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VERMONT YOUTH TOMORROW A*VISTA PROGRAM

Inside this issue:

VYT Voices Spring 2012

Callie Frey

2

Cara Melbourne

3

Britt Wedenoja

4

Kayla Schutte

4

Scott Humphrey

5

Sarah Caliendo

5

Rebecca Angeloff

6

Casey Willard

8

Julia Klas

10

Josh Wronski

11

Donna Kohut

12

Greg White

12

Laura Schairbaum

13

Mary Herrmann

14

Tavish MacLeod

14

Quinn Lockwood

15

Kelly Nolen

16

Regan Wedenoja

17

Heather Vendola

18

Caroline Simpson

19

Ryan Stratton

10

Hannah Valian

21

Lily Jacobson

22

Jessica Avison

22

Sincerely,

Nicole Campbell

23

Jessi Engelke

Kristy Willis

24

Accomplishments

25

Dear Readers, I’m so pleased to introduce to you our third quarterly edition of VYT Voices. Our VISTA members are doing great things for their communities and are seeing real results. This edition is divided into four sections. Each section features one of our four focus areas: Economic Opportunities, Healthy Futures, Education, and Veterans. While many of our VISTA members serve in all of these capacities, we’ve asked them to highlight one area in which they spend most of their time. I hope you find their stories as inspiring and enjoyable as I do.

VYT VISTA Leader & Newsletter Editor


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VYT Voices

Operation: Military Kids (OMK) is a national program coordinated here in AmeriCorps VISTA Vermont through the UniOperation: Military Kids versity of Vermont Extension 4-H. Our program is Burlington, VT designed to bring community partners together in support of local military children and youth. Serving as OMK’s AmeriCorps VISTA and Volunteer & Outreach Coordinator I play a role in achieving this through the recruitment and management of volunteers, developing and maintaining relationships with statewide partners, and providing everyday program aid.

VYT Focus Area : Veterans

Callie Frey

OMK 2012 Chill Participants!

the recruitment, screening, training, and management of over 100 volunteers who have donated over 700 hours of their time in support of Vermont’s service members and their families. Another example of a great partnership is with the Burton Chill program. During this last winter I acted as the OMK representative and weekly chaperone for the 2012 Chill season. Each year the Burlington Chill Program (http:// www.chill.org/) takes between 75 – 100 youth from partnering organizations to the slopes and teaches them to snowboard. OMK had the privilege of participating with the Chill Program this year for the first time. An amazing group of 5 military youth traveled to Bolton Valley each week where they not only learned how to snowboard but also made new friends, learned important life skills, had FUN, and so much more. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in which participants are provided everything they need to learn to ride: lift tickets, lessons, transportation, and head-to-toe gear. As the primary representative I collaborated with OMK staff to apply for the Chill program, attended each meeting leading up to the season, created the application for potential participants, handled the paperwork required, aided in the selection of our youth, and coordinated with each family throughout the entire season. I am proud to say that we had an amazing six weeks and are looking forward to maintaining our relationship with the Burlington Chill program.

During my service thus far I have been able to focus greatly on the structures necessary to create a sustainable statewide volunteer network. In an effort to achieve this I have spent much of my time developing the necessary resources. I have developed and implemented recruitment materials (informational brochures, applications, volunteer position descriptions, display boards), a volunteer database, a constant contact account that reaches over 400 families and volunteers, as well as a step by step volun- Operation: Military Kids would not be possible teer related user manual. These have been huge without the support of the many organizations, assets as we have reached out to different organi- community partners, and volunteers. I feel honzations in an effort to not only educate them on ored to be able to play a role in such an important OMK, but also empower them to get involved. mission! New partnerships that have come to fruition during my service include numerous college civic engagement groups, the United Way program within each county as well as the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). These resources have also aided in maintaining a healthy relationship with the American Legion and Auxiliary, YMCA, Boy Scouts, 4-H as well as many other state partners. Through these collaborations Group photo from the OMK Challenge – a field day put together by I have played a direct role in a planning committee of Norwich University Students.


Spring 2012

If I did describe everything I do to those who ask, I am sure they would get a glazed look in their eyes and slowly start to edge away, so now I generally say that I am serving through AmeriCorps and then talk about the projects I am working on, because it’s more relatable. For example, one of my many roles is the Community Garden Coordinator. In this position I recruit and coordinate adult volunteers, develop activities for the youth in the afterschool program-

Seedlings starts for the community garden

(our creation of seedling Cara Melbourne pots out of old newspapers was very successful, AmeriCorps VISTA if I do say myself), inThe Collaborative crease community Londonderry, VT knowledge, and raise funds for things such as a tiller, seeds, and materials for a new fence. All of this work provides nutrition education, intergenerational involvement, and hunger relief. Another project I am involved in is survey analysis. We conduct two major surveys a year- one during our Refuse to Use program for youth in the fall and one community survey in the spring. Entering hundreds of 6+ paged surveys doesn’t sound like fun, but I have found this process very insightful, leading to my own understanding of the community, providing tracking and statistics for grants, and allows us to adjust our own programming to better suit the needs of the community. These are just two of the many different projects that I have done in the past nine months. The term capacity building always passes through my mind when I think about my service. I like it because it is vague and encompassing. I am an enabler-a set of hands needed for the organization to continue smoothly, another prospective to bring insight. Each time I show up to coach Girls on the Run, plan an event for Vermont Kids Against Tobacco, write a press release, communicate with mentors, work with community partners, and recruit volunteers, I am helping The Collaborative in its mission to support the development of a healthy, involved community supporting substance free youth in a caring environment.

VYT Focus Area: Healthy Futures

I often get asked by friends, family, and people I meet, the question, “Now, what is it that you do, again?” My answer, surprisingly, is never the same-in the strictest definition of the word- because with each experience I develop a deeper understanding of my role. In the beginning my answer was something along the lines of, “I’m serving in the AmeriCorps, which is…um…like the Peace Corps, but for the states.” This got some understanding nods but it doesn’t describe a single thing that I do. When I got my VISTA Assignment Description I started pulling words from it to describe what I would be doing. I would say things such as, “I’ll enhance and expand the organizational capacity” and “I’ll be developing programs, working with PR, and writing grants.” Again, this describes little and barely scratches the surface of what I actually do.

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VYT Focus Area: Healthy Futures

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VYT Voices

grams. I encourage them to plan educational and fun activities for the kids as well as reminding them to keep the larBritt Wedenoja ger purpose of their activities in mind. DREAM is lucky to recruit such dediAmeriCorps VISTA cated mentors but every college student DREAM can get burned out. I help make sure that our college student volunteers are Bennington, VT well supported so they feel comfortable and happy in their roles. Each College that I work with come with its own This year I was honored to be with DREAM to celebrate its 10th year as a non- unique challenges that I help the student profit. In these 10 years AmeriCorps mem- work through. bers have played a key role in the expanBennington College is a school full of selfsion of the organization to now serve 13 Universities in both Vermont and Boston. directed individuals. Rather than traditional majors with required courses and With the addition of each University, DREAM is able to reach out to more low- pre-requisites, Bennington College students choose tracks where they decide income housing communities. As a prowhich classes best suit their interests. gram empowerment VISTA through This program thrives by creating exciting DREAM I support mentors at three Uniindividually tailored programming for versities in southern Vermont: Castleton their mentees. However, the program has State College, Green Mountain College, and Bennington College. I work with the college student mentors at these schools to create thriving and sustainable pro-

HowardCenter is the largest non-profit in the state of Vermont, employing more than a thousand people and serving 15,000 individuals and families each year in the areas of mental health, developmental disabilities, substance abuse and child and family services. My time as an AmeriCorps VISTA member is spent working the Community Friends Mentoring (CFM) program, one of the smallest programs within HowardCenter’s Child, Youth and Family Services division. Though CFM only has one staff person, the program is able to make a difference because of the dedicated efforts of the 75 volunteers who make a commitment to the program each year. CFM provides area children with fun,

caring mentoring relationships with adult volunteers. Youth are referred to the CFM program because they have some type of extra stressor in their life and would benefit from fun weekly outings with a positive adult role model. CFM mentors meet with their mentee (the youth they are matched with) each week for a few hours doing fun things together in the community. Mentoring pairs choose to spend their time together in many different ways, taking a class, cooking or baking, doing arts and crafts, playing sports, or just hanging out. Mentors act as positive role models and resources for the kids they mentor, and many CFM mentoring matches develop into long-lasting friendships.

trouble planning ahead and organizing large events. In my role, I assist the hubs of each program by reminding them about upcoming events and encouraging them to take steps to make their program more sustainable. Green Mountain College faces very different challenges than Bennington College. Often times they focus too much on their large ideas and lose sight of the short time they get to spend with their mentees each week. I assist the co-chairs by encouraging them to focus more of their energy on creating memorable programming each week for their mentees. Without my service as an A* VISTA, DREAM would not be able to support the number of programs that they currently do. Without guidance, Green Mountain College mentors and Bennington College mentors would not be able to provide their mentees with the same economic opportunities and level of programming that the kids deserve. In this way and many other ways I have been able to build capacity at DREAM.

