Volume 1, Issue 1
VERMONT YOUTH TOMORROW A*VISTA
The Big Picture... Dear Readers, In this issue of the Vermont Youth Tomorrow Newsletter, we asked our VISTAs to consider the connections between their current projects and events at their sites and the overall mission of VISTA. The numerous youth empowering organizations at which our VISTAs serve promote healthy, safe, and fruitful lives of youth across the state of Vermont. At times it can be hard to connect those lines between one’s service and the somewhat daunting overall mission of VISTA, “to eliminate and alleviate poverty.” But with a little thought, the VISTAs of Vermont Youth Tomorrow have shown just that. This past month I had the opportunity to visit the VISTAs at their site to see firsthand their service in action; and I took them to lunch to hear about their service. These visits have been my favorite part of my service thus far. Each day I would return home after visiting one or two VISTAs feeling inspired and humbled by the incredible things our team is up to at their respective locations. Youth around the state are being offered positive outlets and activities and are learning more about themselves and their communities through programming and events coordinated by AmeriCorps*VISTA members. By supporting the youth of today, in Vermont’s most economically distressed areas, Vermont Youth Tomorrow VISTAs are giving the gift of hope of a promising future. In supporting the VISTAs of Vermont Youth Tomorrow, my service helps others alleviate poverty. I do not have the direct contact with our target demographic as many of our VISTAs do, but instead I am comforted by the knowledge that thousands of youth across the state are receiving vital services. The VISTAs of Vermont Youth Tomorrow support programs that provide youth with opportunities to pursue a healthy lifestyle: lean job-skills; participate in the arts, sports, and recreation; eat healthy food and develop good nutrition habits; improve literacy and academic skills; live in safe, affordable housing; connect with adult mentors; and build a sense of community. VYT members’ service show Vermont youth that they matter and that life is filled with opportunities. I am proud to support Vermont Youth Tomorrow and I am even more proud of the incredible gains and opportunities the service of our VISTAs have provided the youth of Vermont.
Tara Robinson AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader Vermont Youth Tomorrow Montpelier, VT
Inside this issue: Stephanie Atwood Operation Military Kids
Erin Schlitts enVision Montpelier
Terri Daugherty Boys & Girls Club of Brandon
Marianne Disney Kellogg Hubbard Library
Dan Shamblin The Stern Center
Keegan Albaugh Winooski Teen Center
Ruth Poland Youth Horticulture Project
Kate Tagai River Arts
Paige McCormick Linking Learning to Life
Jackie Yenerall The Foodbank
Kristin Feierabend enVision Montpelier
Morgan Webster In-Sight Photography
Chrissy Anderson The Collaborative
Adam Catanzarite In-Sight Photography
Bethany Halliday Linking Learning to Life
Laura Buchanan 4H Science, Eng., Tehcnology
Ryan Deery Kellogg Hubbard Library
Betsy Fournier Franklin Grand Isle Bookmobile
Sara Novak The Intervale Center
Annie McShiras Community Friends Mentoring
The Willowell Foundation
VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1
Operation Military Kids So … your mom or dad has deployed. All of a sudden you feel alone, disconnected, isolated. Every moment of every day your thoughts are consumed by a mix of fear, pride, anger, worry, and hope. You sit in your classroom hoping that phone call isn’t for you, or wondering why your teacher was asked to step out into the hall. You’re surrounded by classmates who think both your parents are safe at home, working as usual, picking you up from school each day, and tucking you in at night like always. You can’t bring yourself to tell them the truth. You sit silently while your friends go back and forth about the war, talk about the images they’ve seen on TV, or wonder aloud why anyone would ever risk his or her life like that. You live in Vermont where there’s no military base for you to live on and thus no group of deployment-understanding kids to connect with. You walk through those twelve long months thinking the community you live in probably doesn’t support you and couldn’t possibly “get” what you’re going through. Starting now, and continuing over the next few months, roughly 1,500 Vermont National Guard members will be deploying to Afghanistan. Military kids all over the state are dealing with or about to deal with a new kind of stress, and each child’s experience will be unique. The mission of Operation: Military Kids (OMK) is to help create an environment in which a military child feels supported, appreciated, and safe in his or her community. Our mission is clear and our goal makes sense … to those who know and understand. Before being introduced to OMK, the above scenario didn’t exist for me. Never had I thought of military kids and what they might be going through – not once. But it didn’t take long after hearing about OMK for me to recognize the need, believe in this work, and completely understand the value of the program. I, like many others, simply lacked knowledge. But once educated, I felt compelled to get involved. This past weekend I spent time with Vermont’s American Legion members assembling Hero Packs which are distributed to the children of deploying soldiers. These packs, filled with locally donated items, help to keep military kids in touch with their parent(s) and remind them of the community that cares about them. One man, after assembling a pack, stayed at the table to help. He had been introduced to the program only an hour before, and yet he was already explaining it to others, calling his friends over to help, and commenting on its importance. As he was detangling a cluster of OMK dog tags, another man from behind us reached out his hand saying “I’m pretty good at
