AmeriCorps Week: Stories of Service

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The Story of Alyssa, Ashley, Emily and their Independent Service Project

by Cassidy Francik, VHCB AmeriCorps LeaderAmeriCorps Week

Burlington ISP Garden ProjectAt the beginning of service, members raise their right hand and recite the AmeriCorps pledge, vowing “to make our people safer, smarter and healthier,” and “to strengthen our communities.” Most members do not join an AmeriCorps program expecting a walk through the garden of community service. They join seeking a challenge, with hopes of an inspiring experience.

In an effort to inspire members to make the most of their service term, Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB) AmeriCorps challenges its members to complete an Independent Service Project. On paper, it’s quite a simple idea: serve ten to twenty hours outside of your host site for the betterment of your community. When placed into the minds of the members, the idea expands and the possibilities seem endless.

But, they must end, in ten to twenty hours to be exact. That’s why three members teamed up to tackle one large project that embodies everything AmeriCorps strives for.

Ashley & Emily in the Community GardenAlyssa, Ashley and Emily team up half-way though the year after discovering that they all planned on completing their project in the garden. In late February and early March, the ladies began their “service garden” by discussing who had what knowledge and access to goods and services, who wanted to grow what, and finally what were they going to do with their crops. None of them would boast to being a master gardener. But all will admit that they could not have done project alone.

As springtime approached, the three ladies stock piled their seeds, including packets from their own private stashes as well as from donations. In fact, most of what went into the project, goods and services alike, was from the community. Alyssa, Ashley and Emily used what ties they could conjure up to receive help and make this a garden for the community, from the community. the Winooski Valley Park District (WVPD) and the Burlington Parks and Recreation department donated one “Community Gardens” plot on the Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington, VT. Green Mountain Compost loaded up a truck borrowed from Emily's friend and dropped off more than the girls could handle, 2 cubic yards of compost. Bella Farms donated herb starts. Edmunds Elementary hosted a seed drive and gave all 50 seed packets collected to the garden. And, finally, the Sustainable Outdoor Leadership and Education (SOLE) summer camp of WVPD and All Scripts program of WVPD donated time, care and love for when the team of three needed a little extra help.Community Garden Donation

The garden is a (still) glowing and growing example of how a community can come together to give back. At this point in harvest, the garden has produced over 50lbs of leafy greens and vegetables, all of which was donated to the Chittenden County Food Shelf on North Winooski Avenue in Burlington. And, the harvest season isn’t over yet.

Community Garden FinalNot only did this garden serve as a donation source for the local food shelf, but also as a teaching (for some, learning) garden. Alyssa, Ashley and Emily learned more than just gardening techniques. Being part of a community garden program innately introduced them to varying populations and demographics. They were able to learn from and teach complete strangers who simply shared similar interests and passions (sound familiar, AmeriCorps members?). In fact, Ashley was able to use the garden in her educational program at the Ethan Allen Homestead.

Ten to twenty hours can be served in a variety of caring ways. Gardens are not for everyone. However, if you focus on what interests you, you’ll be sure to find a friend who can help expand your efforts just like Alyssa, Ashley and Emily did. You may even stumble upon a whole web of friends who can help you “get things done,” as the AmeriCorps pledge proudly states.

 Originally posted August, 2015


VHCB AmeriCorps is a program of the
Vermont Housing & Conservation Board.

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