Story of the Week
Story of The Week 8/9/2017
Voices of Home
By Alicia Cerasoli, Assisted Living Coordinator with Cathedral Square
This past winter, I received an email from Laura Wilson, Cathedral Square’s Director of Operations, suggesting I connect with another AmeriCorps member. I soon learned that through their service with the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, AmeriCorps VISTA members, Corrine Yonce and Luke Dodge were collaborating on a project titled “Voices of Home” to spread the importance of affordable housing. In their words, “Voices of Home is a storysharing project dedicated to promoting the voices of Vermont’s affordable housing residents. We aim to erase the stigma surrounding affordable housing communities and educate our friends and neighbors about the incredible importance of stable, reasonably priced homes in helping people live fulfilling lives. These stories are those of your own communities and the people who live in them.”
While the two had been interviewing any individual in the Burlington area about their experience living in affordable housing, after meeting with Corrine and Luke, I learned that they were in search of a community where they could illustrate a dynamic picture of the importance and the power of a functioning affordable housing community. Due to South Burlington Community Housing’s one of a kind design, as well as it’s size of just ten residents, we felt SBCH was a seamless fit within the scope of Voices of Home.
After pitching the project to residents at a community dinner, four residents expressed great interest in participating and interviews were arranged. After meeting with Corrine and Luke, these four residents were able to share their journey to SBCH, each illustrated their life at SBCH as well as what their lives may look like without access to affordable housing.
A month after interviewing these residents, Corrine and Luke joined us for a community dinner- the best attended event at SBCH. Along with them, Corrine and Luke toted enormous, and touching, portraits of the four residents. As we congregated in our conference room for the official reveal, smiles filled the room. Corrine had absolutely captured these four residents seamlessly. Corrine and Luke hit play on an audio montage of the SBCH interviews and the room was mesmerized.
To learn more about Voices of Home and hear our residents’ interviews, head to: http://www.vtaffordablehousing.org/voices/?page_id=370
Story of The Week 8/1/2017
A Long History of Service on The Long Trail
By Lorne Currier, Outreach and Field Coordinator with The Green Mountain Club
James P. Taylor had a huge lightbulb hovering over his head, 107 years ago, when the vision of the Long Trail came to him atop the summit of Stratton Mountain. Born in 1872, James P. Taylor holds the fame for being the creator of the Long Trail and the progenitor of the Appalachian Trail. With an aim to “Make the Vermont mountains play a larger part in the life of the people,” Taylor rounded up a cadre of Vermonters who named themselves the Green Mountain Club. From border to border, Massachusetts to Canada, the 272 mile Long Trail was completed by 1930 and the Long Trail would go on to become the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States.
With the creation of the Long Trail Taylor established more than just a hiking trail. He established a community of passionate and driven volunteers, a community which still exists much the same here in 2017. Imagine the 1910 volunteers disappearing into the brush, sporting full wool with axes and crosscut saws in hand. Much of the same happens in this millenia. Time after time GMC volunteers head out into the woods to accomplish trail work on the Long Trail system.
As the VHCB AmeriCorps Outreach and Field Coordinator with the Green Mountain Club I am responsible for coordinating volunteer service trips with group users on the Long Trail System. From a 4th grade Waldorf School to Vermont’s best known producer of ice cream, the goal for every volunteer group is to “Make the Vermont mountains play a larger part in the life of the people.” I thoroughly enjoy being the one that provides the medium for that experience and it’s one of my favorite parts of my job.
June 29th, 2017 was one of the most meaningful volunteer service projects I’ve been on yet. Who’d have thought a group of 5 Real Estate Investment Advisors would be so good at trail maintenance? After meeting at Underhill State Park at 9AM we proceeded up the Sunset Ridge Trail, a 2.1 mile trail which ascends the west side of Mt. Mansfield. Our project was cleaning trail drainages and “brushing-in” social trails. When the trail diverges around a beautiful rock staircase, shortcuts up a switchback or disappears into the woods to avoid a muddy patch of trail a social trail is created. This widening and expansion of the trail treadway has a negative impact on trail erosion, soil stability and overall the local ecological system. Obscuring social trails with brush and forest debris helps to direct hikers onto the intended trail and prevent further negative impacts.
The 5 volunteers did an excellent job and developed a true respect and understanding for the efforts that go into trail design and maintenance. As Real Estate Investors they showed a strong appreciation for landscape health and community development, two principles which have direct connections to real estate and trail building. Overall, they were an amazing group of volunteers, connecting with the trail the same as it was done 107 years ago.
