Volume 1, Issue
VERMONT YOUTH TOMORROW A*VISTA
Inside this Issue
We’re pleased to introduce you to the new 2010-2011 Vermont Youth Tomorrow AmeriCorps*VISTA Team. We kicked off our new VISTA Year of Service with our VYT Orientation in August in Montpelier. This year’s team is made up of seventeen new members from all over the country, as well as four AmeriCorps*VISTA members who are ending their year of Service in November. The theme for this issue of VYT Voices is “Hello and Goodbye.” We asked each of our new AmeriCorps*VISTAs to introduce themselves and our more experienced members to say their final goodbyes.
During these past few months as VYT VISTA leader I’ve been able to conduct site visits with team members and see first hand the inspiring things they are doing to improve the future for youth in Vermont. From helping low-income youth strengthen their sense of community, to helping them discover their artistic talents, teaching them quality life skills, to connecting them with mentors, the VISTAs of Vermont Youth Tomorrow are working hard to create a better tomorrow for everyone. We have an exciting year ahead of us and are looking forward to sharing our adventures with you while we work to get things done for America.
Mobius, The Mentoring Movement
Jerahmy Parsons WNWSU 21C ExCEL Program Callie Frey Operation Military Kids Christian Chorba Linking Learning to Life Heather Timins The Chill Foundation Jamal Cole UVM Extension—4H Mike Schlegelmilch Youth Agriculture Project—UVM Marisa James Essex CHiPS Ken Ward Community Friends Mentoring Sadie Allen Kellogg-Hubbard Library John Paul Gardner
In-Sight Photography Sabrina Sears
AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader Washington County Youth Service Bureau Montpelier, VT
Willowell Foundation Tasha Marvinney The Stern Center Taylor Newton Envision Montpelier Isaac Lawrence Envision Montpelier Jessica Engelke Winooski Teen Center Niki Sylvia The Collaborative Erika Rogness The Collaborative Marissa Fischer VT Affordable Housing Coalition Jenn Ringrose The Chill Foundation Sunny Leporati VT Affordable Housing Coalition
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Mobius, the Mentoring Movement “I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello.” I find myself, fittingly, with these Beatles lyrics stuck in my head as I write this piece. After 11 months of service, I am at a crossroads in my life and in my service—I’m saying goodbye to many friends from this year’s VYT team as well as from my site. At the same time, I am saying “hello” to a new VISTA community, new colleagues and a second year of service at Mobius. We have accomplished a lot at Mobius over the past year, but some of our successful projects have recently come to an end. Most notably, the Mentoring Children of Promise Project, a statewide initiative to match children of incarcerated parents with mentors, will come to a close at the end of this month. Despite Project Manager Meredith Rivlin’s (a former VYT VISTA) success in expanding the program and surpassing every goal, the federal grant that funded the project was not renewed. Meredith will also be leaving Mobius later this winter to pursue the next chapter of her life, and she will be sorely missed. Fortunately, we have many new plans to replace projects that have been left behind, ideas to expand upon our current efforts and new staff members who will bring fresh perspectives and renewed energy to our mission of creating a culture of mentoring. Mobius recently began a male-focused research project called “Men in Mentoring.” We hired an outside researcher to explore the factors preventing men from becoming mentors in Vermont. I’ve worked closely with our researcher Alana Shanley and helped her find three groups of interviewees for her study: male mentors, potential male mentors and men who were interested but ultimately chose not to pursue mentoring. The findings from this project could potentially be useful on both a state and a national level, as no major statistically-backed study on this subject currently exists.
Mobius was also awarded a grant to explore the feasibility of using a team of AmeriCorps members to increase mentoring program capacity across the state. We are in the process of submitting a plan to
create a new Vermont AmeriCorps program that would be dedicated solely to the local mentoring movement. I have used my experiences with VYT to provide advice throughout this process. As I’ve written about previously, I’ve spent much of this year working to improve Mobius’ data collection efforts. In the coming year, my new supervisor Marissa Wilkens and I will be able to look at a year’s worth of well-tracked data and create a comprehensive recruitment plan that will maximize our efforts in the field. The last few months have been trying for me, because of all of the staff turnover taking place and have not been able to focus completely on the requirements of my position: building public awareness and recruiting mentors. When my second year begins, however, all of our new staff members will be in place and our staffing will have increased by two full-time positions over last November. My second VISTA year will be filled with the potential for growth and success, and I look forward to the challenge of improving upon both my accomplishments and shortcomings from this year. I say goodbye to my first year of service and all of the successes and challenges I encountered along the way, as well as many friends who are moving on to new places and things. I will take everything I learned from the people I met and the work I did over the past year and carry it with me as I begin anew. Hello to a new year of service filled with promise and excitement!
