Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Adventures in Alternative Spring Break

As college students look for more ways to give back, Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trips provide the opportunity for students to be immersed in service with local communities. This year, North Carolina Campus Compact VISTAs were part of four different trips. The VISTAs were involved at all stages of the process, from coordinating volunteer sites, to planning meals, to recruiting students. Student volunteers gave over 1,110 hours of service during their ASB trips!

The WFU students and VISTAs
At Wake Forest University, VISTA members Natasha Vos and Naijla Faizi planned a week's worth of activities for four students in the Winston-Salem area. This "staycation" allowed participants to give 28 hours of service to the community at five different service sites! Over the course of the week, the students volunteered at education, food insecurity, and health-related non profits. Not only did Natasha and Naijla plan the service the event, they also planned all meals, extra-curricular, and reflection activities. The small group of students provided the opportunity for deep engagement and reflection. At El Buen Pastor, the Wake ASB group prepared quesadillas for 75 children and later provided homework help. Over the course of the week, the group also volunteered at community gardens and a food bank.

At East Carolina University, VISTA member Hannah Paek planned an ASB "staycation" for 12 students in the Greenville community. The trip focused on poverty and youth. During the trip, the group stayed at the Greenville Community Shelter and over the course of the week, the students learned about poverty through simulation activities, including managing grocery shopping and meal preparation on a food stamp budget, and managing the local bus system. The students volunteered with Sparkle Her Night, an organization that helps low income high school girls obtain prom dresses, tutored children at a community center, and interacted with and prepared meals for shelter clients. The students had the opportunity to engage in a panel discussion about poverty in North Carolina. One ECU student called his ASB experience "humbling, passionate, and empowering."

ECU students sort donated clothing at the shelter.
An ECU student tutors at a community center. 

The team of HPU students and VISTAs packaging meals at Food and Friends.
At High Point University, a trio of VISTAs planned an ASB trip to Washington DC for 14 Bonner Leaders from HPU. Our VISTAs have been working with the Bonner Leaders all year, developing their skills and reflecting on their service experience. The trip focused on issues of hunger and homelessness. The group prepared nutritious food packets at Food and Friends, a non profit that serves those facing challenging illnesses, met with the National Coalition on Homelessness, and toured Washington D.C. with a focus on poverty issues.

At UNC-Greensboro, VISTA member Kali Hackett served as the learning partner for an ASB trip to Atlanta that focused on education and economic opportunity. As the students engaged in service, Kali served as a resource for students and trip leaders. Over the course of the week, the students worked with elementary school children, served and prepared meals at a community site, and worked on a beautification project.

The impact of these trips goes deeper than student's brief encounters with service. This haiku, courtesy of the of WFU trip, reflects on the ASB experience:

A week of service,
gardens, kids, community,
impact starts local.
WFU students plant seedling at the Neal Community Garden.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Farm to Friends

By Justin Brantley
AmeriCorps VISTA at Feast Down East, Wilmington, NC

My name is Justin Brantley and I am an AmeriCorps VISTA Member Serving in South Eastern North Carolina. For the past 7 months I have been working with a Non Profit called Feast Down East. This organization’s goal is to connect limited resource farmers to various outlets for their produce to help strengthen the local food economy by keeping food dollars in this region. These outlets include restaurants, grocery stores, institutions, as well as fresh markets in the region.  My focus has been to reach additional low income communities.

In my last semester I was volunteering at a community based fresh market within a Wilmington Housing Authority (WHA) community called Rankin Terrace.  As I heard about VISTA through my involvement as a volunteer I was able to apply for VISTA after I graduated in May. One of my first duties as a new VISTA was to assume the role of the fresh market facilitator at the Rankin Terrace Community.  One of the most important aspects of our Fresh Market program is that the residents of this community help run the market each week.  This resident support is essential to the success of our market program.