those, would you like some help?” And after watching the table for awhile, a woman asked me how she could bring the Hero Pack project to her community. By the time we had finished talking, she had decided the kids in her school could write letters to each military kid receiving a pack. Since getting involved, I’ve seen firsthand the domino effect that can take place: a guidance counselor, after attending a Ready, Set, Go! training on the emotional cycle of deployment, approaches us to come speak at her school, a teacher then tells us his class would love to put together Hero Packs, and when his class asks a local business owner to make a donation, she realizes she knows a military family that might be in need. Spreading awareness is the key, and OMK is here to set the dominoes in motion. The goal is to not only push down that first domino, but to support each piece along the way, keep track of them as they go, and make sure they keep moving. If we can achieve that, we’ll create a Vermont where military kids feel connected, supported, and strong enough to make it through their mission. Because after all, the kids are serving too. So … your mom or dad has deployed. You receive a Hero Pack, filled with items donated by your community, with a letter written to you from another kid, with a scrapbook for you to fill and give to your parent when she or he returns. You may feel fear, pride, anger, worry, and hope, but you know you don’t have to hide these feelings from those around you. You know it’s okay to talk, or not talk, about it. You feel comfortable explaining to your teacher why you had to leave the room for a few minutes, and you can count on your friends to know what conversations might hurt or bother you. You walk through those twelve months while your mom or dad is away, knowing your community supports and cares about you, and there are people around you who “get” what you’re going through.
Stephanie Atwood AmeriCorps*VISTA Operation Military Kids Colchester, VT
Growing the Central Vermont Food Systems Council has provided me with a greater vision of the work that can be done in a City Planning and Community Development department. Since the Council’s start, in March of 2009, a diversity of folks have taken part in defining its role in the community. With the mission to “expand and grow Central Vermont’s emerging sustainable food systems, to ensure that all our community has access to affordable, quality food,” Council projects vary from the “garden in every Washington County school” initiative to administering a survey that determines how much local food is consumed to efforts towards getting local food into corporate grocers. As a VISTA at the City of Montpelier Planning and Community Development department, I have facilitated different pieces of these projects from behind the scene. And from doing so, I can now begin to see my year of service taking shape.
Erin Schlitts AmeriCorps*VISTA enVision Montpelier Montpelier, VT
*A photo from the Growing Local Fest, where all funds raised went to the “garden in every Washington County school” initiative
The Boys and Girls Club of Brandon is a brand new organization with the mission of providing a place for youth to come and enjoy extracurricular activities, learn new things, and become engaged in the community through service. As a VISTA my role is to work with a team to initiate programming and strategies to develop the infrastructure for the Club. I have found that the other staff I am working with are among the most motivating factors of my year of service. Together we have created a vision for our organization and we each personally invest in realizing these goals. We have already developed multiple programs and events to engage the youth in Brandon. We help with homework, keep it cool with the tech club, and exciting with phonology. We battle it out in the parking lot with 4square, dodge ball, and knock out. Youth find personal strength in our future building class, girls group, and teen council. The greatest part is the involvement from the community, we have several regular volunteers and others for special events such as CPR class and ping pong lessons. For Halloween we will open our doors to the whole community with our Carnival. These projects keep everyone involved excited and motivated to come to our club, and support our mission to serve the community of Brandon. All of these wonderful people encourage me as a VISTA member, and motivate me to make things happen… for America!