Story of The Week 7/10/2017
By Alex Stephenson, Native Plant Nursery Grower with Poultney Metowee Natural Resources Conservation District
At the outset of my term of service I was unsure as to how the whole thing was going to pan out, and I have been surprised by one thing in particular: the degree to which growing trees can connect you to other people. Beginning my service as the head of the day-to-day operations of a small tree nursery, I knew generally what to expect: a lot of weeding, a lot of pruning, and small obsessions over the tiny nuances of achieving optimal plant growth and maximum productivity. However, I soon came to realize that, though those may be the primary concerns of a non-profit nursery, they were certainly not the only ones.
As I have since learned, the nursery serves as a hub of sorts. For our elderly and special needs volunteers, it is a place to come for candid, honest conversation, the feeling of contributing to some positive effort, and the pleasure of getting one’s hands dirty. For Green Mountain College, it is a springboard for learning and future plans for conservation projects; students and faculty stop by to marvel at the trees, ask about the mission of the nursery, and (I think) leave with a clearer picture of the resources (like the nursery) that exist in the area for helping them achieve ecological sustainability in their personal and professional lives (we have collaborated with GMC professor Jim Graves to reclaim the lawns of GMC and establish an all native arboretum, for instance).
Perhaps most excitingly and most recently, the nursery has also become a place for Upward Bound students to do some honest work and get a glimpse into the post-graduate world that hopefully awaits them. I am confident that the nursery has already shown them that the working world can be a fun and educational one.
That the nursery was an organization which provides natural capital for ecological restoration, I knew going in to this. However, thus far, I believe that the much more rewarding realization has been that it is a rather supplier of social capital as well.
Story of The Week 4/24/2017
How The H.E.A.T Squad Makes An Impact
By Liam Fagan, H.E.A.T. Squad Community Engagement Specialist
As HEAT Squad continues to expand and do our best to tell our story, I have been collecting new customer testimonials. I knew these customers were all happy, willing customers, but I was surprised at how glad customers were to simply have someone to offer guidance through the weatherization process.
There are weatherization programs around the state to help low-income homeowners make necessary repairs, but it is otherwise tough to know what your home needs, who can perform the work, and how to access the available rebates and incentives from Efficiency Vermont. Getting a HEAT Squad Energy audit gives homeowners an unbiased source of information – as we do not perform any of our recommended follow up work, homeowners can trust that we are not trying to sell them on projects that maximize a profit. Instead, we help homeowners understand what is going to be the best “bang for their buck,” and what will lead to the most comfortable home possible. From there, we recommend local contractors for these projects, and are available for help and answer questions along the way.
Once work is completed, we come back to the home to perform a second blower door test, the results of which we send to Efficiency Vermont to get the homeowner access to rebates and incentives. Customers expressed that having a set path to follow made the process of weatherization much less daunting, and knowing that the HEAT Squad was available every step of the way for assistance was comforting. Simply understanding what it means to get your home weatherized is often the biggest barrier in doing so, which prevents homeowners not only from saving money but also from lowering their environmental impact and increasing their comfort.
I was glad to hear that HEAT Squad has made a positive impact on their lives, and that my role in helping them through the process was appreciated as well.
Story of The Week 4/3/2017
By Justin Barton, Housing Support Specialist with the Committee On Temporary Shelter
A couple without permanent housing, who had been in COTS’ shelter for 2 years, needed help with their security deposit. After I presented their case at to the Housing Review Team, they were approved for help. When I called to break the news to them, one of them started crying with joy while on the phone. The couple now has stable housing for the first time in 3-4 years.
A refugee from a Middle Eastern country, who is a single parent, came in because they knew that they were going to fall behind in their rent. After having heard that their cousin was murdered by a terrorist group, the individual punched a wall in grief and broke several fingers. This person works as a barber and this meant that they would be out of work and unable to pay rent for several months. After I presented their case at a COTS’ private funding meeting, COTS decided to provide a short-term rent subsidy to this individual and their family. This meant that they would be able to maintain their housing while their hand healed and go back to work when the healing process finished.
Stories like this happen all of the time in my job and it’s heartwarming to know that you helped people, in a small way, to obtain and maintain stable housing.
Story of The Week 3/30/2017
By Liz Znamierowski, HVC Resident Services Member with Housing Vermont
Because my service term thus far has been focused mainly on a quantitative, data driven approach–I haven’t had the chance to interact personally with the individuals who will hopefully be receiving the benefits of our project in the long term. Nevertheless, I have made many valuable (and sometimes surprising!) connections. These connections remind me and reinforce constantly that the world of service, and particularly that of affordable housing, is intertwined in the most unique of ways.
