Today is Earth Day, 2022. We have been commemorating a call to environmental action for 52 years. Many things have changed (can anyone say hybrid vehicles and clean energy?), yet we are in a far more precarious environmental place than we were all those many years ago. There is more urgency in everything we do to combat climate change. The CEO of AmeriCorps issued a press release today and framed our current climate moment like this:
"Now is the time to improve parks and public lands, increase energy efficiency, strengthen rural
and urban economies, expand opportunity for young people and veterans and create the next
generation of conservation and climate resilience leaders."
I might tweak the above slightly to include more local food production (which, arguably, will strengthen all local economies), but will also better sustain local communities. That next generation of leaders needs to be well nourished!
The VISTA crew here in Fairbanks today built four hydroponic grow towers for distribution to our local Fire and Public Works Departments. With a little seedling help to get them started, these departments will be able to grow fresh herbs and greens right at their locations year-round. I cannot wait to see how they use their fresh produce ... and how thrilled they will be in the dead of the next Fairbanks winter to be able to just walk to a grow tower on site and pick fresh lettuce!
It was a fun yet meaningful day (see photos below). I also provide a shout out to the Boys & Girls Club of Fairbanks for hosting a second tower building session at the club.
"Where does a person start when singing praises for Mike Sanders?
Mike wasn’t only my “boss“. He effortlessly acted as a mentor, friend, listener, teacher to me. I can’t imagine a better person with whom to build a program from the ground up. The phrase “in the trenches“ comes to mind, especially for those early days. A lot of repairing the plane while we flew it. All the while, he kept me calm and grounded without ever diluting my ideas or stifling my passion - a sign of a true mentor.
I still frequently seek Mike’s counsel. In my current role, I credit him for my foundational knowledge of services to the homeless. Even when he wasn’t teaching me, I was learning from him. I still pick his brain any chance I get, whether it’s project ideas for interns, how to work with folks I don’t agree with or Project Homeless Connect.
As a friend, Mike taught me how to ride a four wheeler and how to shoot - though not at the same time. His family showed me Die Hard for the first time. In turn, I taught him how to decorate an office.
Mike’s new role is perfect for him. He is a leader by example capable of seeing the big picture. He keeps a cool head during times of stress and always fights through to the end. He is fair. He listens. As a mentor, Mike trusted me and gave me freedom to face problems, try new things and create solutions. It didn’t always go smoothly. But Mike always heard me out, let me vent and gave me space to move on in my own style. Thriving on Mike’s team is just a matter of course. Fairbanks is in wonderful hands.
Mike, thank you for taking a chance on the VISTA program and on me. Our trust in one another as teammates kept the program going without skipping a beat. Thank you for the support over the years, for helping me make my dreams reality and for never taking any credit. Keep leading by example. I can’t wait to see what you do on your new journey!"
VISTA Team Leader
"During my VISTA year, Mike was respected and very much appreciated by every member of the cohort. Despite the challenges of serving during the COVID pandemic, Mike ensured the program's success in a way that was engaging for all of the VISTAs. What stands out to me the most is Mike's ability to connect with each VISTA member individually. He truly cares about each of us and worked daily to ensure we had an impactful and smooth year of service.
Mike, thank you for the constant support on every new idea I threw your way, for the encouragement to fully step into my position as VISTA Leader, and for the flexibility as I explored other passions in Fairbanks! You were such an inspiring, fun, and level-headed supervisor and I learned so much working with you!
Mike's energetic presence will be greatly missed in the VISTA program but we're all excited to see him thrive in his new position with the City of Fairbanks!"
VISTA Team Leader
"Interviews do not really prepare you for Mike Sanders. Laser focused, yet with the ability to always greet the work day with a sunny "Good morning," Mike is equal parts work and play, with a heart as big as Alaska. One cannot help but be touched by Mike's ability to serve, keep the people he serves alongside always front and center, and still find time to help a friend move a just-killed caribou during hunting season before his next afternoon meeting. That's enviable range.
Serving alongside Mike as the current team leader since last August, we have both in that time faced our fair share of loss and grief. Through it all, he has remained unflappable, yet still willing to show real emotion. While I came to the position with more life experience and a few more AmeriCorps tours (doing both direct and indirect service) than my team leader predecessors, Mike adjusted to my skill set. I didn't so much need mentorship (!) as much as the room to once again learn to trust; of course, no amount of words can express my gratitude for the trust he has shown me in return.
Mike, thanks for the opportunity to serve, the laughter, the debate, and the freshly caught game and fish. Your snack tab is well and truly paid in full, my friend."
VISTA Team Leader
On behalf of AmeriCorps, please accept my sincere appreciation and gratitude for your incredible work over the past 3+ years to develop and foster a successful AmeriCorps VISTA program for the Fairbanks NorthStar Borough. Thanks to your leadership and vision, interior Alaska communities now benefit each year from a cadre of VISTA members and Summer Associates tackling the communities most pressing needs in partnership with both the City and with non-profits and agencies throughout the region.