Terri Daugherty AmeriCorps*VISTA Boys & Girls Club of Brandon Brandon, VT
V Y T VO IC E S
Vermont Reads Vermont Reads is a one-book community reading program presented by the Vermont Humanities Council in partnership with libraries throughout Vermont. The Kellogg-Hubbard Library has collaborated this year with Sue Monmaney, Librarian at Montpelier High School, in sharing books and activities. One of our activities is readers theatre in which a novel is adapted into a script and performed by a group. There is no memorization of lines but it does use dramatic interpretation of the text. I suggested at our first meeting that teens write part of the script. Taking the first step, I collaborated with Lea Woods, a 92-year-old library volunteer, in adapting When the Emperor Was Divine into script form. I realized that, in addition to reading the novel in class and writing the third chapter, teens should be the performers as well. I got in touch with Suzanne, an intern teaching Montpelier High School’s first theatre class in many years, and created a plan for performance. I see the library working at many levels and this project is an excellent example of that. It shows how libraries can be utilized as a free, extended opportunity for education and how schools, libraries and non-profit literacy organizations can work together to reach and inspire all ages of readers and writers. Having Vermont Reads also shows how programming is another part of the library’s focus in celebrating literacy and showcasing local talent.
Marianne Disney AmeriCorps*VISTA Kellogg Hubbard Library Montpelier, VT For me, this is the crowning achievement of my service. It is very fulfilling to give young drama students the opportunity to perform and to feel included in an important way in their community. This is what VISTA means to accomplish, by taking on the perspective of looking at what voices aren’t always prominent and bringing them forward.
I have had several projects over the course of my service at the Stern Center. Some of these projects have been more interesting than others. However, I have enjoyed my time and have learned quite a lot. My current project is writing an Accounting Procedural Manual. Although the Stern Center has been in existence for over 25 years, they do not have some important documentation of current operating procedures. Today, if some one was to leave from the accounting department the knowledge and experience they have leaves with them. This manual will serve to train new employees in the accounting department and Dan Shamblin be a formal record of procedures. While conducting this project I have had to meet with the center’s AmeriCorps*VISTA CFO, bookkeepers, accountant and HR manager. The Stern Center I would say that I have a good understanding of how the organization operates. Williston, VT Although it is difficult to see and or feel that my service has a direct impact fighting poverty, I do feel that my service is helping a non-profit continued sustainability. I can draw some connections between my service and the over all goals of VISTA. The Stern center provides academic support for individuals with learning disabilities. Since access to education is in direct relation to a person’s ability to earn a living, the existence of the Stern Center does have an impact in the fight against poverty. The longer the Stern Center continues the more people they are able to help.
VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1
Life at the Underground Teen Center Keegan Albaugh AmeriCorps*VISTA Winooski Teen Center Winooski, VT
Since the end of the Youth Horticulture Project’s “Summer Work and Learn (SWL)” program I have been running a few fall classes and work programs as well as re-visioning the program to focus on career and job skill development for young adults, support school gardens, and extend our impact statewide. Job skill development is a major focus for our summer program, and we will retain the SWL program as is, but our programming Ruth Poland during the rest of the year will have to change. Up to now, YHP worked with elementary and middle-school AmeriCorps*VISTA age children during the spring and fall, offering hands-on learning opportunities that enhanced their sciYouth Horticulture Project ence, literature, or math curricula. I enjoyed these Brattleboro, VT classes and will be sorry to see them change or disappear as we turn our focus to job skill development. I am beginning to believe, however, that this change of direction is all for the best. While the experiential gardening program may no longer have a place at the YHP farm, our resources may be better spent supporting gardens on school property rather than trying to cart students from one end of town to the next. We can help schools find grants, donate seedlings and supplies, and provide information on gardening to schools statewide rather than restricting our services to Brattleboro. Hopefully, we will be able to reach many more kids than ever before. As for our new focus on career development, it seems that we will be fulfilling a major need in the community. While the Career Center and other vocational programs in Brattleboro help youth gain experience and training in certain fields, there is very little available to youth who are not sure what career they want to pursue. YHP can help them build basic job skills that will be necessary no matter where they work next. We will work directly with kids in our area while we offer support and guidance through workshops to similar programs statewide. As the recession lingers on, it seems appropriate for my VISTA service to move beyond simply keeping poverty at bay through food donations and short-term job opportunities. I am optimistic that our new focus will enable us to make real gains against poverty and ill health by expanding educational opportunities at schools and on-the-job learning opportunities for youth across the state. By helping others help themselves, our new direction will hopefully make sustainable advances towards the poverty-free America that is the vision of every VISTA.
