Denise Lavoie, VISTA Team Leader
Kenzley moved to Fairbanks with lots of excitement, both for the VISTA position and opportunities within the state and community. All of her expectations were exceeded! During her year as VISTA Leader, Kenzley recruited 19 new full year and summer associate VISTAs, supported them through any challenges they encountered (thank you COVID…), and celebrated their many accomplishments. Her favorite VISTA memories include planning and implementing the first annual Kids Literacy Farmers Market and being inspired by the motivation, energy, and kindness of the VISTA cohort. Kenzley has fallen in love with Fairbanks and is excited to stick around as the Energy Justice Organizer with the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition.
Kenzley Defler is the ultimate professional! She excelled in every aspect of the VISTA Leader position. She built upon previous VISTA Leaders’ work and blazed a path for future VISTA Leaders. Kenzley successfully advocated for two expansions to the program resulting in the program growing to 16 full year VISTA positions, 14 Summer Associates, and the Team Leader position. I don’t think the VISTA program has ever been this large in Fairbanks and it’s due to Kenzley’s efforts. Growing the program was just a small part of what Kenzley did. Her main contribution was the impeccable leadership she gave to the VISTAs. She was a mentor, fierce advocate, active listener, and a role model to the VISTAs. Everybody respected and appreciated Kenzley for her leadership. Under her leadership the VISTA team became one of the most cohesive, drama free, and productive VISTA year groups I have ever seen. Kenzley is amazing and I am excited to see what her future holds!
Ashton served as VISTA Team Leader from April 10, 2019 to October 8, 2020. She recruited 32 VISTAs for both full-year and summer terms and took pride in mentoring them through their service. She also created the Fairbanks VISTA website, Facebook page and Alaska AmeriCorps Facebook group. Ashton moved to Fairbanks in March 2018 to serve as the public library's first VISTA and fell in love with the community. She appreciates all the opportunities Fairbanks and Alaska opened up to her. Her next adventure takes her to the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i as the County's Homeless Coordinator.
It is amazing what Ashton can accomplish in just 18 months! Before Ashton started, I had serious concerns about the VISTA program. The City had just taken over the sponsorship and at the same time AmeriCorps was going through a significant restructuring. Because the sponsorship had changed, we had to recruit for all 11 full year VISTA positions and the 18 Summer Associate positions. The Summer Associate recruitment began about a week after Ashton started as the VISTA Leader and our recruitment period was only two weeks long. To make matters even more challenging, our local program didn’t have a website or dedicated social media presence yet. Within a few weeks of accepting the VISTA Leader position, Ashton created the AmeriCorps VISTA of Fairbanks website and social media pages, established our local VISTA office, and recruited for 14 of the 18 Summer Associate positions. After those first couple weeks, I no longer worried about our VISTA program.
Ashton, thank you for your service to our community. You helped our local program with your dedication, problem-solving, and leadership skills. We can't wait to see the great work you'll continue to do in Hawaii!
"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.
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.
Mike Reiderer served as Fairbanks' VISTA Leader in 1995 as one of the first in the position. He developed a youth employment program at Fairbanks Neighborhood Housing Services through Southside Community Center. Read the Q&A below about what Fairbanks & AmeriCorps VISTA means to him.
Q: Where did you move to Fairbanks from?
A: I applied to VISTA during my senior year at St. Michael’s College in Vermont with the goal of going to Alaska. In the end, I accepted a position just outside of Seattle and served a year there before deciding to serve a second year and move to Fairbanks.
Q: Why did you choose to serve in Fairbanks?
A: I had wanted to go to Alaska most of my life. Fairbanks seemed like the perfect balance of civilization and wilderness. When looking at positions available at the time, I was also excited about the opportunity to work on developing youth employment programs in the agency I applied to.
Q: What was your first impression of Fairbanks?
A: I took the ferry from Bellingham with a friend that was heading to Nome to serve in VISTA. It was an amazing trip and beautiful drive from Haines to Fairbanks. It was mid-March and still cold and snowy which was a big difference from Seattle and even the inside passage, but I was never really worried about the weather, the extreme cold was something I was looking forward to.