Benji Thurber AmeriCorps*VISTA Mobius, the Mentoring Movement Winooski, VT
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Hello (for Benji)
Hyssop flowers adorn the horizon along highway-89; Vermonters savor such homeopathic herbs, Achieving higher healthfulness. Across the globe, humanity needs a healing; But, how? Healthy communities produce heroes – I mean, Hellenic heroes, helping To combat homelessness. Harvesting humbleness and honor, A*VISTAs heed hospitality. The wind howls at the hemlocks Of the Northern Hemisphere While hibiscuses smile; But, in harmony, they sing hymns That pay homage to a Haughty human history. Existence is always evolving, revolving – Like satellites around the earth – Engendering education through Engaging enrichment offerings In a healthy and safe environment. ExCEL exercises its philosophy Every day: each one, teach one. Experience the effects ever after – It’s electric! The essence is equality: Engineering economics that embody ecology; Because right now, we exist in an epoch Led by erroneous examples, Where electronically encoded Elements exist in eluvium. With eyes cast eastward, Soon we’ll see that emancipation Emerges from Eden…
Landing left of the lonely lilies, Lassitude is left behind In the fields of longevity. Lyrics convey lessons Of love and life. A low-income liberation – Like a leaf let go To the wind in autumn; It shall be our long-lasting legacy. Opportunities for the youth offset the onerous Oppression of poverty that has been Obscuring their freedom for far too long. Our offspring have been out-casted; Their voices are becoming obsolete. Our overconsumption opulence out-bounds Our own human origins; This onslaught is odious. We have become outside of ourselves. Omnipotence originates within, If only we could take the time To listen and Om. Only on this ontological odyssey Are we open enough to hear The odes of our ancestors and Overcome obstacles of oppression.
Jerahmy Parsons AmeriCorps*VISTA WNWSU 21C ExCEL Program
Lo and behold! Social levitation; A local liberation. Liberation through learning that launches Literary livelihood in lunar directions.
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A year ago I was your average college student, trying to find that balance between class, work and a social life. So many things were going through my head. Not only was I fighting for a so-called balance in my life, I was also a college senior about to graduate and be plunged into a job market hit hard by the downturn of the country's economy. I found myself asking, "What do you do with a degree in art history?" That fall semester I started doing my research. I began to consider numerous options: grad school, the Peace Corps, internships (preferably paid ones) or even the invention of something simple yet brilliant that would make me millions. After a few breakdowns and the Callie Frey realization that my "perfect invention" was just not going to come to fruition, it was suggested that I look into opportunities through AmeriCorps*VISTA. AmeriCorps*VISTA It is hard to believe I have been working with the AmeriOperation Military Kids Corps program and living on my own in Burlington for nearly two and a half months. At first it felt so foreign and Colchester, VT completely different from East Lansing, the college town that had become my home and my safe place during my time at Michigan State University. I don't know if it was the actual place or just my role within it, but Burlington was completely new and, I have to admit, a bit terrifying. After a lifetime of just being a "student," working my way up, I was now finally in the “real” world. I can't help but smile when I look back at my first week in the office and all of the questions I had: "What if they don’t like me?", "Are they going to be listening in on my phone conversations?", "How am I supposed to dress?" I have made it past all those silly fears and am really starting to feel comfortable here. A year ago I could have never guessed I would be calling Vermont my home. The path that led me to where I am today was confusing yet exciting and is making more and more sense with each day that passes. I look forward to what the year ahead has to offer. I think Operation Military Kids and I will be a good match!
Through my service at Linking Learning to Life (LLL), I not only have learned about social issues facing the Burlington community but also have been able to work on programs that address the challenges youth face in education systems nationwide. The history of LLL traces back to a partnership between the Burlington School District, the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the University of Vermont designed to help students transition from school to work. Now a non-profit organization, LLL reaches up to 6,000 students annually through an array of programs that develop youth leadership skills, college preparation, and knowledge of careers. Although an independent organization, LLL is based out of Burlington High School, a school that aptly reflects Burlington’s diverse community. Over thirty languages are spoken at the school and this has contributed to the need for new types of programs to be developed in order to support its students more effectively. LLL plays a crucial role in helping the community’s children realize their goals and aspirations regardless of their parents’ backgrounds by facilitating English as a Second Language programs, providing financial accommodations, and stressing the ability for every student to succeed.
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I have contributed to several of LLL’s programs, such as the College Connections Dual-Enrollment Program that allows high school students to take classes at nearby colleges, the Learn to Earn Career Education Program, and the PILOT Student Leadership Program. The success of these programs would not be possible without the commitment of our partners and the spirit of engagement and volunteerism in the Burlington community. Learn to Earn, for example, relies on volunteers to contribute their time to speak with high school students about different careers. Last week, we held the Third Annual Pumpkin Regatta, a fundraiser to raise money for the PILOT program in which competitors race giant hollowed-out pumpkins on Lake Champlain. Many businesses contributed in-kind donations or sponsored a team, and we recruited dozens of volunteers to help with the regatta. Toys were donated to use as prizes for the children’s festival activities and we were able to borrow equipment from Burlington High School. A local pizzeria even donated pizzas for our volunteers. Working on the regatta, I felt a strong sense that the Burlington community is very tight-knit and that people genuinely want to help each other. This sense of community engagement has also permeated my time outside of my service in Burlington. As an AmeriCorps*VISTA, I qualify for a service discount at my gym, am eligible for the Vermont Food Assistance Program, and have discovered deals at Goodwill, ReSource, and Bike Recycle. While I’m just beginning to explore all the possibilities that this community offers, I can tell already that because of its community spirit, Burlington is a great place to contribute to neighbors while receiving their help in turn.
Christian Chorba AmeriCorps*VISTA Linking Learning to Life Burlington, VT
A year ago today I was counting the days till the start of my AmeriCorps year with Chill. Anticipation built as I signed my first apartment lease, explored Burlington by bike and day dreamed what it would be like to serve
Heather Timins AmeriCorps*VISTA
with Chill. November 21, 2009 finally arrived and I met my supervisor, the other Chill staff and saw my office (couch included). I was in heaven!