The failure of our fall children’s programming has forced us to reevaluate the need in the community and how we perceive and address that need. Our mission is to provide art for everyone; but are we? This failure has made us draw back to look at the long range goals of the organization and really reflect before we start planning and reevaluating the myriad of ways we address the mission. It may be the start of an evolution. It may be that we incorporate ideas gradually into larger change. It may be that we rapidly revamp what we do and how we do it. The time is open with endless possibilities and I am part of shaping the future of River Arts leading to the future success of the organization. This is a heady thing for a volunteer to be involved in.
Kate Tagai AmeriCorps*VISTA River Arts Morrisville, VT
VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1
Paige McCormick AmeriCorps*VISTA Linking Learning to Life Burlington, VT One of the projects I am working on now that I am very excited about is a food literacy program for our network partners. This project has forced me outside of the comfort zone of my own department and really has me thinking about how our department can really complement and enhance the work already being done at the Foodbank. In this project I will be exploring ways to increase our clients’ knowledge of and interest in the fresh produce the gleaning program procures. Hopefully this program will encourage people to take home more of these sometimes unfamiliar vegetables, thereby increasing the amount of fresh, nutritious food the Foobank is able to supply to its clientele. As a VISTA this program gives me a chance to contribute to the Foodbank and the community it serves. This is a program that possibly would not have been researched or developed without the presence of a VISTA because the Foodbank is so busy keeping up with the increasing demands that fall upon a food bank during hard economics times. Additionally, as a
We’ve just wrapped up our New England Federal Credit Union Giant Pumpkin Regatta and Festival which turned out to be a mega smash hit. We had over 3,000 people gawking and gazing at 1,000 lb pumpkins as they glided through the water while being paddled by local business owners – all to fundraise for LLL’s PILOT (Program to Inspire Leadership Opportunity and Thought). We were successful in raising a third of our $45,000 budget for PILOT and recruited hundreds of dollars of in-kind donations. This project helped me to better understand community partnership opportunities in Chittenden County. It has helped me to see the bigger picture of my organization because we provide a service that not only benefits K-12 students but also the business community in the sense that we prepare students for college, community, and career success. I also see how my service as a VISTA is supposed to help alleviate the pressures of poverty through LLL’s programming because we are providing opportunities for students to better themselves by learning about careers, college studies, and community relationships. I see my year of service as an important part of resource and research development to continue the crucial role that this organization plays in shaping Vermont students into resourceful 21st Century citizens.
VISTA part of my role is to serve America, and I feel as this program gives me a chance to contribute to the Foodbank and the community it serves.
Jackie Yenerall AmeriCorps*VISTA Vermont Foodbank Wolcott, VT
Here in the Montpelier City Planning and Community Development Department, we’ve been brainstorming ways to celebrate the diversity of Montpelier’s neighborhoods through some sort of citywide event. At a recent Capital Area Neighborhoods (CAN!) meeting, community leaders came up with the idea to organize a photo exhibit featuring residents’ pictures of their neighborhoods. Residents of all ages will be encouraged to take photos in their neighborhoods—from the everyday (landscapes/kids/ breakfast-making), to the more exciting (neighborhood parties/street music/naked bike rides)—and submit them to be part of the exhibit. The collection of photos, which will be displayed in City Hall on Town Meeting Day, will at once celebrate the uniqueness of each neighborhood while demonstrating how each contributes to the community as a whole.
In the first quarter of my year of service VISTA enabled In-Sight to create and expand programs that improve the lives of our students. Without VISTA, In-Sight would not be able to meet its mission of providing Windham County youth with extracurricular programming to under-served Windham County youth regardless of their ability to pay. Many of our students encounter trouble in school, come from broken and abusive homes, have substance abuse issues, or have mental disabilities. Through the use of photography, our program provides students with a safe environment for personal growth and development so they can become active members of the community. Through grant writing, event fundraising, and developing programs I gained a greater understanding of AmeriCorps*VISTA’s role in our community. I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done!
Morgan Webster AmeriCorps*VISTA In-Sight Photography Brattleboro, VT
As a VISTA in the City Planning and Community Development Department, it is my role to help citizens take pride in the community and empower them to generate positive change. I see the CAN! photo exhibit as a creative empowerment tool—a way for residents to capture in photos parts of the Montpelier community that they love and want to maintain or parts they might like to change or see improved. I also see the project as a way to engage residents who might not otherwise participate in municipal meetings or events. Residents can creatively share the unique aspects of their neighborhoods through images instead of through conventional discussion or public forum. I’m excited to organize the CAN! photo exhibit. Projects like this help me see the bigger picture of my service and motivate me to find creative ways to empower citizens and encourage them to take pride in the community!
