Shea, Diana and Aisha will serve Fairbanks from March 16, 2020 - March 15, 2021. Year-long VISTAs perform indirect service focusing on capacity building. Stay tuned for updates as their year progresses!
My name is Meagan Scheer and I served as a VISTA from 7/2011 - 7/2012 and then came back in 12/2015 for another round as VISTA Leader.
I am a military brat so I have lived everywhere; however, I spent the better part of my life on and off in Hampton Roads, Virginia. In 2011, I had been working full-time in a pretty toxic work environment for about 3 years and working towards my Associates Degree. I knew there was more out there for me so I applied for a VISTA position in Fairbanks and moved here in 2011 to serve at Love INC of the Tanana Valley. In April of that year, my project ended and I had the opportunity to begin work at Fairbanks Youth Advocates working on an outreach project. In that one year, I developed relationships that will last a lifetime.
After my service was over, I left to use my Ed. award to finish school in Colorado. There I worked another dead-end job (I really like to balance my work experiences) until I graduated and moved back to Virginia. One day I got a phone call from my friend and fellow VISTA co-worker at FYA to let me know she was leaving her position as VISTA leader and that I should apply.
I laughed and laughed. It was 90 degrees in October in Virginia Beach and I was sipping on a frosty PBR while Sarah told me it was snowing in Fairbanks and I should come work for VISTA wages again for another year.
Well, long story short, I applied and came back as Fairbanks VISTA leader. Here I was again: poor, working a hard job, and walking around in sub-zero temps.
Honestly, it was the best decision I ever made.
I had the opportunity to work with other VISTAs and help support them through their VISTA year. I met community members that have made Fairbanks a better place. I made friends that will last a lifetime. I worked at the University, the Borough building, had the opportunity to connect with other VISTAs in Anchorage and all around the state of Alaska. I was able to work with the Housing and Homeless Coalition, Access Alaska (where a huge part of my heart still exists), and now I work at the Girl Scout Council. I have the opportunity to volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club, the Ester Community Association, Bread Line, Angry Young and Poor, and other organizations.
Fairbanks has become a part of my soul. I owe my career and passions to the AmeriCorps VISTA program and to the community of Fairbanks. I hope that each and every one of you find your experience here as special as I have found mine.
By Ashton Varner, VISTA Team Leader '19-20
Many know Fairbanks for its -40 degree winters. However, the community is much warmer than the weather it is known for. No matter its size, it has a small town vibe. It will not take long to win a 6 Degrees of Separation game. People know one another, neighbors look out for each other and we want each other to succeed.
Kim Green began pursuing her GED in 2012 but did not find success until years down the road. She knew having an education would help her get a better job but it was hard.
Those who guide adults through GED programs understand. Lisa Cogen began tutoring English at the Literacy Council of Alaska in 2017. She says school gets harder as a person is older due to the responsibilities life brings.
In 2017, Kim received a note from her doctor stating that, for a time, she would not be able to work. Her public assistance case worker pushed her to try to get her GED again.
Kim agreed. She didn’t want to waste time while she was out of the workforce. “I couldn’t do nothing,” she said.
That’s when Kim first met Lisa as her English tutor. She said Lisa was a good teacher who took time to break down concepts that tripped up her students. Kim appreciated the one-on-one care Lisa took with her.
Lisa saw potential in Kim. “I remember having good questions from her,” she said.
Unfortunately, Lisa did not get to see Kim through her GED journey. Kim became pregnant with her son and had to put her studies on hold.
As a teacher, not seeing final results can be a hazard of the job. Lisa takes moments of affirmation where she can, loving the moment when she watches students start to care. It helps to be around like-minded people such as her fellow tutors at the Literacy Council.
“They’re excited about it,” she said.
Lisa embraced the rare moment of seeing a finished chapter.
“I was a little, little piece of that,” she said. “It’s cool that she persevered.”
Since earning her GED, Kim has noticed the benefits.
“It opens up a lot of opportunities for me,” she said. “I think it helped me land [the VISTA] job.”
She plans to continue her education with the AmeriCorps VISTA end-of-service education award. Her interests include Certified Nursing Assistant certification and childcare.
Post-VISTA, Lisa has returned to her position with the borough school district as a special education teacher.
The AmeriCorps VISTA of Fairbanks office thanks Lisa and Kim for their summer service and wishes them all the best in their future.
Where does the summer in Fairbanks go?
Imani McGowan helped prevent child hunger by aiding JP Jones in their summer food program. She has supervised kids, provided meals and done outreach. VISTA service provided an outlook that she plans to apply to her career.
In her own words: “Since I am becoming a doctor/surgeon with a minor in childhood education, I plan to go to countries that are less fortunate and help kids all over as well as in the U.S.”
