Hello friends! My name is Shalyn Stack, and I am serving as a VISTA at Delta College in Saginaw, Michigan. I am the program director for Public Achievement, a mentoring program working with at-risk K-12 schools in the Great Lakes Bay Region. The Public Achievement program is currently at two schools: John Glenn High School and Washington Elementary, which are both located in Bay City. Delta College students are trained to be mentors (we call them coaches) to these K-12 students and guide them towards addressing issues in their community through leadership activities, self-empowerment, and civic engagement. All in all, we have about 275 K-12 students involved in the program, and 100 Delta College student coaches.
Something I have learned from Public Achievement is to never underestimate kids. The students at Washington Elementary have blown me away with the issues they have addressed in their school and their action plans on how to solve these issues. Popular issues that are being addressed in multiple classrooms are bullying and discrimination. Some projects we have done to solve the issue of bullying at Washington are: having a school-wide anti-bullying campaign, and putting together an anti-discrimination skit to perform at an assembly next semester. A popular issue being addressed at John Glenn High School is drug abuse, and they are putting together their action plan on how to address this issue next semester.
I am also a co-advisor to the campus organization Citizens in Action (CIA), which was created by Delta College students who served as coaches for Public Achievement in the past and wanted to get more involved on campus and within their community. One of the biggest projects CIA has been a part of is the Feeding America: Weekend Backpacks Program at Washington Elementary. The Weekend Backpacks Program is where backpacks are filled with six meals (dry and canned food) for the students to take home on the weekends. The backpacks and non-perishable food items are donated by the Eastern Michigan Food Bank, and delivered to Washington every week. Washington Elementary is an at-risk school where over 85% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch based on their family’s income. We have about 100 students at Washington who receive the backpacks every Friday and return them on Mondays when they come to school. The members of CIA organize, pack, and deliver the backpacks every week to the Washington students.
Holiday Greetings to All! I’m Mary C. Bryson, a seasoned volunteer for AmeriCorps and VISTA, now serving at Metro Detroit Partnership along with 5 other VISTAs at the same site in Detroit. I’m a long time resident of the area and have experienced the best and the worst of times of the city. Presently, the downtown area is undergoing a major transformation with new and old construction, a totally new rail system that will link the northern suburbs directly to downtown, major new businesses moving in and a much needed younger population. I’m actually witnessing a ‘phoenix rising from the ashes’. Everyone has an open invitation to visit and stay as long as you like. It has been beautiful to see and be able to play a vital role in this through our efforts with workforce development.
The Campus Martius Ice Skating Rink in the heart of downtown Detroit, rivals Rockefeller Center’s Ice Rink in New York and it is bigger!
Our office is within walking distance to this beautiful site. During the spring, summer and fall, the activities there entails free concerts of every genre.
The Director of the Metro Detroit Partnership, Mike Rafferty, had a vision after seeing so many homeless and deprived people, that everyone could be gainfully employed with the proper skills through workforce development. He put his dream into action and allowed all six VISTAs under his guidance to research, create and implement the workforce development program. His tutelage method has given each of us a strong sense of leadership, gainful insight into ourselves as well as the project and attain the skills needed to carry out our tasks.
The first 3 VISTAs have served since February 2014 and set this program in motion, I along with 2 other VISTAs came in at the setup stage of this process. Now we are near the point of implementation, we will perform the work needed at different partner agencies to help the aforementioned underserved population become gainfully employed. The impact this will have on the person’s self-esteem, families and neighborhood stabilization is exciting to even think about, but we actually get to do it!
Currently, my year initiative is tackling the illiteracy rate in Detroit. In my ongoing research thus far, this herculean task has presented some enlightening evidence pointing towards the inaccuracies in former statistics. This energizes me to continue so that I can present some accurate information to the proper parties and address the problem.
Throughout my service years, I’ve met people from all walks of life, from the President of the United States to a homeless vagrant. They’ve left me with an even greater need to serve my community. As long as there is a disparity between the haves and have-nots, then our work is not done. So I’ll continue to volunteer, to serve and I hope all of you do too!
The best of the Holiday Season to All!
If you have everything to gain if successful and nothing to lose of you fail, then by all means do It!!