Kristin Feierabend AmeriCorps*VISTA enVision Montpelier Montpelier, VT
VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1
Chrissy Anderson AmeriCorps*VISTA The Collaborative Manchester, VT
Adam Catanzarite AmeriCorps*VISTA In-Sight Photography Brattleboro, VT
Here is an abstract representation of the gallery space where The In-Sight Photography Project's 11th Annual Silent Auction & Exhibition was held. This year we received an enormous amount of support from photographers across the nation and were barely able to house all of the prints in the gallery. No wall space was spared as the works were hung from floor to ceiling. Standing back to view all of the donations in one space was a bit overwhelming! To see such a high volume of support was awe-inspiring and it served as a nice reminder of what exactly I am doing in AmeriCorps and why I am doing it. The money raised from the auction will go to provide current and future youth with the opportunity to become talented and creative individuals who will hopefully one day return the favor by sending in a print of their own for one of In-Sight's future auctions.
As a VISTA at Linking Learning to Life in Burlington, I have spent the last few months serving as a coordinator for the Training Interns and Partnering for Success (TIPS) program. The TIPS program focuses on connecting students with businesses, schools, and the community by teaching twenty-first century jobs skills in a preemployment skills course, followed by a forty-hour internship with a local business or organization. This semester, TIPS is in full-swing at Essex High School; twelve students are participating in the program and each of them has been placed in an internship of interest. My involvement with this program is twofold -- I aim to help sustain this program at Essex High School while learning as much as I can about the program so that I can help replicate the program at high schools in the future. The classroom portion of the program is important. Instructors are focused on teaching practical skills that are needed in todayâ€™s workforce, and classroom activities are designed to help students realize their individual strengths and interest in various fields. Field trips are taken to local businesses, and employers are invited into the classroom to discuss their careers. The students have access to materials on Global Classroom and are expected to post journal entries on this site throughout the entirety of the program. Linking Learning to Life internship coordinators
track and support the students throughout the entire program, and students receive academic credit for successful completion. Linking Learning to Life aims to improve the educational success and career prospects for K-12 aged youth through educational, business, and community partnerships. Through TIPS, students develop career skills in a supportive environment and learn more about their interests at the same time. The program benefits communities in a variety of ways: employers are able to develop a workforce with necessary, twenty-first century job skills, and Vermonters are able to gain access to desired career opportunities. My service at Linking Learning to Life is helping to sustain and expand important programs aiming to alleviate poverty in the community, which is my year-long goal as a VISTA.
Bethany Halliday AmeriCorps*VISTA Linking Learning to Life Burlington, VT
VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1
Laura Buchanan AmeriCorps*VISTA 4-H Science, Engineering & Technology
Brattleboro, VT 4-H provides free learning and leadership opportunities to youth through programs on topics ranging from animal science, entrepreneurship, crafts and sports, to health, citizenship, life-skills, and technology. Currently we are working to design and integrate more science, engineering, and technology (SET) programs into the existing 4-H framework. In doing so we hope to bring programming to more youth in the state of Vermont, and to thereby foster excitement and confidence about a broad range of SET topics. The overarching, long-term goal of the 4-H National SET Initiative is to encourage more students to choose college majors in SET areas and to ultimately increase the number of Americans capable of working in SET-related careers.
The Kellogg-Hubbard Library (KHL) has been operating for over a century and is currently, in fact, the second most utilized library in the state of Vermont. Consequently, as I embarked upon my VISTA year in midAugust, I knew right from the get-go that I would not be asked to reinvent the wheel or the organization. Instead, my duties were to take on projects that the overbooked staff would not be able to do. Principally, the three projects that I have a direct hand in are—library outreach, adult programming, and systems maintenance. More specifically, in regards to outreach, my task is to help the library reach more daycares, pre-schools, and those that cannot otherwise access the library in the communities besides Montpelier that the library serves. Secondly, although I do not organize what adult programs the library will host, with me and my fellow VISTA’s help, this year
Ryan Deery AmeriCorps*VISTA Kellogg Hubbard Library Montpelier, VT
Here at 4-H in Windham County, we are finally getting the chance to implement our newly planned GPS & Mapping as well as Energy lessons in five science classrooms at Kurn Hattin School in Westminster. Students from the 5th-8th grades will be building small scale generators, creating model wind-turbines, listening to a local civil engineer talk about dams and construction, taking field trips to local power plants, building solar cars (and racing them against their classmates!), learning how to use compasses and GPS, making a real map of their school yards, and experimenting with Google Earth all during the next 5 weeks! We are really looking forward to a month of excitement, learning, and having the opportunity to see which of our ideas work well, and what needs to be tweaked before we package the best parts of our programs so they can be used by 4-H educators throughout the state.