Raina Follet served at the Boys and Girls Club of Fairbanks, aiming to maintain the previous school year’s education as well as build on that ground and stimulate the children in stem and motor skills on a daily basis. She enjoyed contributing to their art program as well.
In her own words: “I have worked with a few kids on their language and mannerisms and kept a log of what I see when they're unaware of my observations and documented their success to pull up and share with them as a self esteem builder.”
Sheila Vent worked on social media/advertising for the Fairbanks Wellness Coalition. Her organization is small and personal which has led to successful campaigns. They had a booth at the Midnight Sun Festival and received around 200 surveys from attendees with 400 interactions.
In her own words: “I appreciate how VISTA is there to help out the community especially the areas of need to help a community regain control of certain issues it may be facing.”
David Leslie served the North Star Community Foundation by creating a presentation to teach nonprofits how to use social media effectively. He hit the ground running to make connections in town by meeting and networking with all the new summer VISTAs and members of the Fairbanks Housing and Homeless Coalition. He utilized those new connections and ideas to address not just his work as a VISTA for NSCF, but all service providers in Fairbanks.
In his own words: “Multiple times while manning a booth for outreach, I would meet an older community member who was a VISTA years ago! VISTA has been a common way for people to learn, move to, and live in Alaska since the 60s. I had no idea it was so popular not just in Alaska, but also for many decades as a whole!”
Grace Martin aided the Noel Wien library with the Summer Reading Program. The library staff will be happy to hear the seed that they planted in Grace’s ear about library school may sprout someday.
In her own words: “At the deployment fair, I was able to reach 252 soldiers and family members with information about the Fairbanks Noel Wien Library. Later that same day, we had multiple military families visiting the library for the first time because of the deployment fair connections. The librarians were all too busy to sit and table at the deployment fair so without the other VISTA Evan and I, they wouldn't have been able to do this outreach.“
Her impact: “Grace has been an excellent VISTA volunteer at the Noel Wien Public Library this summer. She is full of ideas, suggestions and enthusiasm for the projects she has been tasked to complete and has a great attitude for getting the work done.” - Michelle Proper, FNSB Libraries
When Kim ran into challenges, she took initiative to find solutions. She also created a list of local doctor’s offices for the year-long VISTA to use as she pursues fundraising opportunities.
In her own words: “Because I am not a Thrivalaska employee, I'm not allowed to pick up the kids. The kids like to be held and ask me to pick them up. It feels awkward around parents when I can't help by picking up the kids. I take time to explain that I am a volunteer and can't do that task. To work around the challenge while in the classroom, I sit on the floor and the kids are allowed to sit in my lap.”
When the site was closed to students, Amber and the other staffed cleaned the building top to bottom. She even vacuumed the window screens outside. Having a clean interior and exterior keeps kids healthy, parents confident in their childcare and ThrivAlaska running smoothly.
In her own words: “The support of the teachers is extremely important. That's the biggest thing that comes to mind. I've seen all summer that they really have their hands full. Most of these kids come from low income families, single parent households, and Thrivalaska wants to give these kids the best chance to succeed.”
Devon Gerstenfield maintained several community gardens on behalf of Fairbanks Soil & Water Conservation District. Locations included JP Jones, Stone Soup Community Garden, Zion Community Garden and Corinthians Garden.
In his own words: “I helped several buses full of high school kids from the lower 48 plant trees by the Chena River. The basic idea was that by driving sticks into the ground and planting trees nearby, we could keep the river from weathering away at the ground that the nearby houses sat on. If I had to guess, I'd say we planted somewhere on the order of 150 trees. On the eighth, I helped set up the Stone Soup Community Garden. There were about 40 odd plant containers that needed to be weeded and their soil turned over and prepared for the plants. Fortunately, I wasn't alone. We had dozens of community members helping us get everything completed. After four hours, we had enough lettuce, potatoes and peas planted to feed an army.”
Lisa Cogen serves at The Door youth shelter. She is a Jack of all trades, meeting any of The Door’s needs. Even after her VISTA tasks are done, her work ethic finds new tasks without fail. The organization loves her and doesn’t want her to go.
In her own words: “When someone expressed surprise that FYA had gotten a summer VISTA (even though it had looked unlikely), they asked the Executive Director where I had come from, and her response was that I was "sent from heaven!" FYA is going through a lot of staff transition at this time, and my presence has made it easier for staff all around, as I am another person able to help provide continuity of care for the youth. At the same time, since I don't have to do much of the paperwork and documentation, I am also able to do things like sort and rotate the food donations, organize the game shelves, and do things that the regular staff just can't ever seem to get to.”