Hello, all! I am Jordan Meeth, and I am serving as a first year AmeriCorps VISTA at HandsOn Battle Creek. HandsOn Battle Creek is a program of the United Way with the mission of recruiting volunteers for local non-profit organizations and organizing service based events throughout the community. As part of the LEAGUE Michigan, I am working hard to incorporate service-learning in K-12 classes in Battle Creek, Michigan. My co-VISTA, Kelly Williams, and I work with educators in five Battle Creek school districts. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, service-learning is an experiential teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the academic experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. The cool thing about service-learning is that a project can be as small or as big as you desire, while still making a significant impact in the community.
I want to share one particular service-learning project because I feel it is extremely important, given current events. This project brings Police Cadets from Kellogg Community College into a Dudley STEM Elementary School. The mission of this project is to change the perception of law enforcement and students from low economic neighborhoods by working together to complete service projects. Thus far, they have created blankets to be donated to the VA Hospital. The students were asked to compare their opinions of police before and after working with the Police Cadets. The project is still ongoing, but Telicia Evil, the teacher spearheading the project, has summed up some recognizable outcomes of the project:
“It was a challenge at first getting the kids comfortable with talking to the police. Some have parents and other family members that are in jail or prison, or they have had some negative run in with the law. They expressed that they didn’t trust police and what they said prior to them coming in. They were only interested in them for their shooting or violent experiences. They then began to understand that cops are people just like we are and have feelings and families”
This project is impactful because it does not lead to a further division but rather to a feeling of unity and understanding in two conflicting populations. The project has been such a success that we are currently working on placing 10 cadets into 10 different classrooms at Dudley, a project called “Adopt-a-Cop” (updates to come). I feel that this is a project that can be replicated in any community, so please let me know if you have any questions about the logistics of this project!
In the meantime, I will continue working to implement both small and large service-learning projects with the goal of allowing teachers to sustain their service-learning projects independently. I feel that this position gives me a unique experience into the lives of teachers and educators, and I am excited to discover what the remaining portion of my service year has to offer!
Hi everyone! I’m Jim Southard and I’m serving at the Lenawee Community Foundation. I am working with our community partners, Lenawee College Access Network (LCAN) and VOLUNTEER Lenawee! I have been extremely busy working directly with LCAN and just successfully wrapped up the Michigan College Application Week campaign.
LCAN’s goal is by 2025, 60% of our residents will have a post-secondary degree or beneficial credential. Michigan College Application Week took place the week of November 3-7. During MCAW several college and universities waive their enrollment application fee, enticing students to apply. Our area high school’s celebrated MCAW in a variety of ways. Including visits from college mascots and recruiters, playing college fight songs while changing classes, college trivia, teachers and staff wearing swag from their alma mater, giveaways, and other fun activities. This year, with my help, we were able to get 9 out of 10 school districts to participate in Michigan College Application Week in some capacity!
VOLUNTEER Lenawee! Has been going through several changes as well. We were using Hands on Connect volunteer matching software and we are now in the process of switching to GiveGab. GiveGab was created as an AmeriCorps VISTA year initiative project, so it was designed by an end-user. This software is a simple solution to managing and promoting volunteers and matching them with opportunities. GiveGab is a web-based platform that is designed like popular social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. This site offers a few features such as the ability to log volunteer hours, create groups, and match volunteer opportunities based on passions and interest. I am excited to complete this transition and launch the new site in January.
It’s hard to believe another year has gone by. In spite of the challenges we’ve all faced, it has been a year filled with many blessings and I am very grateful. I have achieved much recognition for my work and that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of you all! As we say goodbye to 2014, I’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year!
Hello, my name is Jake Pollock and I am a first year VISTA at Ferris State University working with the Honors Program there and the Big Rapids Housing Commission. I work on service learning projects for honors students and financial literacy for the housing commission residents. Having just graduated from a university, I am very comfortable working at Ferris with the students, professors, and staff. I love the productivity and opportunities that the college environment provides. The housing commission on the other hand is a whole different beast. With low income residents and staff much older than I, it seemed like an intimidating and strange place for me to work. Although it seemed like a difficult place in the beginning, I am starting to appreciate the varying communities that live at the housing commission. Big Rapids may be a small community, but it has a lot to offer and I have come to appreciate its diversity.
The very first project I worked on and which I alluded to in the title was “Day of Service and Learning”. This was a great project to get my feet wet in my new community. The project included several nonprofit organizations in the community and 8 different projects which were intended to be on a single day. That didn’t work out so smoothly due to time conflicts across the board. I quickly became acquainted with many students through this project and also many members of the community. It felt really good to see actual results of my efforts so quickly in my position, but this leaves me with high expectations to live up to for the rest of my term. I am hoping to turn my passion of environmental activism into a week of events in the spring that will reach such a high goal (this is also my VISTA Year Initiative). With all variety of events, projects, service opportunities, and extensive collaboration between the Ferris community and the Big Rapids community.
