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.