Shea’s VISTA assignment was to create a Volunteer Action Center (VAC) for the Tanana Valley region. Initially projected to be a three-year project, Shea was able to complete the task within one year. The VAC is a place for volunteers to find volunteer opportunities in their community that match their interests. Since officially launching the VAC for the public on February 17th of 2021, Shea has recruited 33 organizations to sign up on the site and 111 volunteers.
Looking ahead, Shea has been selected to work with Doctors Without Borders beginning in early winter. In the meantime, she is spending the next handful of months soaking up the sun in Maui, Hawaii. This past year in Alaska was by far one of the best years of her life and she will always come back to her Fairbanks Family.
Shea has been such an impactful addition to The United Way of the Tanana Valley. The entire state shut down the week she arrived due to COVID-19, but she never allowed that to deter her from being productive and making an impact. She has been able to complete a three-year project in one year. Her perseverance to find funding for the Volunteer Action Center, build the online platform, as well as engage both nonprofits and volunteers has seen success in such a short time. She has helped others to see the impact that volunteerism can make in our community. When not working in the office, she is out in the community volunteering in the community garden or fixing lunches for our homeless population. She lives a life full of service and helps others in every community she finds herself in. While we are sad to see her leave, we know that her time working with and serving within the Doctors without Borders organization will be impactful. "
Being a new Executive Director for the United Way of the Tanana Valley (UWTV), I did not work with Shea for very long, but I am so grateful for time I did. Shea is positive, kind, incredibly intelligent, and was an asset to the UWTV. She always had a smile on her face and was willing to do whatever was needed for the organization. She is a genuine person who enjoys working and volunteering for her community. I look forward to hearing about what Shea will accomplish on her next adventure."
Shea was an incredible addition to United Way of the Tanana Valley. She helped resurrect our much loved program, the Volunteer Action Center. From planning, to execution and everything in-between, she made sure that our new program was successful and welcomed with open arms in the Tanana Valley. In addition, we cannot say enough about how above and beyond Shea went to connect people with resources, opportunities, and helped to make light work of getting much needed donations to our non-profits quickly this past year."
Shea’s been super helpful even before I secured my position with United Way. She was always willing to talk whether it was work related or not. Her support and kindness was part of what made being in Fairbanks such a pleasant experience."
Brittney, Caitlin, Diana, Madisen, and Timea will serve Fairbanks from February 16, 2021 - February 15, 2022. As full year VISTAs, they will build capacity of their organization through indirect service. We're excited to welcome them to the team and see the impact they have in the coming year!
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.
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!