the library has scheduled and is offering more adult programs then ever before. Finally, I am also working on cleaning up the library’s electronic system that keeps track of patrons and donations. All three of these projects in very obvious ways, directly relate to the KHL’s mission “Preserving Yesterday, Informing Today, and Inspiring Tomorrow” in addition to the VISTA mission and therefore it is personal motivation that I will instead focus on. Although maintaining electronic databases frankly bores me to tears, each time that I undertake the task I remember that which keeps me going and that is the aforementioned immense popularity of the KHL, the amazing programs the library offers at least twice a week, as well as the smiles that my outreach visits always elicit. When half a dozen 2-4 year olds climb into my lap and beg for yet another story time, or another patron thanks us for dropping books off that they otherwise could not access, or as intense discussions linger on after an additional enlightening program comes to a close, or I watch as someone walks out the door with a towering stack of books, I realize how important the library is, how crucial each and every task I perform is and finally, how much more VISTA enables this great institution to accomplish.
Happy Birthday RIF Leaves are red, leaves are brown, apples falling on the ground. What is orange, big and round? Itâ€™s the pumpkin that I found! Halloween means lots of fun, for boys and girls and everyone! As fall is leaving, Winterâ€™s nearing. And even though it may be cold, there are stories to be told. The Bookmobile is on its way, so everyone should shout hooray!
RIF, Reading is Fundamental, is a state grant that gives the children we serve the opportunity to receive three free books a year of their choice.
Betsy Fournier AmeriCorps*VISTA Franklin Grand Isle Bookmobile Swanton, VT
Sara Novak AmeriCorps*VISTA The Intervale Center Burlington, VT On October 10 Schoolhouse students and their families gleaned over 1500 pounds of carrots, eggplant and kale for the Chittenden County Emergency Food Shelf and other local organizations. So far this year, the Intervale Center has gleaned 30,000 pounds of produce for low-income Burlington residents. (another image on next page)
VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1
Gleaned eggplant from the Intervale Center.
Learning/Re-Learning about Poverty, the Criminal Justice System, and my Service Community Friends Mentoring is a mentoring program run through HowardCenter in Burlington, VT. In one of my first weeks with the program, I was introduced to a project that helped me better understand the populations Community Friends works with and also shed light on some of my own privileges. I was asked to organize an event for our mentors around an exhibit that is showing at UVM called “Interrupted Life: Incarcerated Mothers in the United States.” The exhibition seeks to make visible the invisible world of the US prison system—specifically through the eyes of mothers and parents in jail. I was shocked to learn that well over 20% of Community Friends’ mentees have been impacted in some way by the criminal justice system. Many have one or more parent currently in jail; others are living with parents who have recently been in jail or who are at risk of becoming incarcerated. Those children are undeniably affected by their parent’s sentence—in some cases, parent’s rights are taken away from their children while they are serving their sentence. (In some states, the state automatically severs parental rights after 15 months of parent-child separation, regardless of the reason.) The more I learned, the more shocking the statistics: according to “The Sentencing Project,” in 2007, “One in 43 American children had a parent incarcerated in a state or federal prison—representing an 82% increase since 1991.” And, the poor are disproportionally impacted by the criminal justice system: according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2002, eighty-three percent of people in jail reported an income of less than $2,000 in the month prior to arrest, one-third lower than the average monthly wage of the general public. Vermont is not immune to these statistics; rather, the reality of high rates of imprisonment in the US is a hid-
Annie McShiras AmeriCorps*VISTA Community Friends Mentoring Burlington, VT den phenomenon—one that is neither seen nor heard. Between 1997 and 2007, Vermont's incarceration rate increased 73 percent, compared with 19 percent nationwide. Today, those rates are only increasing, and are hitting the poor the hardest. And, once released from prison, there are a multitude of barriers in place which prevent the formerly incarcerated from assimilating back into society. Barriers to housing, to finding employment, and to reuniting with family members all too often lead to re-incarceration. In VISTA, we talk about the unequal structures in place that lead to cyclical and generational poverty—the same can be said for the cycle of incarceration. The event that I’ve organized has yet to take place, but I’m hoping it will lead to some valuable discussion for our mentors, many of whom mentor children with one or more parents in jail. For me, the event will serve as yet another learning opportunity in my year of service—if VISTA has taught me anything, it’s that we never stop learning. The Sentencing Project. “Incarcerated Parents and Their Children: Trends 1991-2007”. Washington, DC: February 2009, 2-6. Velázquez, Tracy. “ ‘Criminalizing’ Poverty: How Public Policies Result in the Over-Incarceration of Low-Income Communities in America". 20 October 2009: http://realcostofprisons.org/blog/ archives/2009/10/acriminalizinga.html. Sears, Sen. Richard. “Vermont Can’t Afford to Keep Locking up Nonviolent Offenders”. The Rutland Herald. 8 July 2007: http://realcostofprisons.org/blog/archives/2007/07/vt_vermont_ cant.html.