What I have learned to appreciate in this beginning part of my VISTA year is that collaboration is key. Working on campus there are plenty of motivated students in RSOs (Registered Student Organizations if you’re unfamiliar) to help create service projects and source volunteers. Off campus I found a useful group to work with, the Human Service Coordinating Body of Mecosta-Osceola counties. This group constantly provides me with new opportunities and ideas to integrate Ferris and Big Rapids. The opportunities for collaboration never seem to end and the ideas that I can’t come up with on my own are brought to me from students and the community.
I look forward to seeing what my VISTA year has in store and can’t even imagine what to expect next from the communities I am working with. Only time will tell as they say. Hug a tree and get ready to hear about a spectacular Earth Week from Ferris State University and Big Rapids community!
My name is Hope Dokho and I have been very fortunate to serve with Oakland University (OU) and Auburn Hills United College Access Network. MY role at OU is within the realm of academic service learning. I work towards helping faculty integrate a service component into their course by matching them with a community partner that has a specific need relevant to the class curriculum. Promoting service learning and exploring the community around OU has been eye-opening and interesting! I’m excited to work with the university as they try to solidify a newly reestablished partnership with the city of Pontiac.
One of my biggest tasks during my year of service so far was with my community partner, Auburn Hills United College Access Network (AH UCAN). The goal of AH UCAN is to coordinate and maximize the existing services within Auburn Hills in order to increase college access for all students. The coordinator of AH UCAN and I work together with community members to assess the gaps for college access within Auburn Hills and help to fill them. We are especially focused on students who are considered the minority within their school, who are currently performing below grade level, and who have low socioeconomic status.
This year AH UCAN helped two high schools in Auburn Hills obtain volunteers and resources for College Application Week (CAW). College Application Week is a week promoted by Michigan College Access Network dedicated helping every high school senior fill out at least one college application. It is also a great time to promote higher education in general, help students discover a new career path, and answer any questions they may have about college, vocational schools, etc.
During CAW I was able to recruit volunteers from all over the Auburn Hills Community to help students fill out their applications. It was also exciting to see college-age volunteers working as mentors for the seniors. I also helped create two student panel discussions at a local alternative high school. Students at the high school were able to ask Oakland University students and an admissions counselor questions about college life and college affordability. To help motivate students and help them feel prideful about continuing their education, I collected in-kind donations in the form of merchandise from various colleges around the state. Some fellow VISTA’s were even able to help me, so thank you very much for your generosity! Hundreds of items were collected and distributed between the two high schools. Students were excited about representing their future institutions and that made me excited as well!
Next I will be working towards financial aid and awareness with the same local high schools. I hope that I can continue to see progress and success within this community!
Hi there, my name’s Lauren! I’m serving in Carson City, Michigan with Carson
City-Crystal Area School District (CC-C). I get to work with all classes,
kindergarten through high school seniors and their teachers promoting service
learning with the help of the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) and The
LEAGUE Michigan (TLM) in our community and the classroom throughout the
Service learning is a relationship between what the students are learning in the classroom and what they can do in their community! It has been exactly 3 months since I’ve begun this invaluable service experience and it’s amazing to see what has been happening in the community in what feels like such a short time. Within the first month CC-C completed it’s annual Serve-A-Thon where every single class of every grade created a service project to benefit the community in some way.
From a free car wash to working on the community nature trail, volunteers spread throughout the community all at the same time in the same day to give back.
It’s wonderful to also facilitate the high schools Service and Leadership Team with these students who are so eager to do projects to better their community and themselves. Throughout the year they manage the schools recycling program and brainstorm different activities such as a community 5k or fundraisers, even volunteering with community events.
Grant writing was the one thing I had zero experience with coming into my service year. Then, before I knew it with the help of my supervisors and VISTA Leader I wrote, submitted, and was awarded my first grant ever. Being able to learn a skill like that to help CC-C accomplish its service projects was illuminating to what can be accomplished in my service.
Even though I’m a fourth of the way through my year already I’m thankful for everything I’ve learned thus far in my VISTA experience and excited for what is yet to come and how much more I need to learn. Helping this community full of people that care so much about their students success and how they work every day to better themselves and their home benefits me just as much as it contributes to their goals. Volunteering is hard work but it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve gotten the chance to do.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!