Kayla Schutte AmeriCorps VISTA

Community Friends Mentoring Burlington, VT

and sustain the mentoring program. My projects have ranged from facilitating a new fundraising event, conducting a program evaluation, coordinating activities and events for mentoring pairs, improving CFM’s online and social media presence and building a new program database that will allow CFM to better provide data for grant and funding proposals in the future. My service is helping to create a positive experience for As a VISTA the mentors and mentees in the prowith CFM, I gram, as well as helping to ensure that work closely the program can move into the future with the effectively and continue to make menCFM Protoring matches for youth in the upcomgram Coor- ing years. dinator to strengthen


VYT Voices

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Part of what makes DREAM tick is explained by the magic of the VYT VISTA program. This year VYT has placed two VISTA's, myself and Britt Wedenoja, with DREAM, where our main job function is to support and strengthen the unique program model that DREAM utilizes. Without the support of VYT, DREAM would not have the resources to take on folks like Britt and me.

have access to gardening space. The project also prioritizes linking low income individuals and families with students and senior citizens to provide not only a place for the cultivation of nutritious produce, but also a gathering space for a diverse constituency of the town.

In order to ensure that DREAM mentors are achieving these lofty goals, Britt and I have done a lot of behind the scenes type projects that allow mentors to work their magic with DREAM youth. We have helped recruit and screen new mentors, provided mentor trainings, offered support to pairs facing a crisis or conflict, and provided essential resources and tools to mentor/mentee Through our work as “Program Empow- pairs. Additionally, we have helped to erment VISTAs,” we have spent the past plan and put on several enriching sup8 months supporting 8 mentoring proplemental activities for DREAM mengrams in Vermont so that the college tors and mentees, like an educational student mentors are empowered to run Teen Retreat, a mentor retreat called their own successful programs. DREAM DREAMstock, several Winter Advenmentors follow our unique mentoring ture Camps (WACs) and more. model that has been proven effective through evaluations and the success I am so grateful that VYT has provided stories we continually hear from me with the opportunity to do this serDREAM youth. Through these provice for DREAM. I really believe that the grams, mentors are helping to set their capacity building work I have done for mentees up for healthy futures where they are empowered to DREAM big, a central goal of DREAM programming.

Sarah Caliendo AmeriCorps VISTA

DREAM Burlington, VT the program has helped to empower mentors to maximize the effectiveness of DREAM's goal of setting up our youth for healthy futures. In fact, one of my projects this year has been helping support a mentor from UVM who was working with her high school senior mentee on her college application process. As of right now, that mentee has been accepted into Johnson State College, and is still waiting to hear from UVM and Castleton State College, all universities that have a DREAM program. She is already planning on becoming a mentor herself, and empowering the next generation of DREAM youth to keep DREAMing big!

VYT Focus Area: Healthy Futures

enced two major floods in the last year, renewing people’s awareness of the limits of our emergency preparedness and removing a AmeriCorps VISTA false sense of security. In addition to helping ensure our security, out of these neighborenVision Montpelier hood associations we can also build collaborative consumption of food and energy, deMontpelier, VT creasing our use of finite fuels and increasing Much of my service involves linking those food security and the localization of rewith resources (monetary and nonsources. To this end I am helping to devise a My AmeriCorps VISTA service helps to create monetary) in the town and region with program that will put more food in storage at a more sustainable Montpelier by seeking out initiatives that both serve their interests the neighborhood and city-wide levels, availand applying the diverse priorities, perspecand a greater need. As a result of my efforts, able to all, including those in apartment tives and visions of the citizenry. In order to neighborhood collaboration has expanded dwellings. create a more equitable, resilient, and beautithrough both regular Capital Area ful city, I serve to strengthen communication Neighborhood (CAN!) meetings for volun- I look forward to the last quarter of my serbetween members of the community and muteer leaders and increased attention to vice as I seek to improve relationships benicipal government. My most measurable neighborhood gatherings and communica- tween neighbors, institutions and offices of impact is in the area of Healthy Futures, as indi- tion. I have helped neighborhood leaders to municipal government. Only by combining cated on my VAD (VISTA Assignment Deplan and implement discussions and potour efforts, fostering collaboration and sharscription)-a tool we use to quantify the num- lucks, even in neighborhoods lacking a reing resources can ber of youth, members of the low-income cent history of socializing, and create tools we engineer the population, and community volunteers who for enhanced online communication. Better extent of cultural will be served or engaged as a result of my neighborhood collaboration is a key tool for change necessary service. I also raise funds through grants and building a sustainable community, as we to meet the probin-kind donations to support projects and have tended to rely on those closest in prox- lems of the 21st programs in the city, including a new commu- imity for both socializing and help during a century. nity garden that will be planted within walk- time of emergency. Montpelier has experiing distance of many who do not currently

Scott Humphrey


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VYT Voices

Becky Angeloff

VYT Focus Area: Healthy Futures

The prompt for this newsletter article, on explaining my service AmeriCorps VISTA to someone who doesn’t fully understand VISTA, is something VT Department for that I think we are all probably Children and Families quite familiar with. To parents, extended family, peers who have Essex Jct., VT chosen more ostentatious careers, I feel like I am so frequently trying to articulate the purpose of my year and what it means to the community. Hence, a personal anecdote will follow to color my feelings on

Becky and Chip, a youth participating in the Youth Development Committee, a group of youth in foster care.

the topic. Recently I was home in Connecticut for my younger brother’s First Communion. I was sitting in the church basement, essentially tolerating a painfully long coffee hour in the company of somebody’s grandfather. For these purposes, we will call him Frank. We were exchanging the typical pleasantries that happen whenever a youngish person and a not-so-youngish person are meeting – and in this case, the pleasantries were not all that pleasant. I fielded some questions. “How many years do you have left of high school?” I have in fact managed to graduate from

high school already and college too. I thought Frank was going to fall over at the news. Apparently I look young… “What are you doing with a Sociology degree, anyway?” Another news flash for me, a Sociology degree is the biggest joke he’d ever heard. I’m kind of a fan of the scientific study of human social activity myself. He did not share my enthusiasm. So I gave Frank my elevator speech, which I have so carefully groomed and memorized… “I am an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at the Vermont Department for Children and Families, assisting in policy development to improve the work done by Family Services and supporting statewide youth-driven governance activities.” Frank wasn’t pleased. “You should be at war in the trenches instead.” I considered saying “WE ARE ON THE FRONT LINES!!! (Fighting poverty with a passion, our VYT mantra)” At this point, however, I had thrown in the towel on the issue and was satisfied to leave him frustrated by how my generation was disappointing his. And then something pretty amazing happened. At least I think it was amazing. My FATHER of all people swooped in to save me! Michael Angeloff is not usually the swoopingto-save kind of dad; he’s a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. Don’t get me wrong, he is a very supportive father – he just frets about his eldest daughter venturing into the non-profit world and being so financially… vulnerable. Also, as he prides himself on being and raising a hard worker, the part of the VISTA contract that states I can not have any other form of income baffles him. He is always asking me why I can’t just waitress to earn some extra money. Regardless, Dad swooped in and basically regurgitated my elevator speech, calling my decision for a year of AmeriCorps service selfless and telling Frank that my service at the Vermont Department for Children and Families was indirectly helping to provide youth in the foster care system with opportunities for a successful transition into adulthood. I didn’t know he knew, and it felt wonderful to hear that somebody else really got it. My position at DCF Family Services is supporting a new plan funded by a NortheastContinued top of next page