Her impact: “Our VISTA, Lisa, is an incredible addition to our team. She is insightful, motivated and doesn't hesitate when she sees something needing to be done. Our Summer Associate helps to fill in the gaps in the youth shelter. Thanks to Lisa, we attended our first Pride Festival, been able to meet with volunteer groups on the weekends, and managed to deal with changes in the shelter - without any service delays to youth. We love her and don't want to see her time end.” - Marylee Bates, The Door
Emily Markkanen supervised and taught job skills to teens with disabilities with Access Alaska. With the program, they handle specific jobs at a local farm and a recycling facility. Emily mentors the kids, keeping them on track, training in real time when they get stumped and resolving conflict as necessary.
In her own words: “During the course of the month, we set up a lesson about how to run a mock assembly meeting. To help with this first we set up a day at the Central recycling center and Green Star recycling to learn about our recycling goal we have in Fairbanks. Then we have a mock assembly meeting to show how the meeting is ran.”
Evan Thomas aided the North Pole library with the children’s Summer Reading Program. He registers children, stamps their accomplishments and provides them with prizes. He has also had the opportunity to create marketing materials for several library events.
In his own words: “I enjoy the ability to participate in the kid's programs such as rock painting and slime, many of my co workers say they appreciate a male being in this setting, which is a nice reassurance, It feels great to be able to help with that stuff. I'm trying to get a "Little Library" started but I'm having a difficult time getting it off the ground as i am not quite sure on how to go about it. I'll continue research though and hopefully something will come of it very soon!"
If you are interested in serving as a summer VISTA in 2020 or
if your organization is interested in hosting a summer VISTA in 2020, contact the VISTA team leader at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Devon Gerstenfield serves with the Fairbanks Soil & Water Conservation District. He provides support to community gardens around town, including mowing, weeding, planting and watering. He also presents learning opportunities to the children involved in JP Jones’ summer program.
David Leslie serves the North Star Community Foundation as a social media manager and instructor. He produces workshops to teach non-profits how to effectively set up and utilize social media communications.
Emily Markkanen serves at Access Alaska with their summer work program, which provides hands-on training to local high school students in special education programs. Her position involves providing guidance, mentoring and modeling positive behaviors to students.
Grace Martin and Evan Taylor serve at the Fairbanks North Star Borough Libraries. They assist the librarians with the children’s Summer Reading Program. They also come up with ideas for passive programming and community outreach. Grace is located at the Noel Wien location while Evan serves at the North Pole Branch.
Imani McGowan serves at the JP Jones Center with their children’s summer program. The program involves feeding children lunch as well as partnering with the Children’s Museum and Soil & Water Conservation District to provide science based learning opportunities.
Sheila Vent serves with the Fairbanks Wellness Coalition. She creates graphics as well as posts for FWC to use on social media and their website. She also supports the organization through community outreach.
AGENCY: ACCESS ALASKA
AGENCY: ALASKA COALITION ON HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS
AGENCY: BOYS & GIRLS CLUB
AGENCY: BREAD LINE INC.
AGENCY: FBX CHILDREN'S MUSEUM
AGENCY: FBX HOUSING & HOMELESS COALITION
AGENCY: FBX NATIVE ASSOCIATION
AGENCY: FBX NORTH STAR LIBRARIES
AGENCY: FBX REENTRY COALITION
AGENCY: FBX RESCUE MISSION
AGENCY: FBX SOIL & WATER CONSERVATION DISTRICT
AGENCY: FBX WELLNESS COALITION
AGENCY: FBX YOUTH ADVOCATES
AGENCY: INTERIOR ALASKA CENTER FOR NON-VIOLENT LIVING
AGENCY: JP JONES CENTER
AGENCY: LION'S DEN
AGENCY: LOVE INC
AGENCY: NORTH STAR COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
AGENCY: RESTORE INC
AGENCY: SALVATION ARMY
AGENCY: TANANA CHIEFS CONFERENCE
AGENCY: THE DOOR
AGENCY: UNITED WAY
AUTHOR: AISHA PEREIRA
AUTHOR: ASHTON VARNER
AUTHOR: KELSEY SNYDER
AUTHOR: LEAH SHAFFER
AUTHOR: MEAGAN SCHEER
AUTHOR: MIKE REIDERER
AUTHOR: SHEA BRENNEMAN
AUTHOR: VICKI SLOBODYANIK
AUTHOR: ZAK MITCHELL
EVENT: COMMUNITY NEEDS DRIVE
EVENT: IN-SERVICE TRAINING
EVENT: PROJECT HOMELESS CONNECT
FAIRBANKS DAILY NEWS MINER
IN THE NEWS
OFFICIAL CNCS STATEMENT
RADIO 970 KFBX
TOPIC: GRANT WRITING
YEAR LONG VISTA