In early December I was able to visit one of the Housing Vermont job sites that is currently under construction – 95 North Ave. in Burlington– the site of the new Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS) building. While there I got to walk around the site with a Senior Project Manager–observing the progress made so far, and envisioning the completed space. I met several members of the construction staff along with the COTS facilities director.
After introducing myself to the facilities director, I mentioned my AmeriCorps project through Housing Vermont. To my surprise, the facilities director said that prior to working in his current position; he had worked in eviction prevention–the service role that I am in! We had the chance to talk generally about his experience in the role and he offered me some valuable advice for starting out. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with and email with the facilities director, and his excitement and encouragement about the eviction prevention initiative at Housing Vermont has been wonderful.
Story of The Week 3/21/2017
By Heidi Underbakke, Home Repair and Weatherization Assistant at COVER Home Repair
Recently a senior couple, Gus and Colleen, had contacted COVER to assist with a roof repair. My supervisor deemed this project unsuitable for our capacity. He did ask to look around the home to see if there were any other projects we could assist with. A few questions about their energy bills, and a quick look around the interior and basement, and they were on our weatherization list.
I met Gus in November, when I arrived with a supervisor and four volunteers to weatherize their home. We planned to seal up cracks and a bulkhead door and lay a vapor barrier in the basement, install window kits on all the windows, and switch out their inefficient light bulbs with LED bulbs. Colleen was at work all day, but I spent a lot of time in the same room that Gus was in and had a chance to chat with him and get to know him better. He was feeling under the weather, and also had some mobility issues and a lot of memory problems, the latter of which seemed to bother him the most.
Once we started talking about where we were from and how we ended up in the Upper Valley, we quickly discovered that we had both eaten at the Canteen in Ottumwa, Iowa. I’m from Iowa and have a good friend who lives in Ottumwa, a pretty small town south of Des Moines. The Canteen is the local burger-joint/hangout. Gus had lived in Ottumwa for a few years with his family. Discovering this small connection was such a wonderful surprise for both of us, and as I installed 8 window kits, Gus and I shared memories of Iowa and tales of other life experiences. We reveled in finding someone else who appreciates corny jokes and bad puns. Gus cooked a classic goulash for our crew for lunch. He was very proud of this very midwestern dish, and clearly enjoyed being able to provide for us while we were serving him.
Throughout the day, I noticed him struggling less with his memory and focusing less on his ailments. This is a common theme with the homeowners that I work with every week. So many of them are disabled, unemployed, and/or facing other perils that really limit and consume their lives. Having a chance to speak with these people and talk with them about other subjects–asking them about who they are–has such a visible positive impact. It also is a fringe benefit for me; I find providing the service of conversation quite fulfilling. The stories I hear and the personal connections I make, where total strangers are sharing details about our lives, have really helped me find a sense of place in my role as an Americorps Member, as a resident in my community, and (not to be to philosophical) in my life and story.
Colleen and I stayed in contact throughout the day. She had been nervous about not being able to help manage the projects, so I kept her updated with tasks we completed and questions we had and Gus and I kept a list of things to talk with her about. She arrived home just before we headed out. I can imagine that arriving home after a bunch of strangers had been traipsing around your home all day would be nerve-wracking, but she was gracious and grateful for our work. Gus and I had a warm goodbye, and he lamented not living closer so we could grill out together occasionally. I think we both felt growth that day through the connection we made.
Of course, the weatherization tasks we completed did return a great improvement when we finalized the blower door test. Colleen turned off their furnace for the first time since the cold weather arrived because it was actually reaching and maintaining comfortable temperatures. I can imagine that they’ve noticed a lot of savings and a noticeable change in comfort in the weeks since.
It was a pretty good day.
Story of The Week 3/15/2017
The Art of Inclusion
By Bianca Zanella, Revitalization and Homeownership Community Engagement Specialist with NeighborWorks of Western Vermont
As part of the final chapter of planning for the “We Are One Rutland” book project, begun by Alis Headlam, NeighborWorks of Western Vermont collaborated with the Boys & Girls Club of Rutland County for youth art to be included in the book. This book was an adventure into the diversity surrounding us and how it enriches our community for the youth that created it. So, it seemed appropriate for a collage-image that was created by youngsters to be included in the final chapter.