Moving into a small studio apartment in town did leave me a little disappointed in my surroundings but within a few months I had moved into a cabin near Ester and felt like I finally arrived in Alaska.
The people were wonderful right off the bat and very helpful with getting settled in. I came to find a wonderful community in Fairbanks and remain in contact with many people that I consider closer to family than friends.
Q: Where do you live now?
A: I left Fairbanks in 1999 to move back to VT with my then-fiancé. We now live in a small town with fewer than 300 people with our 3 kids, 2 dogs, cat and rabbit. I work for a non-profit public transportation company with a mission to support economic, social and environmental health of the communities we serve.
Q: Has VISTA affected your life since you served? If so, how?
A: Serving in VISTA has affected my life in more ways than I can even say.
I had the opportunity to work with people who became wonderful mentors that shaped my professional life. I was able to develop “real world” skills coming out of college and gain valuable work experience. I was able to gain a level of understanding cultural differences through first hand experience and similarly have some experience with what it is like to live in poverty. Perhaps most of all, VISTA helped, or maybe forced, me to develop a volunteer mindset, a first hand knowledge of how important it is to help and to work together to meet needs in our community.
Q: Would you encourage others to serve with VISTA? Why or why not?
A: Absolutely! From the perspective of a college graduate who joined at the age of 23, VISTA service provided a “next level” of education after college where one can still receive guidance and support but is also is thrust into “real world” experiences.
Q: What was your favorite thing about Fairbanks, Alaska, VISTA or all three?
A: It sounds a little cliche, but for all three I’d have to say the people. In Fairbanks I was able to surround myself with a wonderful community of friends, many of whom became more like family.
For as large an area as Alaska covers, the whole state had a feel of a small town, where I could be hundreds of miles from home in Anchorage or Juneau yet still run into friends as though we were at the Fred Meyer (boy, do I miss Fred Meyer!).
And, as a VISTA Leader, having the opportunity to travel throughout the Pacific region and to Washington DC I got to meet so many people, professionals and volunteers alike, in the CNCS that had so much dedication to fighting poverty in the communities they served that were truly inspirational.
Of course, not everything about my experience in two years of serving in VISTA was perfect. Without a doubt there were many challenges and struggles along the way. But taking the experience as a whole and taking this opportunity to think back on my service 25 years later, I can’t imagine a better path I could have taken and I appreciate all that I have gained from those years of service.
Thank you, Mike, for your answers and your service!
AGENCY: ACCESS ALASKA
AGENCY: ALASKA COALITION ON HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS
AGENCY: BOYS & GIRLS CLUB
AGENCY: BREAD LINE INC.
AGENCY: FAIRBANKS SENIOR CENTER
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: FOUNDATION HEALTH PARTNERS
AGENCY: INTERIOR ALASKA CENTER FOR NON-VIOLENT LIVING
AGENCY: JP JONES CENTER
AGENCY: LION'S DEN
AGENCY: LOVE INC
AGENCY: MORRIS THOMPSON CENTER
AGENCY: NORTHERN HOPE CENTER
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: CAITLIN RAMPY
AUTHOR: HALLE GENSLER
AUTHOR: KELSEY SNYDER
AUTHOR: KENZLEY DEFLER
AUTHOR: LEAH SHAFFER
AUTHOR: MEAGAN SCHEER
AUTHOR: MIKAYLA RILEY
AUTHOR: MIKE REIDERER
AUTHOR: SHEA BRENNEMAN
AUTHOR: STEPHEN GREENLAW
AUTHOR: TARYN WILLIAMS
AUTHOR: TESSA HOLMES
AUTHOR: VICKI SLOBODYANIK
AUTHOR: ZAK MITCHELL
Child Tax Credit
EVENT: COMMUNITY NEEDS DRIVE
EVENT: IN-SERVICE TRAINING
EVENT: PROJECT HOMELESS CONNECT
FAIRBANKS DAILY NEWS MINER
FRED MEYER REWARDS
IN THE NEWS
OFFICIAL CNCS STATEMENT
RADIO 970 KFBX
SERVICE YEAR BEGINNINGS
TOPIC: GRANT WRITING
YEAR LONG VISTA