VYT Voices

tempt to mirror the supports usually provided by families to help youth on their way. These will come in the form of job training through programs such as YouthWork, a pilot project being implemented in Rutland and Newport to provide guidance to high schoolers in resume development, job searching, and the art of keeping a job (waking up on time, for example, is a skill not everyone is naturally gifted with). Support also comes from Youth Development Coordinators, who lead youth through life skills trainings and help them navigate the confusing world of economic assistance (3Squares VT, housing assistance, etc). Youth also benefit from scholarships for school specific to their situation, including programs such as the STEPS program at College of St. Joseph’s, which provides additional support for youth during the semester and housing when class is not in session, for those who do not have a home to return to for holidays and summer vacation. Nothing will be able to replace living with a nurturing family. While many foster youth will be lucky to be adopted or reunited with their biological families, especially for older youth this will not happen. Still, to me the work being done to lessen the damage that the foster care experience can create is almost inexpressibly important. I feel very lucky to be able to make whatever difference I can through my service.

VYT Focus Area: Healthy Futures

ern Caribbean Implementation Center grant. The implementation project will involve better engagement with community partners, the creation of new practice guidance for social workers, and the enhancement of the quality improvement process. As a VISTA, I assist in the policy development process, by researching policies of others states, creating tables that clarify what venues policy is needed, and working toward an understanding of the most productive way for the state to complete policy. I participate on a workgroup that is developing a manual for youth development work in the state, so that there can be continuity across the many Vermont programs in the best interest of the youth. I also support the work my fellow site VISTA does at the statewide Youth Development Committee meetings, which give young adults the opportunity to have a community with the same experiences and to influence change in the DCF system. All changes that are being worked toward are intended to improve the experience that families have when it is necessary for them to be involved with DCF. Success will look like parents being supported to develop the necessary parenting skills so that their children do not need to be taken out of their homes. When youth still need to placed in out-of-home care and turn 18 before they can be either adopted or returned to their biological home, they become part of a population termed “youth in transition,” those making the change from being in the foster care system to being independent adults, usually without a familial safety net. For these individuals, an expectation exists that once they turn 18, they are on their own. This is such an unfair assumption, as they usually need continued support more than anyone due to the fragmented nature of their adolescence, moving between foster placements and schools with little consistency and support – they aren’t prepared! Honestly, very few 18-year-olds are ready to be “on their own” as soon as they graduate from high school. I am 22 and I still call my mom from the grocery store to ask if it’s condensed or evaporated milk that I should be using to make scalloped potatoes. Those connections to family, the idea of simply having someone to call when you aren’t quite sure what to do, or having a Thanksgiving where your absence is missed, are especially important to young people. Without that support, which presents itself in emotional, physical, financial, and countless other ways, a youth is far less likely to be successful in their transition to adulthood. Changes being worked on at DCF will at-

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Becky and her unit leader, Cheryle.


VYT Voices

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For this article we were asked to describe what our VISTA position AmeriCorps VISTA means to our sites…I can more easBasement Teen Center and ily articulate what this position CityScape Afterschool Program means to me…but I’ll stick to the prompt. My sites are two: The Montpelier, VT Basement Teen Center and Barre CityScape. My roles are many: developing and improving volunteer systems (this includes recruitment, management and retention); developing and nurturing community collaborations; fund development (fundraisers and grant work); developing programming in the areas of academic growth, mentoring and physical activity; and developing databases. Cool. Each of these roles are performed dually for each program; it’s like a tightrope walk—each program is a weight balanced on either end of my balancing pole. Quite the same level of excitement and adrenaline, as you can imagine ;).

VYT Focus Area: Healthy Futures

Casey Willard

We presented a photo project to Montpelier City Council through which the kids conveyed why the Basement Teen Center is important to them

I’ll break the position down further. The nature of a VISTA position is “capacity building”— working on a systematic level (working with systems) to strengthen the organization/ program’s capacity to serve their population and fulfill their mis-

sion. My fellow VISTAs and I work to strengthen the foundations of our programs in order to enhance and maximize their scope of impact. Think of “foundation” in the sense of a foundation of a building…or an ice cream Sundae…what’s the point without the ice cream?! Back to the building analogy—I’m an architect on a team of architects and I’m the builder. I come in with my mortar and tools patching holes and cracks (expanding program resources, tightening reporting systems, building volunteer support, etc…); piecing together stones and bricks, sometimes in some pretty creative ways; and sometimes building from scratch a foundation for a new deck or a room addition (developing a new program like PeaceJam or Operation Give Back or expanding on existing programs for CityScape.) Think about buildings that are on fault lines to understand the importance of having a sound foundation. You want something that can take a little shake and remain standing. You want a house that’s built to last, to withstand. With VISTA, our programs are our houses, and we’re the carpenters.

I recruited a group of Norwich cadets to volunteer for the Basement Clean Sweep—a project in which volunteers conduct a deep clean of the Basement Teen Center.


VYT Voices

So how am I constructing foundations for the Basement Teen Center and CityScape? I aim to secure lines of support throughout the entire community—a mighty tree has deep and expansive roots. The following areas share the thread of creating healthy futures for the youth of Washington County.

strengthen the variety of programs and to increase the number offered—the more positive opportunities youth are exposed to, the greater their chance of growth and success. One example of a program which I am trying to develop is PeaceJam. Through PeaceJam, teens would study the life and work of a Nobel peace laureate, discuss justice issues across the globe and in their community, and conduct a local project to enact justice on a local level. I seek out sources of funding to enable these programs to thrive. We recently had a successful bingo fundraiser for CityScape and are gearing up for the 2nd Annual Basement Teen Center Amazing Race—a community event and fundraiser…I haven’t had much luck with grants. Finally, as a result of intra-agency collaboration, the Basement Teen Center now has a more efficient and effective database; this enables the Basement to track growth and makes reporting for grants much easier and less time consuming. I hope to do the same for CityScape.

This year is the second annual BTC Amazing Race fundraiser. This is an event based on the model of the Amazing Race television show. I will be assisting with event planning, volunteer management and fund development

CityScape team-building activities We set up a photo booth at a girls night at the Basement Teen Center

VYT Focus Area: Healthy Futures

I reach out to various community groups to attract more kids to our programs—if we have a photography series, we do outreach to classes and locations where we are likely to attract kids that are into photography; the same goes for gardening, poetry slam (my fellow AmeriCorps State member and I would like to get this rolling) and music workshops. I nurture community partnerships and collaborate with community organizations that share our mission and passion for youth development, and through these relationships, I aim to bridge the gap between youth resources and community resources and to develop a dialogue between youth and their community. I work to expand and

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VYT Voices

“So, what do you do?”

Julia Klas AmeriCorps VISTA

Essex CHIPS Essex Jct., VT

It’s the question that inevitably pops up in polite small talk, whether it be with strangers in an elevator, relatives I haven’t seen in two years, or intrusive telephone surveys. Many people I speak with have little knowledge of AmeriCorps at all, so how do I explain? I am a VISTA.

VYT Focus Area: Healthy Futures

“So what, you work for the government or something?”

Teens show off their new prom dresses, a result of the annual Prom Dress Drive at the teen center.

And me? I am a tax form crunching, budgetretooling, grant-writing, outreachhandling, video-making, sustainability-planning, one-woman army to help keep Essex CHIPS’ doors open. I am the one who researches the means to continue this organization’s mission for a healthier future for the towns we serve. I am the one who builds partnerships with local businesses to improve our capacity for nutrition programs. I am the one who digs through mountains of sparkles and tulle to put on the Bargain Dress Bash, so local high school girls can afford to go to prom, and so we can provide programming to the girls who will follow in their footsteps. I am the one who goes to every possible board meeting so CHIPS can create a framework for how to proceed in the coming years, and how to become a more efficient organization. I am the one who teaches teen center youth how to turn tshirts into grocery bags, and scarves, and vests, and skirts, and anything else they care to experiment with. I am the one who will work to ensure the teen and tween center will remain free and open to the youth who need a safe place to go after school.