Setting up the art project for little kids at the Boys & Girls Club was so much fun, and we felt ready to craft with paper, scissors, glue, glitter, magazines, and markers on hand. However, when the kids arrived in the art room, we quickly realized that it was going to take a lot of effort to direct their creativity. Seeing how excited the children got before we even told them our goals was inspiring – at such a young age they were willing to experiment with different mediums and have fun with such simple materials. The smiles at the glitter glue warmed my heart immensely!
When we finally got control of the situation and explained our task at hand, the kids started sharing their experiences and definitions of “diversity.” Hearing from each of these kids about what diversity meant to them was helpful to me to understand and remember how children interact with the world. Often, they came to the conclusion that diversity meant “people of different skin colors/race were hanging around together.” We explained that it meant much more than racial differences, and the importance of inclusion was immense. It felt like we, as facilitators, were empowering these youth for a better and accepting future generation.
By meeting these little kids from all over the city and helping them cut out magazine pictures to collage their “story of diversity,” I felt like I was making a difference, that I was teaching them about something important, and that, hopefully, they were taking away a noteworthy lesson.
Story of The Week 3/7/2017
For the Bats
By Dylan O’Leary, Field Assistant and Volunteer Coordinator with The Nature Conservancy
During the summer of 2015 I tore my ACL playing soccer. As an aspiring field biologist and avid outdoor adventure enthusiast, this was more of an emotional/mental injury than physical. Unable to hike or participate in any physical activity more intense than trekking to the bathroom, I decided to wage war against my situation. The problem was simple: how could I still make a difference and contribute to conservation efforts from the confines of my couch? Restless beyond belief, I racked my brain (and google) for a project that could save me from this cushiony hell…
One animal in particular had been on my mind for some time: bats! Since 2006, it’s been estimated that bat populations in the northeast have declined by nearly 80%. is the cold hearted perpetrator; thriving in cooler climates, this fungus has no problem growing on the skin of hibernating bats causing them to wake up and burn vital fat reserves. The emaciated bats starve and freeze to death as they try in vain to hunt for insects in the dead icy world they were never meant to see. It is suspected that humans transported the fungus from Eurasia and now it has spread to 30 US states and 5 Canadian Provinces. These amazing flying mammals need all the help they can get!
But how? Examining the life history of bats, we know that they hibernate in large caves called hibernacula during winter months and then distribute across the land to their summer roosting areas where they feed on insects and raise their pups. Making sure these bats have nice summer homes where they can grow fat and happy before the long winter sleep is critical to their success. But what is a suitable bat home and how can you make one? Luckily, Bat Conservation International (batcon.org) has blueprints for all your bat home needs! I ended up building two 4 chambered nursery style bat houses from scrap wood I found in the garage. Great but, now where do I put them?
Fast forward a year to October 2016. It was my second exciting month of service with VHCB AmeriCorps and my host site, The Nature Conservancy, was providing me with all kinds of awesome opportunities. One afternoon, my site supervisor forwards an email from the VT Fish and Wildlife small mammals biologist who is asking for last minute help with some bat trapping later that night. It was an hour away from quitting time and I was looking forward to some post work goofing off, but this was a chance to see the furry little dudes up close and personal!
During the five hours of trapping, the biologist and I got to talking about a covered bridge in Cornwall that had burned down and how it was the roosting site for ~200 bats. She said they had just installed a bat house (!!!) and I of course chimed in about my own bat condominiums. Turns out, the area around the bridge is prime habitat for bats and the more houses, the merrier. But it gets even better…this is on The Nature Conservancy’s property!
A month later, I had coordinated with VT Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy and the VT Agency of Transportation (who generously donated a 16’ post and volunteered two staff to help with the effort) to install the two new bat condos, with a total housing potential of 400 bats. I was elated! Initiated by the negative energy of an injury but channeled into the hope of conservation, this small effort was an awesome and meaningful journey for me. I think there can sometimes be a serious disconnect between society and the natural world; it’s certainly not always easy or clear what we as everyday citizens can do to help. I am no exception. But when I need some motivation, I just remember what Dr. Seuss once wrote: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” I can’t wait to see who shows up in the springtime!
Story of The Week 2/27/2016
Seeing The Forest for The Trees
By Hunter Trowbridge, Native Plant Land Manager with Green Mountain College
When I began this position, I was shown the beginning stages of an application for a program called Tree Campus USA, started by the Arbor Day Foundation. This program helps schools to integrate native plants into their campus lands and includes a solid commitment to properly caring for campus trees. The application process is long and technical, and required a lot of research, planning, discussion, and revision. The process also included the formation of a tree care committee, and coordination with the land use committee, so there were a lot of moving parts to organize.