The Chill Foundation Over the next few winter months I played the role of Local
Program Coordinator for the Burlington Chill Program. I ran a snowboard program for underserved youth in Chittenden County three nights a week, focused around the themes of patience, persistence, responsibility, courage, respect and pride.
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During those winter months, I worked with my supervisor to develop the Women’s Initiative and our new Promotional Video. As the months grew warmer, my focus shifted to fund raising and event planning. I learned how to write grants and run charity basketball and golf tournaments. I also worked with local media to cover stories about Chill in the paper and on TV. My last few months at Chill have been dedicated to a few “legacy” projects. One of these legacy projects includes my proudest accomplishment all year: Club Chill. Club Chill is a new program for previous Chill participants who deserve additional snowboard opportunities. The purpose of the program is to reward exceptional Chill “alumni” who have made progress in their classroom or treatment program and do community service with snowboard scholarships at local mountains. Agencies nominate youth for the snowboard scholarships and Chill staff choose the recipients in December 2010. I put together sponsorship decks, secured the snowboard scholarships from local mountains and created the youth nomination application for agencies. Another legacy project I am working on is the Chill Women’s Initiative. I am working with the Burton Women’s Professional Association to organize two events: a career day on October 21st for Chill girls to job shadow female Burton employees called Professionally CHILL and an all girls skateboard day in November. Ending my service with Chill to do another year of AmeriCorps *VISTA in Seattle is bittersweet. I am excited to see another part of the country, meet new people and fall in love with another nonprofit. But I know I will leave a piece of myself at Chill. The biggest lesson I learned this past year is that as a VISTA you don’t always get to see the “fruits of your labor.” I am so happy to know that Chill is in the best of hands with the new VISTA, Jenn Ringrose, and I am proud to watch her grow and enhance the program far beyond my capabilities. So, goodbye (temporarily) New England, and hello west coast adventures!
VYT AmeriCorps*VISTAs Erika Rogness, Heather Timins, Marissa Fischer, and Benji Thurber celebrating their End of Service Presentation in November.
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As Winter Approaches
Can it be said with strong conviction in times such as these, considering our nations Plight and struggle in perilous times that compassion, love, and empathy truly exist? In short the answer is yes, it does, it must do, it must do because it is so real to Those who do believe in it. And as Winter approaches with harsh discontent All over the state of Vermont there is a warm front brewing like a freshly lit Wood stove beckoning those nearby with tepid souls to replenish their hearts At its yellow ambers. These warm ambers are the VYT service members in Small and large communities alike that greet the souls of the weary and comfort Them like a cup of hot cider on a cold January's night. The VYT members are The sanctuary within these communities that provide shelters from storms of the Mind, as well as the physical. Our members bring light to the darkest roads traveled And bring hope to a seemingly perilous future. We are VYT!
Jamal Fritzritsen Cole AmeriCorps*VISTA UVM Extension
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Michael Schlegelmilch AmeriCorps*VISTA Youth Agriculture Project—UVM Brattleboro, VT
On a clear, cold fall afternoon three young men crouched on the roof of a small shack next to UVM Extension’s two-acre vegetable field in Brattleboro. Having torn out the weather-warped and leaky old roof boards, they were attending to the noisy work of securing down new ones, filling the raw air with the whine of power drills and the dull ring of hammer and nail. In the field, a young woman harvested some especially hearty tomatoes that had weathered the weekend’s frost, the first of the year. The workers on the roof laughed and joked with each other as they made steady progress, and their voices and chuckles mingled with the clamor of tools in a pleasing cacophony. Two of the young men, as well as the young woman harvesting tomatoes, were alumni from the Youth Agriculture Project’s Summer Work and Learn job training program who had been hired in September for seasonal work at the program’s farm in Brattleboro. The third young man was the program’s farm manager. I was sitting on a picnic table a few feet from the shack, going over a lesson plan I had put together for an elementary school class scheduled to arrive at the farm later that day for a lesson on nutrition. I had been serving as YAP’s Program Development Specialist Americorps*VISTA for just under two months. I looked up from my reading to blink my eyes at the impossibly blue sky and connect some dots in my head. The three alumni working that day had all met that summer, but worked with each other like old friends, joking and shooting the breeze as they set about their tasks. They had spoken to me with astute understanding and a good deal of wryness about the difficulties of finding a job in Windham County, particularly for youth. I knew their “Fall Work” position was temporary and by no means an adequate substitute for long-term employment, but I still felt good about the organization that had given them the chance to put their skills and work ethic into practice. More than that I admired these young men and women for their tenacity and resilience, without which organizations like the Youth Agriculture Project could not function. Both of the alumni busy at this moment measuring boards on the roof had families to support, rent to pay, car payments to make. And they didn’t want anyone’s help. What they wanted was a job, an opportunity to show what they had to offer. And clearly they had a lot. In just a few hours, they had torn out the old rotting roof boards and laid the new ones. All that was left was to put down the tin roofing on top. Not bad for an afternoon’s work.