I am a VISTA. I am one of thirty passionate, dedicated national service members in VYT who have decided to spend a year working for something more than a big office with a nice view. We are the bold, the determined, the masters of living off ramen and instant oatmeal who are on 24/7 to get things done for America. We are a national force for directly addressing the issue of poverty and quality of life I am a VYT AmeriCorps VISTA, for people in the and this is what I do. communities we live in. We are there. We are the eyes, ears, inksmudged hands and well-worn boots of the various agencies we serve at. We are the community organizers and the program directors and researchers who help keep the services that are so very needed running.


VYT Voices

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Josh Wronski

VYT Focus Area: Economic Opportunity

AmeriCorps VISTA Currently I am primarily working Vermont Affordable Housing on two projects. Coalition The first project is working with the Burlington, VT residents of the Bobbin Mill property to establish a functioning residents’ association. At this point, it is important to point out that it is not my job to be a leader of any residents’ group; that is not the goal or function of the VISTA program. To paraphrase Eugene V. Debs, “If I led you into the Promised Land, someone else would lead you out again.” Rather than leading residents, it is my job to develop the resources necessary for them to lead themselves. At the Bobbin Mill property, this means working to train resident leaders, developing contact lists, printing meeting flyers and agendas, and doing outFor decades, the Federal solution to the housing crisis has reach. Eventually all of these tasks will be taken over been to provide subsidies to private and non-profit housing by residents, but until that happens, I will continue to developers in order to charge low-income residents an af- work with the residents at Bobbin Mill to ensure that fordable and below market rate for their housing. Unfortu- they have the ability to speak with one voice on the nately, when the project based housing subsidy program pressing issues affecting their homes, lives, and comwas first established, policy makers only required private munities. developers to maintain affordability restrictions for 40 years. At the end of the 40-year contract, the property The second project is a broad one. We are hoping to owners would have the ability to sever affordability restric- create a far-reaching network of affordable housing tions, leaving the low-income residents to the whims of residents’ associations across the state, aptly named the market. the Vermont Affordable Housing Residents’ Network. This is a major and long-term project, which will not In Vermont, most private affordable housing developers come near completion during my term of service. We around the state have chosen not to convert to market rate are hoping that by creating a statewide network of housing because in most areas of the state they are getting associations, we can better empower residents on the a better deal through the federal program than they would local level. Creating a network will lead to greater receive in the free market. In Burlington however, the cost collaboration and leadership amongst the states resiof market rate housing is sky-rocketing, meaning that own- dents’ associations. Currently we are only in the beers can usually make a great deal of money by selling or ginning stages of collecting information. We hope that converting their affordable housing. When the owners do in the coming years, we can do the outreach necessary decide to sell, the cost is often unaffordable to non-profit to create a functioning network of affordable housing housing developers. Furthermore, decisions affecting the residents’ association in Vermont. homes, lives, and communities of the residents living in these properties are made in a top down, autocratic manor, Ultimately, the organizing work we are engaging in at giving residents the shortest amount of notice as required the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition is essential by law that changes are underway. This can lead to the to the Burlington community and Vermont at large. displacement of families and the gentrification of neighbor- We are helping to preserve affordable housing, a task hoods. that is essential if we hope to maintain and increase diversity in our State. It is vital that in Burlington, or This is where we step in. It is my mission as an A* VISTA any part of Vermont, we make safe, decent, accessible, member with the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition affordable, and fair housing available to all. For this to help low-income residents create a group to ensure that vision, we organize. they actively participate in the discussions and decisions affecting their homes. Over the course of my year of service with A* VISTA at the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition I have been working to empower residents of affordable housing properties in the Burlington area to take control over decisions affecting their homes, lives, and communities, especially decisions dealing with renovation and decisions which affect the affordability of residents’ housing. In Burlington the rental vacancy rate has for many years, been hovering around an abysmal 1 percent. To put this in perspective, between February and May of 2011 the rental vacancy rate for the entire city of New York was 3.12 percent. While the cost of rental housing in Burlington is still not near the extreme rates seen in NYC, the cost is still unreachable for far too many low and moderate-income people in the Burlington area. For this reason, it is more essential than ever to preserve the affordable housing that is available to lowincome residents.


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VYT Voices

VYT Focus Area: Economic Opportunity

Donna Kohut

the “Little City That Could.” There are numerous local organizations that proAmeriCorps VISTA vide services to assist refugee families and youth as they adjust to their new The City of Winooski home. The O’Brien Community Center Winooski, VT is the locus of activity for these families; they take English Language classes, atLike many communities across Vermont, tend Community Potlucks, use the Winooski greatly benefits from the pres- kitchen, exercise at the Y, and youth ence of a VISTA. My position, in particu- attend the Boys & Girls Club and Teen Center. lar, increases the amount of resources available to the community through My duty as a VISTA serving with the grants, donations, and volunteers. City of Winooski is to provide resources However, Winooski is far from a typical – financial, material, and in partnerships – for our Teen Center and Community Vermont city. It is a Refugee ResettleGardens, on which our New American ment Community, with families hailing community relies. It is part of the City’s from war-torn nations like Somalia and the Bhutan. The city is rich with culture, effort to support economic opportunities for local disadvantaged youth. I but unfortunately, it is also steeped in poverty. The process of acculturation is apply for and receive grants to keep the fraught with unemployment and hunger. doors of the Winooski Underground Teen Center open so that youth have Youth acculturate much quicker than their parents, learning English and social access to academic tutoring, free nutritious meals, and healthy social activities customs at school, while parents often three nights each week. But money is experience social isolation. not all that the Teen Center requires in order to serve youth; it needs volunteers But I like to think of the Onion City as

We have a lot of projects underway at Montpelier Parks this spring. There are several grants that have been awarded and many volunteer groups are expected to come prepared to do some good old fashioned hard work. The Northfield Street Community Garden at National Life is a top priority.

Greg works in the new garden with Craig from Apple corps.

to prepare and serve meals, as well as assist the Directors in managing the space. These volunteers also serve as mentors to youth, modeling healthy behaviors, relationships, and general lifestyle. Without these kind-hearted folks, the Teen Center could not be effective. In order to best support the Teen Center, the VISTA’s focus must be on building and maintaining relationships – with foundations, individual donors, community organizations, and local colleges. Consistent communication is the key to our fruitful partnerships. In that respect, Winooski’s VISTA is a keystone for local youth’s bridge out of poverty. It is truly amazing to consider just how many VISTAs there are full time in their serving communities throughout Vermont and across the country. Each one plays a different role in their particular community, but they are all part of a larger vision of what our nation could be if we all got our hands dirty and reached out to our neighbors.

Greg White AmeriCorps VISTA

Montpelier Parks Montpelier, VT

tional trainees for several weeks in the I helped write a grant for a downtown summer. This is also from a grant which tree planting project back in the win- I helped research and write. Training teens and young adults with life and job ter and which was awarded a few months ago; now we are in the stages skills is an important goal for AmeriCorps as well as Montpelier Parks and of purchasing trees for the project, which will include community volun- this project will provide economic opportunities for youth. teers and educational opportunities on conservation and tree mainteI have high hopes for the community nance. The tree planting project is garden. My goal is that come August, I part of a larger effort to improve downtown Montpelier and enriching can look out what once was a grassy knoll and appreciate all the hard work the “streetscape.” and effort that was put into it and be Along with our Department of Labor proud of the outcome. I'm confident about it and I am working on a grant for trainees, court diversion folks and that as well. other volunteers, we will have addi-


VYT Voices

VISTA service is a unique opportunity to leave a lasting impact on an organization and community. VISTAs are charged with helping organizations better serve their constituents, and a VISTA’s service is meant to have long-term effects beyond their term of service.

