By Taryn Williams, FBX Children's Museum, Summer 2020
Living in a city as expensive as Fairbanks on ~$1,200 a month has proven to have its challenges (especially when there are so many delicious Thai restaurants and coffee huts to tempt you!) and can be one of the most intimidating parts of becoming a VISTA - even more so for Summer Associates who don’t have as much time to adjust. Throughout the last six weeks, however, I have found it to be an entertaining challenge, as it has allowed me to experience the city differently than I otherwise would have. I have found different ways to live within my budget while also trying new things and visiting unique places and have realized that $1,200 can get you far if you know what is important to you.
$800: Rent - already the largest line in anyone’s budget, rent in Fairbanks has proven to be no different. Though an apartment usually costs well more than the monthly stipend itself, renting a room has its perks. For $800, I found a room that is within walking distance from downtown (and my site), a kitchen that is well-enough stocked with utensils and dishware, and a private bath attached to my room. Coming to Fairbanks in a time of COVID-19 and quarantine means that I am spending more time at home than I otherwise would, so I know I am getting my money’s worth here.
$200: Grocery Shopping - the downside of living in a small city without a car is that my options are somewhat limited. Though I was excited to see that the store within walking distance is a Co-Op that boasts many vegetarian and environmentally-friendly items, it also means that my spending is higher than it would otherwise need to be. When I was moving in, I made a trip to the large chain grocery store to buy things like pasta and rice, and have been using the Co-Op to get perishables based on what I’m cooking each week. Each trip to the Co-Op costs me about $30 (I can only take what I can carry!) and - when I’m primarily shopping sales - I average about four days of meals from each trip. In the end, I have spent around $200 there each month.
$100: Restaurants and Coffee Huts - my favorite category to budget for and the one that motivates me to limit spending elsewhere, eating out is always a top priority for me. Seeing the multitude of Thai restaurants upon my arrival, I knew that my “Fairbanks Bucket List” would include trying several of those and - despite not being a coffee drinker - I have ended up at Sunrise several times in the early mornings (and, more often, in the hot evenings for a $2 cone). Between a biweekly Thai dinner, a few stops at the coffee hut, and an occasional crepe, I have come in just around $100 each month.
$60: Cell Phone Bill - an unfortunate necessity in life these days, kept a bit lower with the 10% discount GCI gave me for being a VISTA (small wins add up!) The money is automatically charged as soon as I get paid and I don’t spend much of my time thinking about it.
$40: Miscellaneous - As hard as I tried to plan ahead, there is inevitably always something you end up needing (a Lyft home during a Fairbanks-famous sudden torrential downpour, a pack of band-aids after accidentally scratching yourself on the walk home, or a tube of toothpaste because, well, personal hygiene) and it’s always safe to leave room for this. Between personal hygiene needs and the occasional transportation, I have spent almost exactly $40 on these necessities each month.
My budget in Fairbanks isn’t perfect - ideally I could have found lower rent or tried to find a room closer to another grocery store - but I’m only here for ten weeks and I’m doing what I can to make the best of it. I have a comfortable roof over my head and enough money for my favorite things (Thai food), and I have been able to live a relatively comfortable life on the (admittedly tight) living allowance.
By Aisha Pereira, Restore Inc. '20-21
So you’ve accepted a position with AmeriCorps VISTA of Fairbanks. Congrats!
Now you’ve got to decide how to get to your service assignment… all the way in Alaska! Seems crazy. Maybe it is, a little.
For many people, it’s more prudent to fly, but others may have a vehicle they don’t want to leave behind. In my case, I love road trips and have two fur-covered companions in tow. I accepted a position in Fairbanks, Alaska more than 5000 miles away from where I lived with only two months to make it there.
It seemed next to impossible, but the adventure was well worth all the stress of planning. The best piece of advice I was given and feel obligated to pass along to anyone interested in making this trek is to buy the guide book called the Milepost! This guide is amazing - it gives you info on literally everything that you will encounter between the lower 48 and Alaska, from maps to lists of amenities, where to get gas, food, lodging and so much more.
Driving from Maine across the entire country (and Canada) to Alaska was one of the best experiences of my life. I met tons of interesting people and saw some of the most awe inspiring sights. I highly recommend Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore.
If you’re like me with family and friends spread across the country, take advantage of the opportunity and turn your road trip into a chance to see all your long-lost friends and family.
Not only does this help with your hotel costs, it gives you a chance to see their neighborhoods from local eyes. I budgeted for 2 weeks to make the entire 5000 mile journey (it can be done in less if needed) and I certainly didn’t take the shortest route possible. I planned out which areas I knew someone or parks that I was hoping to explore. The shortest route would have taken me through Canada nearly the whole way. According to other travelers, that drive is boring and not recommended for winter travel.
I discovered that the best route (especially during winter) would be to drive all the way across the country to Seattle and then travel up through British Columbia. I was honestly thrilled at this idea because I had never been to the west coast and always wanted to drive across the country and now I finally had that opportunity.
Another major aspect of my trip that gave me immense joy was the fact that I was completely free to change my plans as I went.
The only deadlines I had were to be in Seattle by a certain date and to get to Alaska before my start date. I budgeted to get there about a week before I needed to start work. This worked out ideally because at the beginning of my trip, I decided to skip a stop, affording me an extra day along the way. I was able to stay two nights and explore Badlands National Park, as well as enjoy a whole day in the middle of my trip that I didn’t need to be on the road. I was able to recharge, repack and relax. The next part of my journey wasn’t as easy going as the start but it was still highly enjoyable.