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As I turned back to my lesson plan, I remembered that one of the young men, jocular and outgoing and with a delightfully perverse enthusiasm for calling dibs on the most exhausting field tasks, had been, a decade or so ago, a student of the very teacher whose class was visiting our farm that afternoon. Since the class’s weekly lesson with YAP overlapped with his work schedule, he made it a habit of helping out with the class however he could as he went about his tasks – holding a hose out for the kids to wash their hands, demonstrating on the spot the proper use of garden tools. I remembered too that he had always been an especially enthusiastic and warm mentor during his participation in Summer Work and Learn. It occurred to me that it was natural for a guy with a young family to be good with kids. It also occurred to me what a problem it is when there are no jobs for someone like him, someone with a lot to offer, someone with a kid to take care of. Well, I thought, we’re still in a recession, jobs are still scarce, and employers willing to take a chance on hiring youth even scarcer. I knew that non-profits wouldn’t solve problems like these, at least not alone. But if organizations like the Youth Agriculture Project could provide an opportunity for young people to prove to a sometimes skeptical community that they could be as responsible and effective as anyone else – and an opportunity to reconnect and give back to the communities they grew up in – it felt worthwhile to be part of it. There was certainly no shortage of work to be done.
As I wondered through the Teen Center at Essex CHIPS on my first day of work, I wondered how I was going to stay focused with the designated Wii room about 10 feet from my office. Today, I have strangely found that I can’t focus without the kids’ Rockband versions of “Eye of the Tiger” in the background. Here at Essex CHIPS our goal is to unite the community and create an environment where everyone is given the ability to make healthy choices, specifically youth. We provide youth with an after-school safe-space, educational resources and anti-drug programs. I have always tried to make informed and healthy decisions and at CHIPS, I am given the chance to be a mentor and attempt to model the healthiest choices at all times. I never had a doubt that CHIPS was where I was meant to be.
Marisa James AmeriCorps*VISTA Essex CHiPS Essex Junctin, VT
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I serve with two of the most dedicated men and am supported by six other wonderful staff members. Together, we work towards the common goal of broadening CHIPS’ mission. Most recently, CHIPS was awarded with our largest federal grant yet, $125,000 for five years! Currently, I am working on several different projects at once, including a fiscal sustainability plan and various ways to promote fundraising. I was also given the go ahead to promote our newest fundraiser, Think Recycle, in which we collect used printer/ink jet cartridges, cells phones and digital cameras and recycle them for profit. Not only does this help our community, but it helps our environment as well, since all those items would go to a landfill anyway. And, for every 100 items we turn in, a tree will be planted in our name! I am really excited for this project to take off and if any of you have those items just laying around, gathering dust, let me know and I’d be happy to take them off your hands! I am really looking forward to the rest of the year and I truly feel like CHIPS is where I will make the greatest impact.
Two weeks into my service year, I was standing on the top of Vermont having collected as a group nearly $2,000 in donations for Community Friends Mentoring. Ken – 1, Mt. Mansfield – 0. A few weeks later, I was picking up wet, fermenting garbage from the sidewalk after a skunk ripped the plastic bag to shreds. Skunk – 1, Ken – 0. The score was even. After two months of service, I realized the year would progress in much the same way: good energy intertwining with bad vibes like bright, warm sun beaming down on a cold, snow-covered Vermont winter day. Here at Community Friends Mentoring, that theme of light and dark coming together is central to our mission. The children in our program often find themselves blanketed in shadows in their lives so mentors provide them with that lone bright spot. Whether the children’s parents have fallen victim to drugs or have been incarcerated, the mentees turn to their adult matches for guidance and friendship. Jacob, a 7-year-old boy living in Essex Junction, resides with his grandmother. He loves her but unfortunately, she cannot provide him with everything he needs. Keeping up with a 7-year-old boy, even for a grandma in tip-top shape, is more than likely a hand-
VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1 ful. There are also no other young children in the family for him to play with, so he often spends time alone in his room. As a former mentor, I recognize the need for children to grow up with strong adult role models. When I was interning as a newspaper reporter in Ghana in the summer of 2008, I had the opportunity to mentor a teenager named Desmond. He was 16 at the time, and he lived in a house in my neighborhood with several other kids after moving out of his parents’ house. He worked from sunup to sundown Monday through Friday selling phone cards on the street. His paycheck at the end of the month? Approximately $20 US. I couldn’t offer him much in the way of money but I did give him friendship. I taught him how to use e-mail; I competed (and lost) against him in impromptu hip hop dance contests at night. Despite having limited resources, Desmond always had a smile on his face and looked forward to learning more in school so that he could one day open an orphanage for children in the Okpongolo neighborhood. Although Jacob and Desmond live worlds apart, their needs for adult role models bring them together. While direct service is no longer my concentration, the assistance I provide for Community Friends makes mentoring matches possible. Currently, the program supports approximately 70 pairs of adults and children. While this number is certainly more than respectable, there are still scores of children in Chittenden County who could benefit from mentoring relationships. While I definitely don’t want to clean up trash that even a skunk found unacceptable again, I am ready for the challenges that the rest of the year will bring. Community Friends needs more exposure. Without more attention, more matches cannot be made. Although Vermont is about to sink into the abyss of winter soon, mentoring is still a hotspot that can brighten the lives of many people. With January being National Mentoring Month, Community Friends looks forward to the hellos and goodbyes that will accompany the changes in the seasons. Mentor on.