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Laura Schairbaum

Over the years, various staff members have brought different methods of recruiting for the program. One of my goals is to document the staff and youth hiring processes so that program staff will have clear guidelines in place for recruitment and hiring in the future. This will allow the Youth Agriculture Project to better serve their population of older teens and hire high-quality staff members to run their programs.

In many other small ways, which I’m sure cannot be fully measured, my time at the Youth Agriculture Project has contributed to the long-term sustainability of the organization so they can better help young people I am also working on developing materials and build life and job skills through hands-on management processes for our local volunteers. learning about food, nutrition and agriculEvery Wednesday, we have open volunteer ture.

In April, a hardworking group of volunteers at the Youth Agriculture Project in Brattleboro helped dig a 150 ft. asparagus trench.

VYT Focus Area: Economic Opportunity

hours for community memAmeriCorps VISTA bers to come help with whatever project is in seaUVM Extension 4-H son on the farm. In the Youth Agriculture Project, spring, we are doing a lot of Brattleboro, VT seeding, transplanting, and preparation of the field. In my role as Program Development Specialist Local volunteers are a vital at the UVM Extension 4-H Youth Agriculture part of our program, because their efforts Project, I have worked on several projects to help us maintain our 1-acre vegetable farm so help the organization streamline operations that it can be a valuable educational space and be better able to implement their profor our school and summer programs. It is grams. I am currently working on recruiting also important to have additional folks staff and participants for the Youth Agriculture around to serve as positive role models for Project’s Summer Work and Learn job-training our summer program participants. program. This program is a paid job experience in which older youth, many of whom are at-risk, work together on our 1-acre vegetable farm, and participate in seminars which help them build important life and job skills such as team-work, customer service, and making healthy lifestyle choices. The program builds transferrable job skills, and increases resilience of teens as they gain confidence, increased self-awareness, and effective communication skills.


VYT Focus Area: Economic Opportunity

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VYT Voices

ships for high school students. I feel that with TIPS LLL is providing is a chance for Mary Herrmann a high school student to see themselves in a professional setting and educate them more AmeriCorps VISTA about different opportunities. past semester I worked with Linking Learning to Life a student This hoping to do an internship in the environmental field. He wanted to help Burlington, VT save the planet but didn’t understand how he could make a career out of it. I connected him with Green Mountain Power, a Linking Learning to Life (LLL) is a small local company focused on conserving and nonprofit based in Burlington Vermont. providing energy for Vermont. In this LLL provides youth programming in the internship he explored many different areas of career, college, and community. One aspects of green energy and even went to of the career based programs that I have see the assembly of wind power turbines. served most directly is with Training InHe left his internship with a sense of terns and Partnering for Success (TIPS). direction; he had learned many different TIPS consists of a pre-employment skills aspects of the environmental movement . course followed by the opportunity to exTIPS provided this student with an experience a career through an unpaid internperience that gave him a more defined ship. In my service I have created commufocus on his career. He is now all set to go nity partnerships through providing intern- to college hoping to major in environ-

Through the initial chaos of my first month of service, the ideals that formed the bedrock of the VISTA program (to reduce and eliminate poverty) never occurred to me. As I joined the fray of professionals attempting to mitigate the damage caused by the storm, the only thoughts in anyone’s head focused on the protection of life and if possible property. As my role in disaster response ebbed, the need for support in recovery emerged. My VISTA mandate focuses my efforts on capacity building instead of direct service and there was plenty to build in post-Irene Vermont. The Vermont Disaster Relief Fund existed before my arrival in Vermont. The Fund’s genesis occurred from the need for a fund of last resort after the spring flooding. Survivors did not have the resources to rehabilitate their homes and even with volunteer labor, they still had not reached an acceptable “new normal.” As VT Volun-

tary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund solidified their relationship, I assisted in the creation of forms, tracking systems and relationship building with the newly formed Long Term Recovery Committees. This infrastructure work allowed those working on the Fund to expend more energy on promoting the Fund, setting up the case procedures and hearing cases. I pursued the VISTA mission of creating an organization that no longer needed my assistance because it could function on its own. Through the work of these dedicated individuals, the Vermont Disaster Relief

mental studies. LLL has given me many wonderful experiences working with youth. In my eight months of service I have not only learned how important nonprofits like LLL are to Vermont but I have also discovered how crucial VISTAs play in the community. By volunteering my time I have been able to connect students with their community and build lasting relationships.

Tavish MacLeod AmeriCorps VISTA

Vermont Emergency Management Bristol, VT Fund now provides funding for flood survivors to rebuild their lives. Disaster delivers a financial blow to all and for some it can be crippling. Those more adversely affected are always lowincome. Most mobile home parks, a prevalent housing option in Vermont, are located in flood plains because the land is cheaper. This opens them up for catastrophic damage. Additionally, disaster can forces those who have been financially independent into a tailspin of debt in an attempt to rebuild parts of their lives. The Vermont Disaster Relief Fund will not make all survivors whole. Yet through the overwhelming generosity of all those who donated, survivors can take steps in the direction of the new “normal.”

Sales from this plate benefitted the Vermont Food Bank and Vermont Disaster Relief Fund.


VYT Voices It can be difficult sometimes to make the connections between indirect VISTA service and poverty alleviation. To unravel some of the more complicated knots, it helps to first describe the population that I serve through the Department for Children and Families and examine some of the unique challenges that this population faces in terms of overcoming poverty.

One way to combat the stereotype that foster kids are just statistics waiting to happen is by providing them with opportunities to speak out and know that their voices are valued. This is where I come in, at least a little bit. As a VISTA at the Department for Children and Families, I am the “adult partner” (the term “adult” used liberally here…) at our monthly Youth Development Committee (YDC) meetings. The YDC is a youth advisory board made up of young people in foster care from around the state. Research supports the idea that youth who participate in leadership initiatives such as advisory boards stand to benefit in a number of ways: to name a few, youth may experience improved selfesteem as they realize their own power to exert a positive influence, as well as a feeling of connection to others; they can also gain technical skills applicable to advocacy and other work3. Over the last few months, I have observed some of our youth board members become noticeably more comfortable articulating their feelings and opinions in front of their peers and DCF staff. Increased comfort and skill at articulating one’s thoughts can translate into many areas, such as excelling in job interviews and increased participation in high school and college classes. The skills that our youth cultivate at YDC meetings, albeit somewhat informally, fit with VYT’s Economic Opportunities performance measure.

1

YDC meetings are a chance for Quinn Lockwood foster youth to work directly through the child welfare system AmeriCorps VISTA to inform policy and legislative changes that have an impact on VT Department for kids in state care. Commissioner Dave Yacovone and/or Children and Families Deputy Commissioner Cindy Essex Jct., VT Walcott often join us for a portion of the meeting. Youth are always encouraged to make recommendations for changes and improvements based on their personal insights. Young people in care are experts on their own experiences and have an invaluable perspective about the way the child welfare system works, especially the things that don’t work. We are very proud of all the work that we manage to pack into our meetings, which generally run from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm. For the past few months, we’ve been working on an initiative of the New England Youth Coalition (NEYC) called the Sibling Bill of Rights. The NEYC is a regional youth advisory board for foster youth and former foster youth from around New England. The Sibling Bill of Rights is a document that describes the importance of preserving sibling bonds for youth in care. It includes a list of ten rights for foster youth regarding sibling relationships. The Vermont DCF Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner recently signed the bill at the Youth Development Committee’s Annual Youth Conference, signifying their commitment to preserving and strengthening sibling bonds for foster youth. I will be working with some of our Committee’s youth leaders and the Deputy Commissioner to start crafting policy that reflects the values outlined in the bill. This is a huge accomplishment for everyone involved, and a great example of an issue in the foster care system that youth identified and then took steps to improve.