There was also a service project that benefits trees as a requirement to be eligible, so I organized and lead a glossy buckthorn pull: an invasive plant which threatens early successional forest ecosystems. Towards the end of the college semester, my supervisor and I were able to work collaboratively and effectively to complete the application process, and the application was submitted before the deadline on December 28th.
I really believe in the Tree Campus USA program, because it establishes responsible parties and a sense of commitment to properly managing campus lands. The tree care plan we developed is also very open ended, and I was able to apply my degree in wildlife and conservation biology to the plan and present a document that helps to provide both aesthetic and habitat value. I put a lot of time and effort into making sure this plan got finished, reviewed, approved, and submitted on time, and I genuinely believe the campus lands will be better for it.
Stopping Fires Before They Start
By Haythem Basson, Sustainability Planning Coordinator at Windham and Windsor Housing Trust
During one of my home visits this quarter, a critical impact I had was resolving what could have been a potential catastrophic fire hazard – as an incandescent light bulb was found to have been pressed against an insulation-blanket layer wrapped around hot-water pipes in the basement. The light bulb was immediately removed and it was evident that the light bulb had at some point partially burnt through the insulation-blanket and left deep scorch marks and exposed insulation. The homeowner was elderly and unaware of the hazard the fixture presented. Moreover, that it could have led to a devastating fire in her basement – as the fixture was surrounded by flammable insulation blanket and abutting her wooden floor joist.
Story of The Week 2/6/2017
Becoming a Part of The Community
By Alicia Cerasoli, Assisted Living Coordinator at Cathedral Square
South Burlington Community Housing, or SBCH, is home to ten truly extraordinary individuals. Established in 2000 under Cathedral Square, SBCH was opened to meet the unique needs of adults who are leading independent lives with severe physical impairments. In this innovative style of living, residents enjoy the privacy of their own wheelchair accessible apartment, while having access to 24/7 medical care. South Burlington Community Housing provides dependable subsidized housing to individuals to ensure a healthy, caring and inclusive living environment for residents to call home.
As the first AmeriCorps member to serve at South Burlington Community Housing, my role is constantly evolving. I have jump started several activity opportunities for residents, offered outings for residents to become immersed in the Burlington community, hosted monthly dinners and tried to increase a sense of community among residents. The more I get to know residents; I increasingly feel a sense of connectivity and trust being built with each of them, creating unique relationships with each of them. Over the course of this past first quarter, I’ve been able to slowly, yet steadily, better understand the needs of the residents I work with.
In early December, my supervisor and I attended a storytelling workshop that was hosted by AmeriCorps. Our facilitator, Jason Frishman, eloquently taught us throughout the day-long session about the art of honoring and upholding the value of our organizations through storytelling. After leaving the workshop, both my supervisor and I were touched by his message and couldn’t help but think that the history of South Burlington Community Housing must be shared. Although South Burlington Community Housing is an extremely unique organization with a housing plan unlike any other in existence, I would guess that most Burlington community members are unaware of it. By contacting the prior executive director, residents and other key players in the establishment of South Burlington Community Housing, I look forward to unveiling the importance of this building that many residents have been able to call home.
Just last week, I sat down with a resident who has been living in South Burlington Community Housing since the day its doors opened. He sat on a committee of prospective residents prior to its existence and was able to give his feedback throughout the development phase. During our informal interview, we discussed highlights and challenges throughout the process of establishing the building, as well as his experience residing there currently. My final question for this resident was, “What do you see for the future of South Burlington Community Housing?” Without thinking twice, he responded saying, “Having people like you here a lot more.” This resident went on to explain that in his sixteen years of living at South Burlington Community Housing, he’s participated in more activities, outings and was more a part of the community in the past four months than ever before. Not that I didn’t feel my service was benefiting residents prior to this conversation, but something in that moment about this resident’s expression of appreciation impacted me on a different level.
Story of The Week 12/16/2016
Knowledge is Power!
By Mariel Brown-Fallon, Home Education Coordinator at Champlain Housing Trust
For most people, the idea of buying a home can be s cary. With so many moving parts—and what seems like an infinite number of experts that you have to rely on to get successfully through the process—it can seem intimidating, daunting, and really, really expensive. In Champlain Housing Trust’s Homebuyer Education class, CHT is able to give people all of the tools and information that they need to go out and make effective, informed decisions at every stage of their home buying journey.