Ken Ward AmeriCorps*VISTA Community Friends Mentoring Burlington, VT
Sadie Allen AmeriCorps*VISTA The Kellogg-Hubbard Library Montpelier, VT
Hello, my name is Sadie Allen and I’m the new AmeriCorps *VISTA at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. It is my dream to become a librarian. I always fantasized about working in a place filled with books. In my head it was very much like the library the Beast had in his castle in the Disney Film, Beauty and the Beast, with beautiful books reaching the ceiling, amid spiral staircases and oil paintings. Sharing this desire with people has had mixed results. One of the summer league swimmers I coached put it best, “You want to be a librarian... But that’s so boring!” Combine this typical reaction with the fact that I’m an AmeriCorps*VISTA exacerbates people’s reactions. Yes, I am serving at a library and yes I am living at the poverty level to do it. This sort of logic does not settle in the minds of people, who have a narrower definition of what it means to successfully utilize your college education. But what can I say? Love makes people do crazy things.
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So far, I do in fact enjoy serving at the library. As an AmeriCorps*VISTA I assist the Program Director, Rachel Senechal, and the Outreach Coordinator, Rachael Grossman, as well as toil away on my own projects. For programs I conduct the public relations. I design flyers, write letters to community activity directors, and notify newspapers. For Outreach I help assist in keeping the day to day delivery of ‘exchange books’ to nurseries and preschools running smoothly. For my own project, I’m researching creating a joint program with Montpelier Meals on Wheels. This program would deliver books and library media to homebound individuals. To sum it all up, serving at a library is not boring at all.
I have had a great time while serving at The In-Sight Photography Project. For the month of September and October I have been primarily focused working on In-Sight’s largest annual fundraiser, the 12th Annual Exhibition and Silent Auction at the Vermont Center for Photography. This year we were able to procure a record amount of photography prints and fine art books. We received over 240 prints donated from local, national and international artists ranging from amateur to professionals. In addition we received over 40 fine art photography books. This is over 100 more items available for bidding than the previous year. The money received from this event funds scholarships for our youth ages 11-18 for the 2011 year. With this large amount of donations we are poised to have another record-breaking year!
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Youth experiment with photography at In-Sight Photography in Brattleboro, VT.
John Paul Gardner AmeriCorps*VISTA In-Sight Photography Brattleboro, VT
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Weave and Spin Weave and Spin This is how the work begins
Mend and Heal Mend and Heal Take the dream and make it real
At EarthWalk Vermont we start the day with song and as we go through the gate into the forest we are cleansed of the day. Walking silently as a fox, the students are instructed by the gatekeeper to find a bit of nature that speaks to them today, maybe a leaf or a seedpod, maybe just the way the sun streams through the trees. Settling into a circle once we reach our destination, we are silent for a moment as we reflect on the day and what we are grateful for. The ritual of making fire is important and a mentor is in charge of creating this by friction, with either a bow drill or hand drill. We help the fire come into being through song:
Earth my body Water my blood Air my breath and Fire my spirit
A day full of Earth Crafts, learning about wild medicinal herbs, and gathering spruce root to weave into baskets follows. An EarthGirl comes running up to a mentor to ask about a leaf she has found or a bird she heard and the field guides are brought out to peruse. Cedar limbs are whittled into spoons and bow drills and as the end of the day winds down we sing our way out of the forest...
Oh Wind, carry us now Like milkweed silk and Send us out
This is a day in the Village School at EarthWalk Vermont, a partner site to Willowell Foundation where I am working to document curriculum and develop after-school and summer programs for Willowell Foundation modeled after those at EarthWalk Vermont.
Sabrina Sears AmeriCorps*VISTA Willowell Foundation Bristol, VT
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Natasha Marvinney AmeriCorps*VISTA Stern Center for Language and Learning Burlington, VT For every meaningful job I have had before serving as a VISTA with the Stern Center, I could measure my success in sweat. Chasing kids around a playground, weeding rows of vegetables and teaching people to ride horses all required a lot of muscles.
Now, I sit at a desk all day. Instead of relying on my job for exercise, I have to go out of my way to work out. Instead of looking for opportunities to sit and take a break, I jump on any chance for activity that comes my way. Instead of being able to see the results of my work immediately, I’ve learned patience.
One of my first tasks upon arriving at the Stern Center was to help outfit the new learning space with kid and family friendly furniture. How many hours can you spend trolling Craigslist, creating postings and making pleas for discounted or donated furniture? More than I could ever imagine. How do you find funky, yet attractive furnishings for a waiting room on a miniscule budget? Refer to the question above: a ton of time and conversations about how much good the Stern Center does for its immediate and extended communities.
Two weeks filled with horrid fabrics, awkward wood arms and atrocious color choices was pretty discouraging. But then… Success! After calling Kinney Drugs for a fourth time, after unfulfilled promises that they would call me back at this specific time or that specific date, a beanbag chair sale arose! And even better than discounted prices, 6 donated bags-o-beans! The next day, a call from Office Furniture Exchange: they’ve received a group of eight mismatched waiting room chairs that they will hold for me! And only $35 for the bunch!
Now, I can measure my success in not only my ability to persevere and be patient, but in a full waiting room where everyone has a seat. In watching kids hop onto a beanbag chair for class time instead of begrudgingly sitting in a desk chair. In saving the Stern Center funds and connecting the community to our mission.
