingredients in your food come from and how they were prepared, then you should also care about where they end up.  

Food insecurity is a large concept and problem that weave together larger structural inequalities as well as local issues. There is work being done at the grassroots level as well as larger political efforts, but maybe if we, as a whole, stop thinking about food as a privilege and more as a basic right, we can shift our collective thinking. And what being a foodie means.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hump Month Blog #1: Little did I know this house would become my home

January is Hump Month for our 2014-15 VISTAs - they are half-way through the 12-month service commitment! Every Wednesday this month, NC Campus Compact will be publishing a reflective piece written by a VISTA. In these posts, our members look back on their first 6 month and ahead to the rest of the year.

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 George Barrett
AmeriCorps VISTA at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, Chapel Hill

My name is George Barrett and I am a North Carolina Campus Compact VISTA at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History in Chapel Hill, NC. I am originally from Charlotte, and I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I graduated in May 2014 with a degree in Anthropology and Minor in Music. I was drawn to the Campus Compact through my volunteer work at the Jackson Center my last semester of undergrad. I have grown to not only love this beloved community but truly feel a part of it. I hope to leap and grow even further in my remaining months at the Jackson Center. 

The following is a staff reflection piece George wrote for the Jackson Center website

George showing off one of his projects during a
NC Campus Compact site visit
From the moment I walked into the Jackson Center on a January afternoon, I knew this place was important and would somehow be a new and important member of my life. As a UNC senior, I was part of Anthropology 93 course, a social justice course that requires students to take part in a 30 hour service learning project. I needed a location and had come up empty up to that point. Then my professor dropped the name “The Jackson Center.” After visiting the website I decided to make a bold move. Without prior notice, I dropped into the charming brick house at 512 W. Rosemary St. Little did I know (or maybe I did) that this house would become my new home.

After volunteering under the direction of [NC Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA] Jacob Lerner for the entire semester, I applied and was lovingly offered the position of Coordinator of Advocacy and Organizing. Without a moment of hesitation I accepted the position, because sometimes there is an intangible and almost spiritual knowledge that tells the rational mind “this is right!” I joined the team in July and got rolling.

People often ask “What does the Jackson Center do?”, and are quickly reciprocated with a five minute soliloquy of the plethora of programs that intertwine to serve the Northside neighborhood. But if I have learned anything in my few months, it is that COMMUNITY is a dynamic and complex web that cannot not be packaged in a neat and calculated elevator speech. In this time I have been awarded the opportunity to coordinate the production of our Northside News, mobilize volunteers, facilitate advocacy groups around Housing Choice Vouchers and anti-bias policing, participate in neighborhood home repairs, outreach to 45 new student residents, and get to meet some of the most empowered individuals. Every day is different. Every day is active. Every day is community.

George at the Jackson Center
The Jackson Center is a unique space that has challenged me in the best way possible. It forces me to be better and forces me to listen! As our executive director Della Pollock always says, “Listen, listen again, and then listen again”. The members of this community have given me an education that is unparalleled in my four years at UNC. My involvement in the Northside community, from volunteer to staff member, have felt like a homecoming weekend that never gets to Monday.  I have been able to laugh, cry, and feel some type of way in this brief period of time… and I could not be happier.

 The Marian Cheek Jackson Center does not serve a community; it is a community. When things are still (which is very rare) and my mind takes a moment to stop fixating on task oriented concerns, I can exist in a clarity of pure fulfillment. Because we are making history!