This past weekend, I helped to teach a class of 14 prospective home buyers in Saint Albans about credit, lending, and how to grapple with the advantages and disadvantages that go along with being a home owner. For most, a straight-forward, comprehensive explanation of credit and financial literacy tools are all folks need to feel empowered and inspired to believe that they too can achieve the goal of home ownership. Giving people the information they need to navigate the financial world and avoid those who don’t play fair can make a huge difference in people’s home ownership trajectories. More specifically, taking some form of pre-purchase education makes home owners about 70% less likely to experience delinquency or foreclosure over the life of their mortgage.
One of the best parts of teaching these classes is experiencing the gratitude that people have after completing the courses—and this weekend was particularly special. After teaching my portion of the class, one couple came to thank me, said that they had met during their AmeriCorps service 10 years prior, and were excited about the possibility of buying a home with CHT. I told them I was happy to give back to former members, because I know down the line I will come into contact with members who will help me.
12/5/2016 Story of The Week
Inspired Work (or Service!)
By Aaron Heyerdahl
I was able to volunteer at a new home construction site for Habitat for Humanity. I served first through a service day with AmeriCorps, and then continued with my Independent Service Project. The house is being built to “Net Zero” standards, which means that the home will need minimal energy inputs, and will use no direct fossil fuels. I am inspired by this fantastic approach to using resources– including the environmental, economic, and human resources.
I think Habitat for Humanity’s philosophy of using community volunteers to support those in need is inspiring. I was able to use my background in construction, and experience with managing people, to help create an effective, fun environment on the days I served. For example, I kept a good and enthusiastic attitude even on the day that the foreman and I needed to move roughly ten tons of gravel over the course of the day.
11/28/2016 Story of The Week
Learning while teaching, Teaching while learning
By Phoebe Howe, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation Project Assistant
In the past quarter I have had the opportunity to speak with a number of students, both individually and in groups, about my work with Efficiency Vermont and the Mobile Home Replacement Program. Although relatively well-off high school and college students are definitely not our target audience for outreach and advocacy efforts, talking about the challenges facing mobile home residents, the benefits of zero-energy modular homes, and how our replacement program works has been a really enriching experience, both for me and for the students. I have become more skilled at tailoring my communication abilities to my audience and relating to students’ mindset, while the students have been exposed to a whole set of challenges and opportunities that they didn’t know existed in Vermont.
In particular, I think about one of the students, who is from London and the nephew of a co-worker. He wanted to shadow someone in our office for a week, so I took him to meetings and on visits to mobile home parks. He felt challenged by the dire living and financial situations that he was exposed to, and I felt challenged to answer his questions about how the conditions within our state and country created these situations in the first place.
Back at the office the enthusiasm and curiosity of some the college students interning at Efficiency Vermont for the summer was motivational, as was the relative indifference of others in its own way. Heading into my continued work with mobile home replacement, I look forward to engaging students as often and effectively as possible to offer our program fresh energy and contribute to their understanding of the social and environmental issues in our state.
11/21/2016 Story of The Week
The Power of Music and AmeriCorps
By John Capitanelli, Housing Vermont Connections Community Coordinator
The story begins when I went to one of our affordable housing developments to conduct surveys and collect data in Springfield. As I was approaching one of the affordable housing units, I heard the sound of the keys to a piano being hit.. I knocked on the door and the sound stopped. The father opened the door and I began to give my speech about the surveys and why we are doing them.
As I was talking, a little girl around the age of 9 years old ran up to me, grabbed my hand and began to smell it. Her father immediately told me that she was autistic and not to worry about her actions. The father was interested to participate in the survey and invited me into his house. Throughout the survey, the father was telling me about how his life is living with a daughter who is autistic, a wife with very bad anxiety, working as a night janitor, not having enough income to support his family, and so on. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He really opened up to me in a way that hit me so deep I wanted to cry. Yet, he didn’t have a bad attitude about it. He truly accepted his life and worked hard to support his family no matter what obstacle he faced.
After we talked and I finished the survey, I asked if I could play a little tune on the piano for his daughter; he was more than happy to let me play. I sat down on the bench and played middle C and held the note. His daughter, who was sitting on the couch behind me at the time, tried to match the pitch of the sound with her voice. She then ran over to sit down next to me. I played a note higher and held it; she tried to match the pitch. Then again and again, and she kept almost hitting the same notes with her voice. I began to play a song and she started to sing and hit the keys sitting next to me. As I was playing, I looked over at her and she had a huge smile on her face.