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As a part of our service at the enVision Montpelier Project, Isaac and I are members of the Central Vermont Food Systems Council (CVFSC), an organization that is focused upon aiding local farmers and supporting local agriculture. One of the first goals of the nascent organization is to financially assist all Washington County schools administer food education programs and establish student gardens through grants. Funding such a large project is difficult for a small organization like CVFSC and out of trying to overcome that difficulty, Growing Local Fest was born. The second annual Growing Local Fest took place on September 11th, soon after Isaac and I had started our service. All of the proceeds from the event went to support the CVFSC’s school grant project. The festival, which celebrates the localvore movement in Central Vermont, featured local bands, local vendors, local exhibitors, a children’s’ farmers market, and nine “demoshops” focused on a different aspect of local food production. Isaac and I organized volunteers at the festival (some of whom were fellow AmeriCorps*VISTAs), and helped with various other aspects of planning the event, including publicity. Although it was only the second year of the festival, over 400 people attended. More importantly, $5000 was raised to help CVFSC support local schools, an amount that doubled what was raised the last year. It was a wonderful way to start our service as AmeriCorps*VISTAs. The festival provided us with valuable experience working with volunteers and planning a large scale event. We are looking forward to helping CVFSC plan the third annual Growing Local Fest next spring and summer!
Taylor Newton and Issac Lawrence AmeriCorps*VISTAs EnVision Montpelier Montpelier, VT
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Jessica Engelke Driving 2,165 miles from Albuquerque, NM to Winooski, VT took three agonizing days. I stopped for nothing but gasoline and Red Bull, Winooski Teen Center and very nearly lost my sanity when I finally saw the Winooski exit late the third night. Winooski, VT They call New Mexico “The Land of Entrapment”, and I had finally escaped. The very next day, I met my supervisor and was promptly given my site tour. I could not bear to wait any longer to get started.
I have since experienced a myriad of emotions while at my site, the Winooski Underground Teen Center. Excitement was palpable when my team and I reopened the Underground after two weeks of closure. Nervous jitters betrayed my outwardly cool exterior during introductions to Winooski City Council. Euphoria overcame me after pulling off a successful dinner, the first of many, as part of our Kid’s Café program. Frustration overwhelmed me while digging through the site’s disorganized archives, and accomplishment visits me regularly in the form of approved grant proposals and dozens of eager volunteers.
The Underground is facing unique set of circumstances and navigating them will be challenging. An overwhelming majority of the teens who visit the Underground are refugee males and only a handful of them are comfortable in American society. No more than five years ago, the teen center was a hang out for mostly native Vermont females. We must now adjust the goals of the teen center and its programs to fit the needs of the new population. Wish me luck.
Even though my service year is only in its beginning stages, it is nothing near lethargic. I am involved in numerous programs that extend support to youth on many levels. These include co-advising weekly meetings for the local Students Against Destructive Decisions (S.A.D.D.) and Vermont Kids Against Tobacco groups, assisting in our annual Refuse To Use program, facilitating Peer Leadership training, and encouraging the organization of Teen Nights. My involvement in these activities is providing me with a year full of eventful and engaging activities, which I appreciate since I am new to Vermont. Our largest event so far was Refuse To Use, which had over 800 student and adult participants. During this event we asked youth to make a pledge to remain substance-free throughout the year. In exchange for this pledge and their promise to attend six educational workshops, they receive a discounted ski, snowboard, or ice skating pass. What I find particularly engaging about this program is that it not only incorporates both the youth and their parents by for them to support of the students. This parental involvement is high critical when asking adolescents to refrain from substance use.
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One of my biggest projects this year will be planning a mock car crash and “Ghost Out Day” with the local high school’s S.A.D.D. group. This event was an idea that the S.A.D.D. students came up with as a way to reach out, not only to the school, but to the whole community and inform them of the dangers of impaired driving. Right now we are in the beginning stages of planning the event, but it looks promising and it is a cause that the students are motivated and enthused about. Activities such as these give hope to communities about the future of their kids. To witness students become engaged and excited about creating a healthy and supportive environment for themselves and for their peers serves as a constant reminder of our youths potential. I have gained more knowledge in these past couple months than I ever could have anticipated, and I am positive that this year will continue to introduce me to new and exciting experiences.
Niki Sylvia AmeriCorps*VISTA The Collaborative Manchester, VT
I’m Not Closing the Book, Just Starting a New Chapter I have lived in Grand Rapids and Sturgis, MI; Hollywood and Anaheim, CA; and Hurricane, UT. Moving to Vermont was just going to be another fun adventuresome location to cross off my list. I didn’t know anything about Vermont before moving here, only that I hadn’t been here before. The nice thirteen hour drive to New England turned into a sixteen hour drive with a giant couch strapped into the bed of my truck, tailgate down; a big TV literally seat belted into the passenger seat; and so many things stuffed into the cab of my truck I couldn’t even move. After a few days in the state I realized that Vermont was only similar to one place I had ever lived….my hometown. I wrote my awesome previous supervisors back in Utah. Dear Dave & Shelley: I have successfully arrived in Vermont by green truck. I hate it here. Please promptly pack up Myles the dog and come rescue me. Thank you and good day. -Erika Dave is great though; he got me back on track and had me really understand why I joined AmeriCorps specifically, not Vermont. I just had to focus on what I liked about this new part of the country. Hello amazing scenery, recreational activities galore, fresh organic locally grown food, liberal openminded people, quirky antique shops, and amazingly cozy cafes. Hello beautiful fall colors, rustic cabins, famous maple syrup, mom & pops shops, and white Christmases.
