Daniela, Julia, Julia (!), and Nathanael will serve Fairbanks from August 16, 2021 - August 15, 2022. As full year VISTAs, they will build the capacity of their individual organizations through indirect service, and in Daniela's case, for the very first time at her site (trailblazer, she). We're excited to welcome them to the team and see the impact they have in the coming year!
I am very thankful for my experience at the Noel Wien library! It has given me more community outreach skills. This experience has given me more of an appreciation for the Fairbanks community and the work the library is doing to support the community. Special thank you to all the library staff who always were so friendly to me and offered ideas, especially to Melissa Harter. I am so proud to be part of the work that our library is doing, which is so vital to our community during the time of coivd. Thank you! Gracias!
The library is a challenge in the best of times. It is a feast or famine situation, and our VISTAS need to be self-sufficient and go-getters to make the most of this placement. Stephen is a shining example of the perfect fit for our mission. From the beginning he was very open minded and willing to adapt to our ways. His arrival during COVID added complicating factors to his year here, but still he persisted in moving projects forward. Always willing to help and do what is necessary, Stephen has been a truly positive force for our staff. With his friendly nature and can-do attitude, he immediately fit in and was accepted as one of our own. His contributions to our programs are many. He is very well liked, and he will sorely be missed, but we wish him all the best in his new adventures!"
By Stephen Greenlaw, FNSB Noel Wien Library 2020-2021
I am not going to tell you the unlimited touristy things to do or explain the seasons or describe when to see the Northern Lights. There’s plenty of information on stuff like that out there. When I first came to Fairbanks, I did a lot of those things myself. Instead, I am here to share my story and give you a little personal wisdom that will get you out and about in Fairbanks.
First off, you won’t find a place like this anywhere else! Originally, from San Diego, California, I moved to Fairbanks in the fall of 2013 to pursue my degree in Fisheries at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. My first two years were tough, transitioning from sunny San Diego to Alaska, as I had never experienced snow before. Luckily, I lived on campus at UAF which connected me to everything I needed to live comfortably.
When I first arrived in town, I didn’t know many people and I didn’t have a car. Although Fairbanks seems pretty spread out, not having a car isn’t the end of the world and you can still get around. If you want to travel around by bike, pick up a fairbanks bike map from UAF Green Bikes. If you don’t have a car, it will be best to live near a bus line and familiarize yourself with the bus routes. And don’t be shy about asking friends or fellow VISTAs for a ride, especially if you are walking to get groceries at -45F. Your frozen face will thank me later!
Speaking of winters, I recommend getting a happy light and taking vitamin D. Winters can be dark and mental health is important. Take care of yourselves. According to Explore Fairbanks, “with the shortest day of the year – December 21st this year – Fairbanks will have about 3hrs 41mins when the sun is up.”
Obviously, dress for the weather. Frostbite is no joke. Wear layers and have a winter hat to keep your head covered and gloves on whenever you’re outside, even if it’s only for a few minutes. And don’t forget these wise words, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America.
My next piece of advice is to find a hobby! Learn to ski or go ice skating in the winter. Check out the UAF trails and go hiking in and around town. And if you plan to do a long hike, let a buddy know. If you are wanting to go hiking outside of town, check out one of my favorite hiking spots: Wickersham Dome.
In the summer, do some wild blueberry picking or look for fishing spots around Fairbanks.There are lots of ponds filled with a dinner that’s ready to be caught. I’d recommend getting a fishing pole and buying a fishing license at Fred Myers. Keep in mind, non-residents pay a higher price compared to residents for a fishing license. Enjoy what each season in Alaska has to offer. As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
Speaking of seasons- Did you know that in May of 2020 Fairbanks hit a world-record birch pollen count?! According to the article by Alaska Public Media, “the typical symptoms are itchy, watery eyes and nose, sneezing, and, for some people, it worsens their asthma.” If you have allergies, you may want to get allergy medication for the summer.
It is important that you learn about Alaska Native cultures and histories. A good place to start is at the Morris Thompson Cultural Center.Check out this resource: Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska. And lastly, here are two videos I recommend watching: What People Get Wrong About Alaska Natives and Alaska Native Cultures Overview.
Overall, my advice to folks moving to Fairbanks is really put yourselves out there. Immerse yourselves in the community. Fairbanks has a lot to offer and folks will appreciate you for being someone who wants to help and be part of the community!
Of the many things to do in Fairbanks, here are some of my favorites!
I recognize that my time living and working in Fairbanks took place on the traditional and unceded lands of the Lower Tanana Dene Peoples.
Mikayla, Tessa, Hal, Sol, Nicole, and Stephen will serve Fairbanks from August 31, 2020 - August 30, 2021. Year-long VISTAs perform indirect service focusing on capacity building. Stay tuned for updates as their year progresses!
From the moment Zak arrived, I could tell we were very lucky to have her here. Rarely do you meet someone with such imagination and creativity combined with skill. Using her talents to encourage literacy and library use she began a very successful run of highlighting library resources to members of our community. I have no doubt she made a difference in the lives of very many people. Zak fit right into our crew and became a member of the library family and will be missed. We wish her all the best in her future endeavors!"
