New York Campus Compact
VISTA Member Spotlight
Cornell Cooperative Extension- Oneida County
Why did you choose to serve with AmeriCorps? What does VISTA mean to you?
I joined AmeriCorps to learn about nonprofit work and increase my capacity to help others. I came from Washington State with previous education in Architecture and an opinion that the field needed redirection. Less commercially driven projects and more restorative development. Seattle didn’t need another high-rise. What it’s in desperate need of is affordable housing and support to those displaced by its influx of residents. I had hoped AmeriCorps could reinspire my love of design and the city, creating a symbiotic relationship in my work. Choosing a host site so far from home, Upstate New York, I really had the opportunity to immerse myself in a completely new community and redirect my focus on socially conscious work. In my role, I was exposed to both, personal and work opportunities that my previous education wouldn't have facilitated otherwise. It came with a real learning curve but I was able to work with professionals who inspired me and had similar career goals and interests as myself… VISTA means flexibility to me, the ability to grow in your circumstances for the greater good of the community and foster lasting change.
Could you tell us more about your VISTA role and service project?
I serve as a VISTA at Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County with community partner, The Boilermaker Urban Initiatives Program. As the project AmeriCorps VISTA I wore the hat of programmer manager/ coordinator for the youth summer employment and education program called The Boilermaker Urban Garden, BUG for short. 20 teens, ages 13-18 spent their summer earning income while learning the fundamentals and operations of running an organic sustainable urban garden. Lessons included the ‘how’ ‘what’ and ‘whys’ of seed starting, composting, alternative growing systems (vertical farming, aquaponics) maintenance and harvesting/ preserving practices. This year we implemented additional program features to promote youth empowerment and community engagement with great success. After participating themselves and mastering garden activities, teams were sent out to neighborhood gardens to teach tips as well assisting in the maintenance of garden beds for residents with the incentive to collect produce for donation. Youth were taught weekly nutrition education and preparation of meals they could easily replicate at home incorporating what they had freshly harvested. Excess produce was either taken home to share with families or donated to a network of food pantries we partnered with.
What is the most memorable moment from your service year?
Teaching what a brussel sprout plant -really- looks like, why tomatoes have little ‘hairs’ on their stem, why we collect stormwater, and the importance of spiders and worms to the garden ecosystem. The kids wonder and reciprocal interest in how plants ‘work’ inspire me to appreciate the organic nature of world around us and remember I too, am still a student. This work more often than not can feel like an uphill battle, but my time spent in the garden and kitchen with the BUG teens will be something I look back on often for encouragement and reminder that it makes a difference.
If you could only choose one word to describe your service year, what would it be and why?
To pick just one word that incompasses my service year would not do my fellow AmeriCorps members and organization service. If I must choose though, I’d describe the VISTA experience as transformative, but not necessarily in the obvious ways one would expect. Exposure to a new region, new community, new field of work all have reconstructed my understanding of sustainable impact. My work emphasized the importance of meaningful urban development and redefined for me what constitutes a successful, healthy, restorative, equitable public space in a community. I think most importantly, it transformed my impression of hope. It takes many people caring a whole awful lot to generate change. For every one negative news article read, I have found there are two helpers out there making a difference. I have had the privilege to service alongside many of them in my VISTA experience.