Erika Rogness AmeriCorps*VISTA The Collaborative Manchester, VT
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Hello incredible mentee, youth who share my views, people who don’t share my views, fun loving individuals, people who care about other people, I was able to learn to love this place and I can’t imagine what my life or my personality would be like if I had not done my year of service here. Everything adds to who you are; life experiences shape the person you are and will be. From the peaks of Mount Mansfield, to the top of the Equinox, from the covered bridges in Waitsfield, to the gorgeous trails of the Northeast Kingdom, from Church Street in Burlington, to the quarry in Montpelier. Let it remain strong, let a light shine on it and then let the waves of Lake Champlain hit the beautiful shores. Let it be known to others how incredible it is and always remember this state and everyone in it. What’s my favorite thing about AmeriCorps and Vermont? It’s the very thing that will be hardest to say goodbye to. My amazing friends: Benji, Heather, and Marissa! These people made me proud to be an AmeriCorps and stoked to be in Vermont! I’ll miss them. I’ll miss our random jokes, hikes, biking, “Keetz” the cat, B^3, Midwest talks with and advice from Marissa, out west and outdoors conversations with Heather, mentor discussions and “heart-to-hearts” sibling-style with Benji. I’ll miss awkward moment stories, our lost trips for the directionally challenged, BANFF, summer candy canes, great games of Moods, Family Guy jokes, name tag comments, Stoweflake. These people will be my lifelong friends and there will always a part of me in Vermont. You never really leave a place or person you love. Part of them you take with you, leaving a part of yourself behind. There is a reason I care about Vermont so much. "In Vermont authenticity is all; they do not try to keep it real, they are real."- I can only hope that I have an experience similar in some ways and totally different in others for my second year in AmeriCorps in Colorado. Goodbye and thank you to ALL!
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Burlington Looks Good on Me I had been thinking about moving to Vermont for about a year. People around Central New York were too pessimistic about the winter. Always calling it ‘worse out’ than pervious years, where I saw it as THE BEST EVER. It was time to start thinking about summer festivals and only as long term as election season. I was stuck in the journalist’s calendar, but on a snowboarders stop watch. I thought about winter constantly and only a crazy job listing could save me and send me shredding through Vermont for the winter. Sometime in April it happened. I received an email from a website listing for The Chill Foundation. It read something like… “…Local Coordinator- Burlington Vermont Responsible for coordination of disadvantaged youth learn-to-ride program, communication between agencies and host-mountain, on snow instructing experience a plus...” How many different ways can I jump up and down and scream, “Pick me, pick me!”? I applied a million difprocess started learnVISTA position. And as, “hey I love snowschool for PR, and twenty!”
I was super excited but about what I would be
ferent ways, and in the ing it was an AmeriCorps wasn’t going to be as easy boarding, I went to ‘piisshh, kids?’ I got had to think seriously signing up for.
Then the application process started. A million Burlington, VT questions, a plethora of response options… where to begin, what matters, why am I doing this? As AmeriCorps tried to learn more about me and my motivations, I really began to look at the process as a self-learning and identifying experience. I wanted to jump out of where I was and into the deep-end of volunteerism for a dream of teaching snowboarding, doing non-profit public relations, and working for an industry I am so passionate about… I knew there was no other option, no other response; I was in it to win it. I had to get the job, and do it well. Going through the AmeriCorps process was distracting. I quit my job, followed my favorite band around while finding my true groupie self, and coasted from BTV Lake Front to posh Philadelphia hotel until I was plopped back in Burlington with all my dreams and answers to solve whatever problems or overcome whatever obstacles lie ahead… Poverty? I was rich in spirit. Living in “poverty” isn’t tough, spending money and keeping track of expenses was exhausting. Now, I only have enough money in the bank to pay my bills. So that’s all I spend. It’s simple because it never changes. Minimalism is an idealism AmeriCorps forced into my life and my adjustment was seamless. All the local VISTA members really stick together. It’s good and bad in its own ways. It’s nice to have a group of friends right away, but it may keep me from forming new groups. However, I will meet a ton of new people while working with my organization, as will everyone else. I guess it’s just a matter of time, but for now we have pot luck dinners, and trivia teams. We go to local theater performances and bar nights together. It’s a nice family. It was especially nice to have the support of everyone as I went and continue to go through the death of my father and welcoming into a whole new side of my family that I never met until his death brought us together… but that’s a different story.
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Everyone says doing a year as a VISTA it will change your life forever, and I am already so very much changed; stepping outside bounds, being supported by friends and family old and new alike. I am extremely excited to share my new self with the world. And encourage the kids in my program to step outside and try and do things that challenge them each day. I learned challenge brings incredible change and doing something each day that scares you is actually good for you. Everyone’s life is hard but it’s the outcomes you desire and the decisions you make that make living fun. I am looking forward to a bad-ass winter and THE BEST EVER year while serving with Vermont Youth Tomorrow as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at The Chill Foundation.
It is unbelievable how quickly my year with the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition has gone by. I still often feel like I have only started. I’m still constantly learning new things and thinking of new ideas and projects I’d love to complete here, and it is difficult to think about leaving those projects half started, for someone else to finish.
Marissa Fischer AmeriCorps*VISTA Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition Burlington, VT
Leaving the Coalition will be bittersweet. Bitter in an obvious way; it will be so difficult to say goodbye to an organization into which I have invested so much energy, people I have grown to know and respect, and work with which I have become so familiar and confident. But also sweet; in leaving, I am allowing someone else to have all of those positive experiences and new ones over the course of her year with the Coalition. She will finish the projects I have started and improve them, and create her own new ways to build the organization’s capacity. I feel that I am leaving the VISTA position in good hands.