North American Council on Adoptable Children, 2009, <http://www.nacac.org/policy/statefactsheets/VT.pdf>

2

Courtney, Mark. Policy Brief from the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood and Public Policy, 2005, <http://www.transad.pop.upenn.edu/downloads/courtney--foster%20care.pdf> 3

Youth Voice as a Strategy for Systems Change: An Evaluation of the Zellerbach Family Foundation Youth Voice Initiative, 2011, <http://www.zellerbachfamilyfoundation.org/pdfs/Youth_Voice_report.pdf>

Pictured: (Left to Right) State Youth Development Coordinator Katherine Boise, DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone, State Youth Development Committee President Nick Gee, Family Services Division Deputy Commissioner Cindy Walcott, after signing the Bill at the Youth Conference.

VYT Focus Area: Economic Opportunity

Much of the work that I do involves youth who are or have been in state care, either in a foster home or in another type of out-of-home placement. There is a litany of grim statistics often used to describe this population. In 2007, 67 youth in Vermont aged out of state care without a permanent family1, meaning that they had to find employment, affordable housing, and think about higher education without a connection to home and family that so many young people depend on even throughout their twenties. According to a policy brief from the Network on Transitions to Adulthood, “former foster youth are less likely to be employed than their peers; they are more likely to rely on public assistance; and they earn, on average, too little to escape poverty.”2 Many of the young people I work with know the facts and figures but prefer not to be defined by these numbers.

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VYT Voices

Kelly Nolen

VYT Focus Area: Economic Opportunity

“What have you been up to?” is a question I have AmeriCorps VISTA Washington County Youth received several times during gatherings with friends, Service Bureau family, and acquaintances I Montpelier, VT haven’t seen in months or years. Since August 2011 my response has usually been: “I’m in AmeriCorps, serving at a youth service agency in Vermont.”

Volunteers in Service to America. It’s an antipoverty government program whose members live on a stipend which reflects the income of those living in poverty in the community they are serving. In my assignment as VISTA for the Washington County Youth Service Bureau, I have two areas of priority: Economic Opportunity and Healthy Futures. Nearly all of the projects I have completed and contributed to during my service year have benefited these two areas of priority. In my opinion, every service and program provided by the Washington County Youth Service Bureau is designed to help youth and families achieve and sustain healthy, happy ways of life. In fact, the official mission of the Bureau is to “provide a wide range of innovative and effective programs that empower and enrich the lives of youth and families in Washington County...”

From Right to left: VYT VISTA members Casey Willard, Caroline Simpson, Kelly Nolen, and Heather Vendola. Photo taken at the first annual fundraiser Kelly had a hand in developing.

The reactions have been mixed. Some congratuAlthough my VISTA assignment is not a direct late me and others ask: “What’s that?” service one, I feel that in my position I have Lately I’ve been slipping in that not only am I in contributed to the Bureau’s goals concerning AmeriCorps, but I am also in the VISTA proyouth and healthy lifestyles. The two biggest gram. When I emphasize my VISTA status projects I have worked on during my service many (particularly those of the baby boomer year have been the development of a volunteer generation) seem a little surprised. I imagine manual for the entire agency, and the creation that those who have this reaction are immediof promotional web content. ately reminded of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and of the launch of one the country’s One of the major roles I play at the Bureau is messenger: to get the word out and inform the “hipper” government programs. general public about the Washington County Still, historical implications surrounding the Youth Service Bureau through social media and VISTA program do not fully explain what I do. in the future, newsletters and a brand new Here are some of the basics: VISTA stands for


VYT Voices

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Regan Wedenoja ness (VCEH). I am AmeriCorps VISTA working on conVT Affordable Housing Coalition structing a new webAHC & VT Coalition to End site and logo for the Homelessness coalition. There is a Burlington, VT devoted team of volunteers from the VCEH willing to work with me on creating a more efficient site for the needs of the coalition. I have reached out to all VCEH members in a survey for feedback on what they liked about the old website as well as what they want to see in the new site. With this member feedback I am confident we will have a great final product that will increase communication, information sharing, and efficiency for the VCEH. This coalition does not have any staff members permanently and is working on a strict in-kind volunteer system, seeing the passion these members have for this collaboration and for homeless service providers warms my heart every day and I am excited to see this project completed for them. The new logo design will bring a greater marketing structure to the coalition and will really brand VCEH for the future in hopes of further funding and more publicity for the great work they do. Both the VAHC and the VCEH run on volunteer hours and are run by Vermonters who also have other full time jobs. The devotion from these members to something they truly believe in inspires my work as a VISTA and I know that without the support of a VISTA some of these projects would not have happened in a timely manner if even at all. As a VISTA for these two coalitions I am building the economic opportunity of impoverished Vermonters by increasing homeless and housing services.

*Demo logo credit to Regan Wedenoja, VYT VISTA. This new logo will go live very soon.

VYT Focus Area: Economic Opportunity

I am currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA for the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition and the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness as the Joint Communications and Outreach Coordinator. Both of these coalitions are statewide and are a partnership of housing and homeless service providers for Vermont. These organizations keep Vermont connected on important issues affecting Vermonters in poverty, but they are lightly staffed. Neither organization has fulltime staff members; rely heavily on steering committee involvement, and in-kind volunteer work to keep each coalition a success. As a VISTA I am there to help progress these coalitions to a place where they can eventually hire a full-time worker or make it easier for the coalition to function with out one. At the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition (VAHC) I am working toward streamlining communication techniques both in the affordable housing community and also to the state of Vermont. As the coalition relies heavily on membership dues and grants it is important for people to understand what the coalition does, how it is helping Vermonters to get housing, and that it is working for more fair housing in Vermont. I am currently working on a new email system for the coalition to be able to send out notifications more quickly. As well as the email system I am working on putting together course ideas for Vermontâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Statewide Housing Conference in the fall. This conference is a great way for service providers from around the state and New England area to get together and talk about best practices for housing services and new ideas in the housing world. I am very excited about my current project at the Vermont Coalition to End Homeless-


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VYT Voices

Heather Vendola AmeriCorps VISTA

VYT Focus Area: Education

One day at the Essex High School volunteer fair, I was Essex CHIPS asking students: “what are you doing for spring break!?” Essex Jct., VT Most students quickly replied, “VACATION,” with enthusiasm. Students had a variety of answers to what vacation was, but the commonality was a relaxing break from school. Essex CHIPS provided a ‘twist’ on Spring Break, launching our second annual Alter-

Alternative Spring break at Essex CHIPS

native Spring Break project, (also known as ASB). Similar to Martin Luther King Day of Service’s motto, we wanted Alternative Spring Break to be a week “on” not a week “off.” In other words, we wanted to host a volunteer trip where students worked together to give back to their community while they had time off from school as opposed to a vacation. As the Volunteer/Service Learning Coordinator, I had the privilege to plan and coordinate

the trip. This trip could not have been possible without the Green Mountain Club. This is an amazing organization who works to preserve the Long Trail of Vermont. Essex CHIPS and the Green Mountain Club worked together to create a positive experience for high school students. ASB was composed of five day-trips of hiking and trail maintenance on the Babcock Trail and Long Trail in Belvidere, Vermont on April 23-April 27. Five Essex High School students as well as Essex CHIPS staff helped maintain the Long Trail and Babcock Trail by removing invasive species, (the hobble-bush plant) as well as clear drainages on the trail. Since the trip was in the end of April, I had expected the weather to be slightly on the warmer side. Then I remembered that we lived in Vermont and that would not be the case. I don’t think I have ever endured as many weather changes in one week then I did on the Long Trail. Our group continued to work through: sun, rain, hail, snow, cold, and warmth. By the end of the week our group volunteered 152 hours to preserving the Long Trail. My most memorable day was hiking Belvidere Mountain. One student had heard there was a fire watch tower, so we were all determined to get to the top. This was quite the adventure, trekking through snow to get to the summit of 3,360 feet. It took our group five hours in total from top to bottom but it was well worth it. Even when I felt the worst during the week and was cold and wet from the rain and hail, I could smile because I was surrounded by students who chose to spend their “vacation time” giving back to their community. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with students who understand the importance of service and working together.