Zak, thank you for your service to our community. You helped our local program with your creativity, humor and passion. We look forward to seeing you around town!
By Shea Brenneman, United Way of the Tanana Valley '20-21
They say that the only thing we can truly count on is that nothing is 100% certain. We do our best to calculate cause and effect to predict the future, but the best we can do is work with probability. Scientists and the likes of Bill Gates have been saying for quite some time that the greatest potential threat the world currently faces is likely to be a pandemic, but I probably speak for most of us in that COVID19 still came as something of a shock. The virus didn’t seem real until it did.
All of us AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers here in Fairbanks, Alaska had plans for the months of March, April, and May put on hold as the world shut down in response to COVID19. But all of us VISTA’s, presented with the unprecedented stay-at-home mandate, continue to find creative ways to support and care for the Fairbanks community.
I’m proud to be part of a team with people like Zak Mitchell who creates regular, uplifting, and insightful videos that make the online Fairbanks community feel more alive and supported. Or Brynn Butler on the front lines, pouring her energy day in and day out on behalf of Fairbanks’ homeless population at the temporary Warming Center. Even those whose roles here have suddenly felt far less defined are embracing the humility and patience it takes to just be available and show daily kindness to themselves and those immediately around them.
As for me, I slid under the door into Fairbanks Indiana-Jones-style before everything shut down. I had three days to explore the city before businesses started to close.
Thankfully, I was able to meet the other VISTA’s one time face-to-face over a pickle pizza lunch ordered from the local restaurant Hungry Robot (that was surprisingly good?) before social distancing ramped up. Despite having arrived in Fairbanks like this, my move to Alaska was by far the smoothest transition I have ever had – and I have moved a lot. Between Ashton Varner, our current VISTA leader who has stayed well past her service end date due to the virus, and Meagan Scheer, a previous VISTA leader still living here in Fairbanks, I had tremendous support finding a very affordable apartment. They donated all the furnishings I currently own and haven’t let up in their humbling generosities and kindness towards me to this day.
With this backbone of support and community, I haven’t experienced the “fish-out-of-water” feeling one might expect moving to a new state during a pandemic, and I have enjoyed starting work with United Way of Tanana Valley. I am on a team with three strong, incredible women - Brenda Riley, Sarah Canoy, and Heidi Kampwerth - who have been nothing but inspiring to work with, and I can’t tell you how powerful it is to see them take on the needs of Fairbanks with high-level efficiency and communication – all while maintaining a healthy sense of humor and camaraderie. I have only met one of the three in person as all our interactions are virtual through programs like Slack and Zoom. I truly can’t imagine this pandemic without technology, as 100% of my work depends on it.
My original project under United Way was to create a Volunteer Action Center (VAC) for the city as a way to consolidate resources, needs, and volunteers into one, collaborative system or platform. However, my project has since taken on a different angle to become coordinating and transcribing volunteer and donation needs from Fairbanks agencies during COVID19 and communicating largely through Fairbanks’ favorite medium: Facebook.
After a true crash course on all the different nonprofits in the city, I took over the "Volunteer Fairbanks" page on Facebook. We designed a short needs-assessment survey that went out to all the active agencies in the city, which I then transcribed onto our United Way site for volunteer needs and resources. My job has been to raise daily awareness and to rally donations on behalf of a group of dedicated nonprofits that continue to provide heartfelt, incredible services to its community despite the pandemic.
It’s been incredible to see this community respond to the needs of others during all of this uncertainty, and in my eyes, Fairbanks does live up to its name as the Golden Heart of Alaska.
In an uncertain world, perhaps one of the best qualities to practice and instill is that of adaptability. In that way, no matter what curve balls life throws at us, at least we can count on our abilities to adapt and to be creative. Although COVID19 has been a strong reminder that nothing is 100% certain for us, it sure does seem like VISTA’s can rely on each other, and that Fairbanks can rely on its community to adapt and support one another.
"Despite these changes, VISTAs have continued to serve the community.
Zak Mitchell, who serves at Noel Wien Library, helped to start a Virtual Storytime program while the library building is closed to the Public.
Brynn Butler, who has served with the Fairbanks Reentry Coalition since August of last year, has begun working directly with homeless clients at a warming center, taking temperatures and sewing face masks.
“I think we’re more important than ever to our organizations,” Varner said."
Read the full story at KTVF's website.
Children and families in outlying communities might not have easy access to public libraries. The Fairbanks North Star Borough Public Libraries' mobile library called the Bookmobile visits these communities monthly.
“When I first got the job I really loved the idea of the Bookmobile. There are a lot of libraries in the Lower 48 that don’t have this kind of resource, especially in southern states, where there are rural communities that could benefit from it, but they just don’t have it,” said AmeriCorps Vista Program Specialist Zak Mitchell.
Read the full story at KTVF's website.