One last piece of advice I would give is that you allow yourself extra time!
Not only do you want to enjoy this trip in all its glory but there are a multitude of things that could happen that could push back even the most well planned and prepared traveler. I budgeted for three days to drive from Seattle, Washington to Fairbanks, Alaska. I was very lucky to have another driver join me for this stretch of the trip and it still took us an additional day to make the full trip. The first leg of our trip went well but we pushed ourselves hard and drove a little too long. We ended the night by driving through some of the most magnificent looking mountains in the dead of night. After a day of driving, we were exhausted; the roads were winding, steep and covered in a thick layer of ice. We made it safely but it was worrying. From there, we decided to shorten the amount of driving time for each day and make it a little easier.
The final section of this journey included some of the most breathtaking scenery and wildlife. Not only were we driving through mountain ranges like nothing I had seen before but we were amazed to see herds of bison along the road, mountain goats on the cliffs, as well as countless moose and caribou in different areas along the way.
If you’re considering this drive, I highly recommend that you stop at Liard Hot Springs. I passed by on a snowy day and didn’t think we would end up going in but figured it was a decent place for a stop and to walk the dogs. When we got to the springs, it was so clear and beautiful I couldn't resist and ended up just jumping in. It was definitely one of the highlights of the entire trip and so refreshing and relaxing during a long day of driving.
All in all, my road trip was an exhilarating, empowering and life changing experience. I recommend it to anyone that has the means to do it, whether it’s the entire cross country trip or just driving the Alcan through Canada.
Do your research. Make sure you have emergency plans and supplies, because you never know what could go wrong. But if you’re undecided on whether to drive or fly, I want you to know that it is absolutely possible to drive to Alaska and I hope my experience might provide you the confidence to give it a try.
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.
By Zak Mitchell, FNSB Library '19-20
Beginning in January 2020, two recipients will receive a Library Foundation scholarship that completely pays for GED education at the Literacy Council of Alaska. The award will be offered biannually.
If you or someone you know are interested, please contact Zakeya Mitchell at email@example.com.
By Zak Mitchell, FNSB Library '19-20
I am currently an AmeriCorps VISTA serving in the Interior here in Fairbanks, Alaska. Myself and the other 5 VISTAs were invited to Los Angeles, California for an all-expenses paid In-Service Training for 3 ½ days, food included.
Wahoo! I’ll admit that invitation didn’t catch my attention until they mentioned food. Now I’m dedicated to the cause because they have showed me they are dedicated to my appetite.
Day 1 : Salutations
I arrived at LAX around 4ish, I don’t believe in checking luggage for trips that last less than 2 weeks so I carried all of my belongings. I got to the hotel roughly 15 minutes away from the airport and checked in. I went to my room with the intention to relax, but was startled by my roommate taking a shower so I just put my things down and went wandering about looking for my cohort friends. I couldn’t find them, so I sat at a table full of strangers. All of us were from someplace different but found much common ground when we gathered the courage to talk to one another.
Day 2: Making the Most of Your VISTA Service
Training began promptly at 8:30 am, the only bummer was, we weren’t allowed to take breakfast out of the dining hall. My newly acquainted roommate and I obviously overslept and rushed downstairs to munch on a warm meal as quickly as possible.
They separated us into groups based on colors predesignated on our name tags; I was in the red group. Of course I was: I’m bold, daring, radiant, primary - pun intended. [Insert laughter here.] Pardon me while I gas myself up.
Our first class of the day was ‘Making the Most of Your VISTA Service’.
Day 3 : Serve and Thrive: Resilience as a VISTA
We were asked to write three words to describe ourselves on the first day. My first word was sensitive. When people meet me, they develop a synopsis based on the way I dress, my nonverbal communication and word choice in conversation, if they can catch me speaking. These things help them postulate who they think I am. It is rare that someone is 100% accurate, and most people never gather how empathetic I am until a koala is burned in an Austrailian forest fire and they see me crying at my desk. Nevertheless, as an empath I’ve had to learn the hard lesson of exercising emotional boundaries.
This class, lead by a wonderful woman named Shoshanna, taught us techniques to prevent what many experience at the DMV called compassion fatigue. It’s when someone is in a position to assist another, but does not appear to have any empathy in an environment where empathy should be abundant. I am certain we have all experienced a person who has been anything but compassionate about a situation we thought was dire. It doesn’t feel good, and without properly separating yourself from your clients or your taxing daily tasks, anyone can be lead down a road of being unapologetically indifferent.
So, how is that prevented? Take a walk, practice deep breathing exercises, punch a gnome, anything positive that relieves the stress.
Day 4 : Last Day of Training
I am always sad when something is over. Each moment feels like water rising until I’m completely engulfed and there is no more air to gasp. I guess I’m a little anxious when change is lurking. And our last day was everything I expected, sappy, in a good way. Acknowledgements and final remarks about the days prior, moments where we shared our thoughts in conjunction with our expectations on the first day. Goodbyes.
My philosophy is when good people with common denominators get together, it somehow feels familiar and that should be embraced. I embraced it; and I have yet to regret that choice.