After playing, the father walked me to the door and thanked me so much for playing piano with his daughter. He explained how it never gets played by anyone else and that he was so happy to see his daughter sit on the bench with someone and play. He invited me over to eat food later, but I had many surveys I needed to complete and couldn’t make it happen.
Later that night I reflected about my moment with that one resident. Thus, it was that night my eyes were opened up to a new perspective of life I’ve never seen. His story was so meaningful to me; I developed this internal drive to help individuals and families that don’t have the resources to support their lives. I also became a lot more grateful of my life. I really didn’t know how lucky I am to have the support system and opportunities that are given to me on a regular basis. After AmeriCorps, I still want to help those who do not have such opportunities and resources, because everybody deserves a chance to seize every opportunity to succeed in life.
11/14/2016 Story of The Week
Downhill With The Dirt Divas
By Laura Koloski, Catamount Trails Association Youth Program & Outreach Coordinator
Dirt Divas is a youth mountain biking camp for girls in grades 6 to 9 and is a program run under the umbrella of the Vermont Works for Women organization. The weeklong summer day camp, which operates at various sites throughout Vermont, strives to empower girls through a mountain biking experience in the hills of Vermont. During the week, the camp emphasizes bike handling skills, basic bike mechanics, team building, gaining self-confidence, teamwork and leadership.
I chose to work with the Dirt Divas program for my independent service project, helping the two Burlington Dirt Divas program counselors throughout the week of July 11-14. I was drawn to volunteer with this particular program because it shares a mission and structure that are similar to those of the Ski Cubs youth XC ski program I organized at the Catamount Trail Association this past winter. I considered this to be a great opportunity for me to not only introduce girls to mountain biking in Vermont, but to also take this opportunity to learn more about running and participating in successful youth outdoor programming.
Throughout the course of the three days I spent at the Dirt Divas camp in Burlington, I had the pleasure of working with, teaching, and learning from nine girls and two fellow counselors. We spent time biking on the waterfront bike trail, Sunny Hollow mountain bike trails, and at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center. Interspersed throughout the days, we found time to go swimming, reflect on goals and achievements, empower ourselves as strong and capable women, and have fun getting to know each other and bond as a group!
Some of the impacts of my time spent with Dirt Divas are tangible – I watched these girls, many who had no prior experience mountain biking, become much more confident as they learned techniques and conquered trails they didn’t think they could. They were thrilled at the newfound mechanical knowledge and ability to take apart and fix their bikes, again, something they had never had the opportunity to try before. Some of the impacts of my time spent with Dirt Divas are less tangible – I hope, and think, that they made parallels between the mountain biking camp and their own lives. I saw them become more confident in their actions and mannerisms, less likely to write off something as impossible, and more likely to try something new and challenging.
This was a great opportunity for me to gain insight into a similar program to Ski Cubs. I learned some new techniques and games from the counselors and campers to help break the kids out of self-conscious shells, get them engaged in effective thinking exercises, and get them (happily) working together as a team. I also took it as a constructive opportunity to learn what kinds of things don’t seem to work to well. A big take-away for me was that it is 100% okay to diverge from prescribed curriculum if it just doesn’t seem to be working. When there is little to no engagement from kids, sometimes the best thing is to just move on to a project or activity that they are more in to. Ultimately, the most important thing is to make sure they enjoy themselves, not to make sure that you, as a counselor, or instructor of a camp, gets through the entirety of the lesson plan. Overall, working with Dirt Divas was a great pairing for my experiences and interests gained through the Ski Cubs program. It gave me a new lens with which to look at the Ski Cubs program and a great opportunity for more reflection. Beyond that, it was a fun way for me to teach girls about mountain biking, which is an activity I find immense joy in!
11/7/2016 Story of The Week
By Alanna Ojibway, Upper Valley Haven Children’s Services Assistant
By far one of my favorite activities of our summer program was a program I called “garden chef” where children were given a different weekly veggie or herb from the garden to then make some kind of recipe with and then make enough for “samples” to distribute to staff. One example of this was a day that we harvested basil leaves to make homemade pesto. Once we had made the pesto we put a small sample of it on a cracker and then I would walk around the Haven campus with them to distribute the samples to different staff members or residents.