My year with AmeriCorps *VISTA has been fantastic. I have learned more, done more, and experienced more than I ever thought I would. I fell in love with the state of Vermont and the people that live here. I put in hard work and energy, but received much more in return in experiences, knowledge, and good memories.
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I am leading into my third month serving as an AmeriCorps *VISTA with Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition and I have AmeriCorps*VISTA already learned a lot in a short amount of time. I did not know much about the world Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition of housing before I started here and now the pieces are starting to fall together. So Burlington, VT far I have had the chance to meet a good portion of our members through orientation meetings, steering committee meetings, our annual meeting, and our monthly meetings. Meeting with people from the affordable housing community has awarded me with an understanding of the huge array of services that are provided to the very neediest Vermonters and the vital role of the housing coalition in advocating for those services.
Another great asset to the beginning of my service year has been the overlap I have had with the previous 20092010 AmeriCorps *VISTA member, Marissa Fischer. Marissa has taken a lot of time to introduce me into my role at the coalition. She has shared a lot of great information to get me started on my way. One advantage of having overlap is that it cut down on the amount of orientation time. Therefore, with the help of Marissa, I have been able to start working on projects early on. One of those projects that I am particularly excited about is collaborating with Brookside Mobile Home Park in Starksboro, VT. The residents in Brookside are predominantly low-income, rural poor. The children there are often isolated from the community at large and have trouble accessing services. In response to their barriers in the community, Marissa and I have developed a proposal for a summer-long gardening program at the park. We have already applied for one small grant and have a few more in the works. We hope to secure funding for raised organic vegetable gardens. In conjunction, we want to run a series of weekly educational courses for the youth in the park. It is our hope that the gardens and education that comes along will incite the youth in the park to be actively engaged during the summer months. This program is something that I will continue to work on once Marissa is gone, and hopefully I will be able to create a creative and sustainable means to engage the youth and adults in the community. It will also serve as a means to strengthen relationships with previous partners through Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, such as; the Community and Economic Development Program (CDAE) at the University of Vermont (UVM), Addison County Community Trust (ACCT), Robinson Elementary School, Vermont Master Gardeners and UVM Extension, among others. This is one of the many projects that I look forward to this year.
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New Staff Join the VYT Team! Greetings: My name is Josh Muse, and I'm a new Assistant Director of National Service here at the Washington County Youth Service Bureau, working with VYT and VYDC. I just wanted to take a few moments to introduce myself. My wife and I moved here at the beginning of the year, though we are both originally from upstate New York. Before coming to Vermont, I spent two years in Richmond, Virginia, working at Colonial Williamsburg. I worked with their Digital History Center on a variety of computerbased history projects, including the creation of a web-based map of the town throughout the 18th century, and a website and blog devoted to their recent reconstruction of a historic coffeehouse. Before the move to Virginia, I received my masterâ€™s in museum studies at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, a small program in central New York. My previous background had been in web design and technical support. I also spent two terms in AmeriCorps NCCC, based out of Charleston, South Carolina; we worked on projects throughout the Southeast, including education, construction, and disaster relief (and a little fire fighting). My wife and I live in Montpelier, along with two cats and a small assortment of houseplants. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to working with all of you in the coming months. Sincerely, Josh
Josh Muse Assistant Director of National Service Programs Washington County Youth Service Bureau Montpelier, VT
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My name is Sarah G Fischer, and I am the newest Assistant Director of National Service Programs for VYT and VYDC. While I have been officially on the job for a month now, I wanted to take the time to formally introduce myself. I am excited to be working with such a great group of staff, members, and supervisors and have enjoyed getting to know many of you during training, meetings, and at the launch. As we begin our work together, I wanted to take a few moments to tell you a bit about myself. I am originally from New Orleans, LA where I grew up and spent the past three years working as the Program Coordinator for the Literacy AmeriCorps-New Orleans program (a national direct AmeriCorps program focused on adult literacy), but have no fears, I have survived 10 northeast winters. I went to Hamilton College in Upstate NY and Graduate school at Dartmouth College as well as worked as a High school teacher outside of Boston and New York City, so while the snow in October was a shock to my system, I think I have the warm clothes and gear needed to survive. A few keys facts to know about me are that I love all things New Orleans including jazz music, steaming bowls of gumbo or red beans and rice, second lining, and the world champion Saints (WHO DAT!). I am also completely devoted to my family including my husband Owyn and my amazing two-year -old son Gibson, who loves “choo-choo” trains, our dog Burberry, and reading. My family also includes a large number of Italian aunts, uncles, and cousins, who foster my love of cooking and eating. In fact five out of the seven siblings on my father’s side have been professional chefs so cooking runs in our blood. I also love gardening and being outdoors. I moved to Vermont about two months ago, and while I am still totally confused by its geography, I think the state is beautiful and feel lucky to be able to run and bike in the area and enjoy a scenic commute from South Burlington to Montpelier (this may change with the snow but so far so good). Again I look forward to working with you and getting to know you all better. All the Best, Sarah
Sarah G. Fischer Assistant Director of National Service Programs Washington County Youth Service Bureau Montpelier, VT
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VYT Team Orientation August 2010
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Vermont Youth Tomorrow Trainings at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
VYT learns Team Building and Communication Skills at the September Training in Montpelier.
Fall Newsletter for the Vermont Youth Tomorrow AmeriCorps*VISTA Program, an anti-poverty National Service Organization that supports Ameri...