VYT Voices

As a VISTA I help my site organize and publicize educational programming like PoemCity. We strive to reach new people that might benefit

Caroline Simpson

from our free programs and AmeriCorps VISTA services. On a daily basis I create publicity materials, Kellogg-Hubbard Library update the library’s social Montpelier, VT media outlets, send press releases, set up for programs, and interact with presenters and patrons. This winter I was able to organize a Reading and Discussion Series with Vermont Humanities Council. The VISTA position at the library is pivotal in making such a substantial amount of programming possible because so many details go into planning diverse weekly events. Aside from programming I assist library staff with large scale fundraising events like Evening at the Library Holiday Gala and soon the Century Bike Ride. I also help the Outreach Librarian bring the library Caroline prepares to people that cannot access the library by gofor a PoemCity ing on Outreach runs to home day cares and poetry reading at community lunches, gathering books for book the library. drops and community groups, and helping her maintain the Outreach collection. All of these programs ensure that the library not only provides free access to information and books of all kinds but that it serves as a rich community center that nourishes minds of all ages.

A Montpelier couple reads a poem posted in a storefront during this year’s PoemCity event.

VYT Focus Area: Education

“Good evening and welcome to Kellogg-Hubbard Library and PoemCity 2012…” these are words I have said repeatedly since the beginning of April. PoemCity 2012 has been in the making since last year but I have been working on the project with my supervisor, Rachel Senechal, since December. This year there is a PoemCity program everyday in the month of April and the programs span the gamut of poetry related topics from well-known poets reading their own work to poetry slams to workshops that involve collaging, blues, jazz and creative exercises to help participants generate their own poetry. To be precise: 7 poetry readings, 13 workshops and 11 presentations, a film screening, and a musical performance by Social Band—all offering new insights into the art of poetry and all keeping with the nature of the library: free and open to the public. In addition, over 200 Vermonters submitted original poetry to us this year and we displayed their writings in storefronts throughout Montpelier to truly immerse the city in poetry. PoemCity provides unique opportunities for education and growth to Vermonters by offering accessible classes with some of the area’s most sought after scholars and poets. My favorite part of the event has been watching people find that they are capable of writing poetry and seeing community members support each other in this endeavor. It takes a lot of courage to read your newly formed words in front of strangers, but so many have done this at the library this month!

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VYT Voices

The In-Sight Photography Project seeks to teach photography to AmeriCorps VISTA youth in the Brattleboro area. As our mission exIn-Sight Photography plains, In-Sight believes Brattleboro, VT that photography offers students a creative voice and outlet, an opportunity to experience success, tools for self-awareness and self-worth, and encourages them to become actively engaged in their communities. While InSight participants may not fully realize all the periphery skills they’re picking up in addition to photography, we’re fortunate enough to be working with a medium that is constantly changing and staying hip and relevant. Photog-

VYT Focus Area: Education

Ryan Stratton

raphy, whether analog or digital, whether taken through a professional lens or a tiny pinhole in a coffee can, has the ability to interest almost any youth. And, at In-Sight, we’ve seen and taught it all—and noticed how interests change, or stay the same, from year to year. For instance, younger participants might be more likely to snap a picture of their pet or a sibling, whereas students in high school might be more apt to borrow a Holga or, in the wake of cell phone photography, edit their images with Instagram. At this time of year, we are even more aware of different trends, as we are in the midst of preparing for our Annual Student Exhibition, where each In-Sight participant in the past year has an opportunity to display one or more photographs at a downtown Brattleboro gallery. The In-Sight curriculum places importance on exhibition because it encourages students to make the best photographs that they can and share their pride in the work with their friends, family, and the community. Whatever catches their attention— whether it be the alchemy of the darkroom or the versatility of digital—we find that In-Sight participants tend to return, and, when they do, they tend to bring their friends. Young people are particularly susceptible to the contagiousness of photography, and, in my service, I do the best I can to help them catch that bug.

Above and right: photographs taken by youth at In-Sight Photography

Dog photo credit: Tansy R


VYT Voices

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Hannah Valian Student disengagement is a problem currently plaguing our education system. High school students are often times fed a tray full of packaged globs of information, which can be rather painful for some to digest. Somebody somewhere decided that each high school student needs so many years of that subject, so many hours of this class, and so many correct answers in that class in order to graduate. Some students excel in traditional school. But many do not. Big Picture South Burlington is a school where students are allowed to walk away from the system they struggled in, and into a space that asks them to create their own curriculum based on their personal passions.

this film until it is ready for AmeriCorps VISTA screening. I also teach an after school film class where Big Picture South students watch gangster Burlington movies that are related to Burlington, VT immigration and institutional access. I have also recently joined the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club at South Burlington High School where two of my students serve as President and Vice President. One of our most recent projects was organizing Day of Silence events in which students from the entire high school took a vow of silence to recog-

In true Big Picture fashion, all the projects I have worked on have been related to one of my passions or strengths. I have facilitated an exercise period twice a week where we play games that engage students physically. I have redesigned our website and infused it with much more information than was previously available. I also maintain our facebook page where students, parents, faculty, and community partners receive updates on all the exciting things happening at Big Picture. I have helped plan and chaperone a service-learning trip to Boston where students were immersed in serving those less fortunate. I have written press releases, articles, and profiles, as well as helped edit other written documents from both my co-workers and students. I have helped students create a documentary film about Big Picture schools in the New England area and will continue to help edit

VYT Focus Area : Education

Like a student who first leaves the structured world of traditional schools, I came to Big Picture unsure of how to define my role there. But also like a new Big Picture student I was given room to declare my passions and strengths and then use them to contribute to the needs of the community. I have come to define my role here as a kind of mentor, someone who occupies the space between student and teacher. I do not possess the experience required to be a teacher, nor do I want to play that role. Instead I bring the perspective of a recent college graduate, someone who can relate to the social experiences of our generation.

nize members of the LGBTQ community who feel silenced by bullying (see photo). Although I have worked on several different projects at my site, the most rewarding has been developing relationships with each of the students. I am a positive influence in the lives of young people during a crucial time in their development. High school can be a socially isolating time, it can be emotionally challenging, and it can feel like nobody cares what you want. At Big Picture I am part of a staff whose goal is to inspire our students to love learning, to explore their passions, and to be active members of their community.

2012 Day of Silence Event


VYT Voices

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Lily Jacobson AmeriCorps VISTA

Willowell Foundation

VYT Focus Area: Education

Vergennes, VT

to help us plant over 900 trees in former marginal agricultural fields. The project enhances wildlife habitat and water quality while involving youth in their community and landscape and teaching them about environmental issues.

door public high school program that serves at-risk and other youth. In Walden, students play an active role in directing their own learning, which allows the program to offer a meaningful educational experience to students not served well by traditional academic programs.

I am also helping to expand Willowell’s three-quarters-acre community garden My service is with the Willowell Foun- into a nearly three-acre farm to school gardation, an agriculture, environment, and den. The food grown on site will be used in local school arts education organization based in cafeterias, helping to make Monkton. I coordinate programs, develop resources and publicity materials, school meals healthier and and contribute to projects that grow the fresher. Through field trips organization’s capacity, in order to help and other learning opportunities, students will participate Willowell offer educational programs in growing the food, and they and healthy food to youth in Addison will learn about nutrition and County. environmental issues in the This spring, I am working primarily on process. Willowell’s other two projects: a wetland restoration and main program, which I also education project and an expanding support through my service, is farm to school garden. I am coordinating the Walden Project, an outHigh school students in the wetland field trips of hundreds of local students

Mobius, the Mentoring Movement, partners with mentoring organizations in Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties in order to provide recruitment, training, and support. My role within Mobius is to create public awareness through various means such as: Newsletters, Social Media, volunteer trainings, and Press/Media opportunities. I work to educate the community about the need for more volunteer mentors for youth through these various means, and I have been working to expand our audience. Currently, I am aiding in an exciting new Mentor Ambassador campaign, “U and I are Mentors” which aims to recruit more volunteer mentors, especially men. This

three month campaign is being Jessica Avison launched May 8, and is led by AmeriCorps VISTA “Mentor Ambassadors”, current mentors who have volunteered to Mobius, the Mentoring share their stories and reach out to Movement new volunteers. Winooski, VT This campaign will utilize research commissioned by Mobius, and creais funded by a grant from Jane’s tive work donated by Sp!ke Advertising Trust. to target potential volunteers. This work It is an exciting time at Mobius and

Here is an example of some of the great new marketing materials for the campaign, designed by Sp!ke Advertising!

in the mentoring community, I am proud to be a part of it. My service at Mobius is mutually beneficial machine, where I am learning as well as giving. It has been an amazing experience so far, and I am looking forward to the next four months with bright eyes.