At first, almost all of the children participating had something negative to say about the pesto. “It stinks”, “it’s ugly”, “it’s too green”, “who would eat this!?”…etc. bottom line was they were not overly impressed with their creation. However, after giving out the first few samples to adults and getting AMAZINGLY positive feedback, it was obvious that they began changing their perspective and gained a totally new sense of pride for what they had made. By the end of the day, the kids had totally changed their mind and couldn’t get their hands out of the pesto jar to keep eating more. It was so wonderful to witness this
transition which not only broadened their pallet, but also gave each child a new sense of empowerment and pride in something they could make on their own from something they grew in our garden.
This is just one example, but I think it really captures my greatest goal of the summer and my year of service in general which was to empower children and inspire them to make healthy choices. For me, nothing could have been more rewarding than being a part of a new positive experience for those children. I will never forget the moments of growth I experienced with these kids this year.
10/31/2016 Story of The Week
By Jessie Phillips, Central Vermont Council on Aging Volunteer Outreach Manager
I completed my Independent Service Project at Rhythm of the Rein therapeutic riding facility. The mission of the program is to use Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) to enhance the well-being of individuals with physical, cognitive and emotional challenges.
My role was to help facilitate the therapeutic riding lessons by leading the horse or walking beside the rider to help with balance. The riders had various goals that they were working on during the riding lessons. Some riders were nonverbal, which meant that I had to be very attentive to the rider at all times to gauge how they were feeling based on their behaviors. There were also icons such as walk, stop and X (which meant that the rider wanted to be done for the day) attached to a blanket around the horse’s neck that a rider could point to in order to communicate.
Throughout my independent service project I assisted with a number of lessons with one individual who was non-verbal. He would often ride for about 15 minutes or less, and would sometimes end his ride agitated as evidenced by certain noises and hand movements.
My last day at Rhythm of the Rein was an absolutely beautiful sunny day. The lesson began, and I noticed a great big smile on this gentlemen’s face. His smile stayed as the lesson transitioned from riding inside to going outside on some trails. Every few minutes the instructor would check in with him to see if he still wanted to ride, and he continued to press the green “walk” icon.
He rode for a total of 30 minutes, and the smile never left his face. I noticed that I, too, was smiling throughout his whole ride as I saw the joy he was receiving from being on a horse. Although I was sad to be completing my Independent Service Project, I will have the memory of that final lesson for years to come.
10/24/2016 Story of The Week
By John Staiger, Twin Pines Housing Trust Project Assistant
This term I have had the opportunity to work with a tenant here at Twin Pines who has previously been homeless for some 20 or more years. “Jim” is a veteran of Vietnam, and has shared lots of his stories and experiences with me as we have gotten to know each other.
One thing he always tells me is that “us vets stick together, we look out for each other, its part of our bond”. And in this last quarter of service I have seen that ring true in several situations, but one in particular. Another tenant in the same building as Jim was moving out, and I was helping with the move. This fellow was disabled, and so couldn’t physically do any packing, cleaning, etc. himself which was why I was there. But every day, at 7:30 am as we began another day of fun, Jim would walk up from his apartment down the hall with coffee and a boom box and join in to help any way he could.
His positive, can do attitude really meant a lot to both myself and the tenant who was moving, and it made the days go by quite smoothly. I really appreciated Jim’s help, and told him several times, which he always responded to with “HEY, it’s just what we do man”. Seeing this bond of brotherhood between two neighbors and fellow veterans was heartwarming, and inspiring.
Photo Credit: VHCB AmeriCorps
9/22/2016 Story of The Week
Getting In To The Swing Of Things
By Ira Shadis, VHCB AmeriCorps Team Leader
The morning started out with a light chill in the air and the slow gathering of faces that were not quite familiar. We had spent three days at the start of September enduring (enjoying!) our AmeriCorps orientation and spending the free time we had getting to know one another. But now we were faced with the opportunity to dig a little deeper with the aid of the folks at Northern Lights Rock and Ice. As is usual in these situations we began our official activities with some games that forced us to be a little silly, a little competitive, and a little reflective about our communication and leadership styles.
By the time we had loosened up and got into the swing of things the sun had come out in force. In the light of this beautiful fall day we split into small groups and spent the rest of the morning harnessed up and climbing. We broke for lunch at The Essex Resort and Spa and enjoyed some fine dining in preparation for the challenges of the afternoon. Returning to our groups, we faced some high ropes elements that asked us to work as a team, flex our comfort zones, and in some cases jump head first at a hanging punching bag. Days like these are fun and often funny, but they also offer us a reminder to reflect on our own tendencies and the impact they can have on those around us – a lot like AmeriCorps in general.
Photo Credit: Northern Lights Rock and Ice