Kelsey Haigh AmeriCorps*VISTA The Willowell Foundation Monkton, VT
As part of my service at the Willowell Foundation, I spend a day or two each week with the Walden Project (an alternative public education partnership between Willowell and Vergennes Union High School) helping to build its capacity. The program brings seventeen 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students of varying educational and economic backgrounds together on the beautiful Willowell land in Monkton, VT. Here we create our community through building fires, planting garlic, reading Thoreau and arguing about the best course of action given an imminent zombie apocalypse. As part of this, I am helping facilitate student projects on our land for ecology and history classes. These include initiating a composting and chicken operation, planting a willow farm, introducing bee-hives on the land and a 40 student history and archeology project. At this point, the whole idea seems a wonderful synthesis. Students are in a beautiful and healthy environment, learning by doing and providing useful service to a local non-profit organization. Of course there will be the turbulence of actually having to realize all of these projects, but even so it is a wonderful mess to be part of! Another Willowell project that I have been involved in is the “Champlain’s Lake Rediscovered” exhibition of 39 Vermont artists depicting Lake Champlain. It was conceived a year and a half ago as a fundraiser but given the economic situation, ended up costing Willowell money. To close the budget shortfall, I worked with the show’s curator, artists in the exhibition and community members to put on an art auction with music and refreshment. The artists painted some great works of the Willowell land (see right) and donated them to sell at the fundraiser. It was a great time for making connections and over $1,800 was raised that night. In addition, a conversation on that evening has led to an opportunity to do a fundraising event at Barnes & Noble. It has challenged me to think creatively about resources. This group of artists might never come in contact with the struggling students that come through Walden, but through an affinity for the land, they are helping to support those students and share a hidden connection to place.
This illustration is key to what I am learning about eliminating poverty and the larger VISTA mission. Because society is becoming increasingly fragmented economically and socially, it is crucial to find a medium where these groups can come together on more equal terms. The idea of using land-based strategies such as community gardening, wildlife tracking, and nature inspired art as that medium is compelling because the focus is turned away from individual differences to the greater, natural whole. Is this sense, I would consider someone of simple material means who develops an intense passion for the natural world to have escaped true poverty. Thus far, VISTA has been an exciting opportunity for me to see some deeply held values being fleshed out in real time and space!
VYT A*VISTAs Got Things Done! In just the first three months of 20092009-2010 program year, VYT A* VISTA Members have made great accomplishments:
Managed 290 community volunteers who gave over 2,033 hours of their time to their communities Raised over $179,700 through cash donations, grants, and fundraising events
Procured over $257,472 of in-kind donations â€Ś and so much more!
Vermont Youth Tomorrow A*VISTA Program
Resource Development During Q1 $500,000.00 $400,000.00 $300,000.00 $200,000.00 $100,000.00 $0.00 Events Individual Cash Donations Grants Written In-Kind Donations
During Quarter 1 (Q1) of the 09-10 service year, with just 22 members on board, the VYT Team raised $437,171.80 through fundraising events, individual donations, grants, and in-kind donations. That total is up from Quarter 1 data for the previous three service years, and a dramatic increase from the 06-07 and 07-08 service years. Way to go VISTAs!
Director - M. Kadie Schaeffer Assistant Directors - Nicholas Nicolet & Amanda White VISTA Leader Tara Robinson Email: VYT.VYDC@gmail. com Phone: 802.229.9151