R to L: Justin with FoodCorps Members
One of my roles has been to help further expand our reach into low income communities in the Wilmington Area.  As a new VISTA I was able to access office space in another WHA Community called Hillcrest through the partnership with Feast Down East, UNCW, and the WHA.  Hillcrest is the oldest standing Housing Authority Development and was built not long after WW2.  This community has had a history of criminal activity but has seen great improvements in recent years due to a strengthened partnership between the WHA and Wilmington Police.

When I first came to Hillcrest the residents weren’t as friendly or perceptive as I would have preferred.  However, given time to get to know some of the residents through Community Meetings as well as through shared activities at the community center I have found that they are great people who really care about bringing positive change to their community.  There are many groups that come into community to try and “help” but may provide a short term service and leave never to return. I have found that as soon as residents begin to realize that you are here for an extended period of time in an attempt to bring positive resources to the community they will open up and show their support.

In working at Hillcrest I have been able to identify a leader in one of the older residents.  From the start she seemed interested in working with a community garden in this community. Since September I have worked closely with this resident in attempts to establish a garden club in association with the community garden but had little success over the winter getting additional residents involved.  In December we were able to start a new fresh market at the Hillcrest Community. The market is ultimately modeled after the Market at Rankin Terrace.  Since December this market has seen success in that we have begun to identify our regular customers within the community.  One of the challenges of this market has been getting the surrounding community to participate.

There has been a great amount of student support in regards to our ongoing programming. I have 
Residents and Students at the
first Hillcrest Fresh Marke
found that is has been a greater challenge recruiting volunteers from within the WHA Communities.  I typically see the elementary aged children at the after-school program and the significantly older residents in the neighborhood. I have had a difficult time reaching people in between.  For various reasons it has been difficult reaching this population of people.  The children are limited in ways they can work with our organization as well as the older adults.  It’s the prime age of physical capability that I have had a difficulty reaching.  One thing that can be frustrating in working in such communities is that the older individuals are supportive of positive change in the community but due to physical limitations they may not be able to be as supportive as they would like while the individuals who are most capable can often be the most difficult to reach.

It takes time to see the results of your work in such communities but with the implementation of the Fresh Market at Hillcrest success can be seen at each market as student volunteers interact with residents in the operation of the market.  Most often winning is found in the race itself.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Now Accepting Applications for 2015-2016 VISTA Members!

Are you ready to serve North Carolina? Come make a difference with us!

NC Campus Compact is now accepting applications from candidates for 2015-2016 AmeriCorps VISTA positions. Our next VISTA cohort will begin on August 7, 2015 and will serve one full year.
Our 2014-2015 VISTA cohort and supervisors at orientation!

To learn more about our program and the application process, visit our FAQ page for Prospective VISTAs.

Please visit our position listing on my.americorps.gov when you are ready to create your AmeriCorps application and begin our application process.

According to Opportunity Index, 17.5% North Carolinians live in poverty. Low income communities face many challenges, including access to healthy food, employment, and education resources.

Our VISTA members serve North Carolina's most vulnerable people by working with local community agencies and college campuses to address the needs of low income communities. Our VISTAs serve at 15 different sites across the state, from Cullowhee to Wilmington and many places in between! To learn more about placement locations, read our 2015-16 host site summaries.
VISTAs sort children's books at an MLK Day event

As a VISTA, you could be involved in many different capacity-building activities. For example, you may:
  • Prepare a community needs and assets evaluation
  • Develop a new program that benefits low-income community members
  • Recruit, train, and manage volunteers
  • Write grants or organize fundraisers to bring new resources to your organization
  • Support citizen and student leadership and participation in service
  • Plan national service day events
  • Facilitate service-learning placements, community-based research, and co-curricular opportunities that support communities
Want to know more? You can read more about our VISTAs' experience in their own words:

Natasha, serving at Wake Forest University
George, serving at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center
Hannah, serving at East Carolina University
Meghan, serving at Meredith College