VYT Voices

As an AmeriCorps VISTA my role is behind the scenes, providing program support to the Stern Center and its talented professionals. My projects range from researching and assembling a catalog of articles for various programs, building comprehensive community partner lists for marketing and development, to maintaining and updating the extensive client and donor databases. Although my service is generally indirect, I occasionally have the opportunity to substitute teach for one of our full-time students and see firsthand the excitement and appreciation for the help the client’s are receiving here at the Stern Center. However, I do feel gratified all the time, because I feel a part of a team here and that my service is making just as much impact on the clients and community as the other professionals I work alongside. For example, by helping with the database system and creating a manual for the employees, I am attributing the consistent growth and sustainability of the Center. Also, by helping to create awareness of the programs that the Stern Center

Nicole Campbell offers, more people will have the tools and AmeriCorps VISTA knowledge to take adThe Stern Center for vantages of our services; therefore there is Language and Learning a better chance of imWilliston, VT proving the literacy abilities of low income children and increasing the proficiency of all learners. With my help the programs are providing more efficient and positive services in order to continue to do what they do best, which is amazing direct work with youth and adults. My year of service has not only helped with the education of my community, but has strengthened my own knowledge as well. I believe this education will not only help the community I am currently serving but every community that I work with from here on out. For instance, I received a well rounded idea of how successful nonprofits function, have a better understanding of my own strengths and needs, and have learned how to work with diverse communities. Most importantly, my service has confirmed my desire to continue serving in the education field, inspiring me to continue to do what I can to help shape a positive future for those in need of support.

VYT Focus Area: Education

I am a piece of a puzzle here at the Stern Center for Language and Learning, a nonprofit comprised of dedicated professionals working to help children and adults reach their full potential. Here, learners of all backgrounds can have a better understanding of how they learn. As “All great minds don’t think alike!” the attention is based on their individualized strengths and needs and the results are shown through the one-one-one tailored instruction and learning evaluations. Furthermore, through Professional Learning and Research, we are helping to develop well informed teachers in all schools and can show long term results to help improve systems. Thanks to the scholarship fund, these dreams are made possible for students of all ages, differing abilities, and economic status.

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VYT Voices

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Kristy Willis

the students developed in wonderful and surprising ways. Students who had been unable to sit still, were focusing a little more and longer than they had in September. As a whole, many of the students who found it difficult to listen to that I was doing before I Morrisville, VT one another, were listening and to each other in started, ya know, back in August and the best explanation that I came up with large group discussions. Students were cooperating and working together toward a shared was that AmeriCorps was like the Peace Corps only we served communities in the United States. goal and even some of the shy kids were excited to perform. If pressed, I described it as helping people overcome poverty by developing life skills—and I speNow what does this mean as far as cifically would be working with underprivileged being helpful to the community? And / or as far youth. as finding greatness within? Well, I believe that I think that was a pretty valid way for a change starts with the individual. And I witnewbie to describe VISTA service—however it is a nessed so many positive changes displayed by the youth that occurred within six months. bit more complex than that so here we go with a Now, if these youth had abundant and consisfull range description. tent opportunities to practice skills like coopFirst I would say VISTAS are good hearted, hard working people who want to make a eration, collaboration, communication and listening, it would be a great asset to each child as positive change in the world. Lately I’ve been thinking that a lot of my job should be focused on well as to their community. Why? Because my that as well as on the amazing resource that peo- program was called 4-H Leadership Club and we were in the business of developing youth ple actually are. I’ve recently started thinking of that more and more because so often, I think peo- leaders and all of those skills listed above are the building blocks of what makes a leader great. ple as a resource is overlooked in favor of other My year in service as a

VYT Focus Area: Education

AmeriCorps VISTA VISTA—what does it mean? Youth Leadership Program Before I started, I remember University of VT Extension 4-H trying to explain what it was

Thus, I couldn’t say exactly what the leadership club meant to the kids in my club except they would often say this was fun or that they were enjoying doing the projects and they were excited to share their ideas with their parents and teachers, but I do know what it meant for me. And as an educator, I knew that the For example, a major component of the curriculum that I developed for 4-H was a service youth were being positively affected by the aclearning project. And the youth at Hardwick de- tivities we did because I watched them grow and change during the time I worked with them. cided to focus on raising money for the North Country Animal Shelter. As we prepared to make Thus, my job of creating a Youth Leadership our posters and write skits to present, the skills of Club curriculum which included activities and opportunities for the youth to discover themselves and help them onto a path of being a youth leader and hopefully a future community leader—well, it’s exactly what I had hope for and why I signed on to serve as a VISTA. more tangible things, like money. However, I know a major goal that I strived for in working with the youth at Hardwick, Wolcott and Lamoille Union Middle School was for the students to discover and appreciate the greatness that was actually within themselves.


We are so proud of the accomplishments of the VYT Team. In just six months, they: Procured more than $310,584 in cash and in-kind donations used to create and improve programs that support low-income youth and families Grants: $50,300 In-kind: $50,764 Cash Donations: $146,617 Events: $62,902 Recruited and/or managed 735 community volunteers and mentors who gave 11,784 hours of service as mentors, tutors, and other volunteers Supported 25 volunteer recognition events and initiatives Developed over 546 public relations tools that will be used to create more awareness of the services, programs, and initiatives our members help support. Created or enhanced 167 operations systems to make services more efficient and effective Collaborated with 134 community groups Served more than 7,497 youth directly (unduplicated) and another 51,233 benefit from programs and initiatives supported by VYT members 807 people (750 youth and 57 adults) participated in job training programs, internships, and other skill training 1,368 clients (402 youth and 966 adults) received assistance with housing and basic needs 801 individuals (553 youth and 248 adults) received nutrition information 447 youth received healthy, nutritious meals through meals programs 1,004 individuals (949 youth and 55 adults) in military families received services Implemented 26 community service projects in which 579 people participated (402 youth and 177 adults) Gave 31 presentations to community groups and reached a total of 695 people Developed or enhanced 104 programs benefiting 7.361 participants (4,219 youth and 3,153 adults)


We are recruiting for the 2012-2013 service year! VERMONT YOUTH TOMORROW A*VISTA PROGRAM VT Youth Tomorrow A*VISTA Program c/o WCYSB/B&GC P.O. Box 627/ 38 Elm Street Montpelier, VT 05601-0627 Phone: 802-229-9151 Fax: 802.229.2508 http://sites.google.com/site/ vermontyouthtomorrowavista/

To Apply: Go online to americorps.gov Under “Join AmeriCorps” (right), Click on “Advanced Opportunity Search” (under the Search button) In the State field, click on arrow and choose “Vermont” In the Program Name field, type “VYT” and click the Search button All VYT sites should appear. Apply to all sites that interest you.

The opinions expressed in the articles in this newsletter belong to the individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the site where the VISTA serves, Vermont Youth Tomorrow, the Washington County Youth Service Bureau /Boys and Girls Club, SerVermont, or CNCS.

Additional Accomplishments: During our June training, our VISTA team, the Vermont Youth Development Corps AmeriCorps State and National team, and the developing SerVermont VISTA team came together for service projects. We planted trees and maintained hiking trails at Hubbard Park, removed invasive plants along the Winooski River, built a large fence at the National Life Community Garden, and created Honor Cards for Operation: Military Kids. Together, AmeriCorps and VISTA members get things done.

Pictured here left to right: Ryan Stratton, (VYT) Aaron Ashton (SerVermont) Casey Willard, Hannah Valian, and Britt Wedenoja (VYT)


VYT Voices Spring 2012