"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!
Caitlin served as a community outreach volunteer at the Fairbanks Children's Museum from February 2021 to December 2021. Throughout her time there, Caitlin was able to work alongside museum staff to continue providing quality educational & outreach opportunities to Fairbanks families, even in the middle of a global pandemic which presented many challenges. She ended her service time at the museum inspired by the unique and resilient Fairbanks community, as well as with a feeling of gratitude for her time spent at the Fairbanks Children's Museum with the amazing team of people there who are always dreaming up big dreams for the families of Fairbanks. Caitlin has relocated to Denver, CO where she has started a new position at the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development.
"Caitlin showed up at the Museum not knowing what was in store, but ready to flex and support Museum operations in any way. Turns out she has an eye for photography, social media, and outreach. She brought her kind and friendly personality to Fairbanks families and we truly did not want her to leave! When I got the call for a reference for her new position in Colorado I was able to say "if you weren't taking her, we'd be begging her to stay!" We are so grateful for the impact Caitlin had on the Fairbanks Children's Museum, and we continue to feel that impact in her absence!"
- Meredith Maple-Gitter, Executive Director, Fairbanks Children's Museum
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!
I am very thankful for my experience at the Noel Wien library! It has given me more community outreach skills. This experience has given me more of an appreciation for the Fairbanks community and the work the library is doing to support the community. Special thank you to all the library staff who always were so friendly to me and offered ideas, especially to Melissa Harter. I am so proud to be part of the work that our library is doing, which is so vital to our community during the time of coivd. Thank you! Gracias!
The library is a challenge in the best of times. It is a feast or famine situation, and our VISTAS need to be self-sufficient and go-getters to make the most of this placement. Stephen is a shining example of the perfect fit for our mission. From the beginning he was very open minded and willing to adapt to our ways. His arrival during COVID added complicating factors to his year here, but still he persisted in moving projects forward. Always willing to help and do what is necessary, Stephen has been a truly positive force for our staff. With his friendly nature and can-do attitude, he immediately fit in and was accepted as one of our own. His contributions to our programs are many. He is very well liked, and he will sorely be missed, but we wish him all the best in his new adventures!"
Tessa served at the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District from August 31, 2020, until August 30, 2021. Throughout the year, Tessa was able to immerse herself in FSWCD outreach events, food policy groups, and natural resources education. She recruited a community-led advisory council, pursued integral partnerships with the Fairbanks Community Food Bank, successfully wrote a grant to support Community Gardens in Fairbanks, and conducted soil samples and soil health workshops at multiple gardens throughout the summer. Tessa will continue to support food security in Fairbanks through her work on an urban agriculture conservation grant as a Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District employee.
Tessa was a complete dream of a VISTA. She started with a quarantined two weeks but worked and researched the whole time. When she started we just learned that we received the large USDA grant and she was raring to go with ideas and setting the tone for the grant process. She dove right into the project head first and was my right hand help throughout the whole process of getting everything set up and structured. I don't think I could have survived the process without her help. She was always flexible, working through the hills and valleys, sometimes deep valleys, of this enormous project with a smile on her face the whole time. Her professionalism and super attitude was noted by so many that we worked and connected with during her service. She was always willing to help and learn new skills at the office. She was an integral part of our FSWCD team all year. I'm so happy that she chose us and we are so happy to have been a part of her VISTA experience. She is truly amazing."
We were so pleased to have Mikayla Riley join our Reentry Coalition in August 2020. Her Big Audacious project was to take all the Reentry data from the Fairbanks Reentry Case manager since 2017 and transform it into meaningful data, with charts and graphs. She came during a time of COVID-19 and program transition, hard for anyone but she made the adjustments, even working from her small apartment with grace and willingness. She has a passion for justice and tender heart. Mikayla, we wish you all the best with your coming adventures."
Mikayla and I only had a month or two to work together but in that short time, she did her best to bring me up to speed as the new Reentry Coalition Coordinator. Although there are several impactful contributions that Mikayla made to the Reentry Coalition, I am most grateful for her hard work and strong organizational skills as it relates to the Reentry Simulation that she spearheaded. Mikayla created a timeline, pulled the right people together for consultation, sent out invitations, ordered food, reserved the venue space, and did what she could to make sure the event would be a success! In the end, the Simulation program got postponed due to COVID-19 concerns but when the event does successfully take place in a few months, it will still be because of the groundwork Mikayla did. Thank you Mikayal for putting together this program / event but also for all that you did to help build capacity toward our mission of serving reentrants.