New York Campus Compact
VISTA Member Spotlight
Alfred State College
Could you tell us more about your VISTA role and service project?
I am currently serving as a VISTA at Alfred State College's Center for Civic Engagement and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Allegany County. As the School & Community Garden Coordinator, it is my responsibility to communicate with educational gardens throughout the county and help them build capacity in whatever way they need. Many of the gardens are at different stages of development and function based on different models of community gardening. My project has been focused mainly on applying for grants to help boost food systems initiatives at public K-12 schools, developing garden-based learning curricula for high school students, and seeking funding to boost existing community gardens in the area. During my VISTA term, I have successfully leveraged over $65,000 and created two positions to help continue this crucial work after my project ends in February.
Why did you choose to serve with AmeriCorps? What does VISTA mean to you?
Before learning about this position I had plans to join another service organization called FoodCorps and wanted to be involved in national service this capacity. When I became aware of the VISTA opening, I was elated at the chance to facilitate a flourishing and progressive sustainable atmosphere - to witness real and positive change in my rural community. What I love about VISTA is that it encourages volunteers to think about helping communities in a different way. Before serving with VISTA, I did not think about the difference between direct and direct service. However now I think that indirect service, though at times much more frustrating, truly allows more opportunities to make sustainable impacts for underserved and struggling families.
What is the most memorable moment from your service year?
Throughout the past year, I have conducted a lot of research on local food systems and have attended at least four conferences on the subject. During this time, many of the professionals in the room had become celebrities to me, as I had been reading their papers and seeing their work in action. When I walked into a conference with one of my supervisors, I became intimidated and said to her "I can't wait to be like these people in this room someday." She responded, "Cassandra, you are someone in this room." That moment marked a change in the way that I thought about my place in the field. I was no longer seeing myself as someone on the outside looking inward, but as another professional in the room working for many of the same causes as my idols. It was a clarifying moment for me.
Pictured: Cassandra accepting a "Spirit of Service" award, from her host site. (January, 2018)
If you could only choose one word to describe your service year, what would it be and why?
If I could choose one word to describe my service year, it would be the word "concrete". Yes, I do mean the material. The word concrete describes all of the unlikely turns that have occurred this year and all of the unexpected contacts I have made in my region. Though I have lived in Allegany County for six years, I am still forming new relationships daily. Back to concrete: I was awarded a grant by the Garman Family Foundation to construct a GreenSpace on an abandoned lot in Wellsville, and through this process I have had to learn a lot about masonry, landscape architecture, and zoning laws to plan and construct a park. In the past few months I have spent more of my time researching concrete than anything else! In the end, the discussions on concrete are metaphorically and literally the building blocks of an exciting new space for the people of Allegany County, and I am excited for this project to come to fruition later this Spring.