You, as well as the City of Fairbanks VISTA Program staff, partner sites, and members past and present should take great pride in the value of your work for your neighbors in the resilient communities of Fairbanks, Alaska.
With deep gratitude for your service,
AmeriCorps Portfolio Manager, West Region
“I feel so grateful to have worked with Timea. She is incredibly intelligent, kind, and one of the most driven people I have ever met. She always had ideas on how to better our community, and she didn't just talk the talk.
Timea met with the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District to implement a volunteer incentive program for high school students. She was diligent about monitoring other non-profits and other community agencies to share their news and events on our social media. Timea monitored our Volunteer Action Center, as well as creating our in-house graphics, including our incredible 2021 campaign poster!
Although it is our loss that Timea is moving on, it was our gain that we had the pleasure of working with her for the last year. I wish Timea all the best on her future endeavors and can't wait to hear about her successes.
Thank you, Timea!"
Executive Director, United Way of the Tanana Valley
"Madisen was with our Community Partnerships department for just a few months however she left a mark that will lend to a complex projects’ success. She brought an excitement to the work of finding exemplars for our collaborative community health needs assessment (CHNA). A CHNA is a year-long project that identifies the inequities, gaps, and needed improvements in community health. Madisen dug deep and wide and identified the lessons learned from other communities that created collaborative assessments of health factors and outcomes. During this coming year, we will refer often to the materials she researched and organized as guidelines for our work. She also helped build the initial proposal for a project to secure Federal funds for healthy and equitable communities projects to Fairbanks. These projects will bring much-needed relief to people and programs impacted by COVID and will also build infrastructure needed to contend with pandemics. Madisen is a skilled researcher, grasps the complexities of a project quickly, and is genuinely fun to work with. She has a positive energy that is contagious and makes teamwork a real joy."
Community Partnership Program Manager
Foundation Health Partners
"Brittney proved to be a professional as well as personal expert in resiliency. She was extraordinarily helpful in piecing together the many moving parts of creating a Resiliency Conference that focused on Motivational Interviewing skills. This was an important part of improving the trauma informed care that is necessary to truly help people who have faced adverse childhood experiences and trauma. Brittney also helped raise awareness of a valuable resource for healthy foods for people who might otherwise have trouble accessing ample fruits and vegetables. She helped the local foodbanks’ “food is medicine” program promote their resource and helped to steer more people in need to the program. With grace, patience, and persistence Brittney contended with the challenges of parenting, living, and working in an environment where COVID impacted transportation, childcare, and unexpected roadblocks. We will miss her kindness and her thoughtful contributions to the healthcare team here. "
Community Partnership Program Manager
Foundation Health Partners
Diana served at the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center until mid-February, 2022. In her VISTA role, she combined her anthropological training with her willingness to be patient and exhibit grit and grace as she brought together a diverse coalition of local community members. Her love of the outdoors as well as handmade crochet accessories will not only stay with us, but will aid her as she takes on a future role with the National Park system. We wish you all good things, Diana!
Thank you for your work with the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center and Denakkanaaga. In our year together with you we saw you apply your experience in interpretive programs, cross cultural communication, and food culture. You shared a valuable fresh perspective as we planned and developed modalities to work together. You also learned, sink or swim style, about grant writing, project management, marketing, coalition building, negotiation, videography, and exhibit creation. I'm sure I'm leaving things out, the list is long. You made beautiful bead work, ran productive meetings, and won the hearts of our staff and Elders.
You have contributed to a wonderful new momentum in our cultural programming partnerships. Where we had a shuttered program, we now have an active coalition of most of Fairbanks’ Native cultural programming organizations and a reliable slate of programs happening several times a month. Where we had uncertainty about the future of Cultural Programs at the Morris Thompson Center, we now have optimism. With your help, we are better filling an important need in this community.
Thanks, Diana. You have accomplished a lot here!
Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center
We at Denakkanaaga are so thankful you decided to venture to Alaska from Tennessee and work on cultural programming with the MTCVC, Denakkanaaga, and TCC. Our organization's collaborative efforts are now benefiting all, thanks to the work you have accomplished in the year you were with VISTA.
It still amazes me how you came on board, got a good, knowledgeable grasp of the tribes and leaders, current cultural programs within our region, and went to work.
Your work ethic and willingness to listen to and learn from our elders is to be commended.
Here's to future endeavors!
All next week we will be celebrating AmeriCorp's National Volunteer Week! (And, fyi - April is National Volunteer Month; next Friday is also Earth Day.) Look for long overdue thank you posts for the VISTAs who departed in late winter, as well as what we are doing as a VISTA crew to celebrate Earth Day sustainably.
Yes, it is once again that time of year! Recruitment for summer associates is now underway here in Fairbanks. We will have 14 positions in all, across seven different sites throughout the city. If you are interested in making a difference and serving in summer in interior Alaska, now is the time to make it happen. We have listed the sites and dates on our Available Positions page, and you will need to submit an application to apply for any of the open positions at myamericorps.gov.
Come spend your summer in Alaska's beautiful interior. You'll be richer for the service experience.