MLK Day of Service 2017

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

To commemorate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service 2017, AmeriCorps programs throughout the country participated in providing service in their communities. These are just a few of the stories of how our JV AmeriCorps members served!

JV AmeriCorps members located in Juneau walked from house to house installing smoke detectors and educating residents about house fires with the American Red Cross.

’16-17 JV AmeriCorps members in Juneau volunteering with the American Red Cross.

Alaska – JV AmeriCorps members in Juneau and Anchorage walked from house to house installing smoke detectors and educating residents on fire safety with the American Red Cross. Our Anchorage JV AmeriCorps members’ service activities were featured in the Alaska Dispatch News–  read the article here! In Bethel, JV AmeriCorps members hosted a showing of the documentary, For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska. Additionally, members created an “I have a dream” board for interested parties to disclose their dreams.

Oregon – Woodburn JV AmeriCorps members Marit Olson, Jared Harris, and Emily Curran spent the day weatherizing homes through the Community Energy Project with Hands On Greater Portland. Meanwhile, in Hood River, residents were blasted with snowy winter weather, so in response to the weather, our Hood River JV AmeriCorps members teamed up with Providence Hospital’s Volunteers in Action to shovel care receivers driveways.

In Hood River, residents were blasted with snowy winter weather! Our JV AmeriCorps members located in Hood River teamed up with Providence Hospital’s Volunteers in Action to shovel care receivers driveways!

’16-17 Hood River JV AmeriCorps members shoveling care receivers’ driveways.

Washington  The JV AmeriCorps members in Grays Harbor carried on the tradition set by last year’s JV AmeriCorps members by picking up garbage throughout the Aberdeen and Hoquiam neighborhoods. In Tacoma, a few of our JV AmeriCorps members spent their time getting their hands dirty in the garden! Blair Bellis and Benjamin Feiten volunteered at Hilltop Urban Gardens where they composted, painted signs, and prepared the gardens for spring. At L’Arche Farms, Elizabeth Nawrocki recruited and coordinated volunteers for completing tasks throughout the farm.

Idaho – In the Boise community, JV AmeriCorps members Mariah Ertel, Mary Franz, Mary Haggerty, and AnnaMarie Marsilio spent MLK Day volunteering at Big Brother Big Sister of Southwest Idaho. Our members tackled various responsibilities assigned to them, such as organizing a storage facility, taking inventory, and reorganizing t-shirts.

According to Mary Haggerty, “Serving on Martin Luther King Jr. Day with my community knowing that so many other communities, not only in JVC Northwest but across the country, were serving others filled me with peace and hope. Hearing about and seeing so many people spread light made the ideal of a bright future tangible.”

Jared Harris, Emily Curran, and Marit Olson, spent the day weatherizing homes through the Community Energy Project with Hands On Great Portland.

’16-17 JV AmeriCorps members Jared Harris and Emily Curran weatherizing a home in Portland.

Montana – School was still in session in Hays, Montana, so our JV AmeriCorps members spent time educating their students on the history of Martin Luther King, Jr.. JV AmeriCorps members located in Missoula volunteered at the Poverello Center where they focused their day on homeless outreach.

Thank you to all who participated in MLK Day of Service 2017!

Save

World AIDS Day

JV AmeriCorps member Anthony Yakely (Anchorage, AK ’16-17) serves as the Client Services Specialist with Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association (Four A’s) in Anchorage, Alaska. To commemorate World AIDS Day, Anthony reflects on how his knowledge of HIV/AIDS has shifted from academic to interpersonal because of his experiences at Four A’s.

world-aids-day-community-photo

Anchorage community in front of Mount Denali

Before this year, HIV/AIDS had always been presented to me in academic terms. My knowledge of it included words like “retrovirus,” “opportunistic infection,” and “cytomegalovirus.” After four years as a biochemistry major, I had learned a lot of the science behind HIV/AIDS. However, I did not yet know the human side of it having never personally known someone who is HIV-positive. Coming out of school, I was feeling burnt out and had a strong desire to serve in a hands-on role. When I was presented with the opportunity of serving my JV AmeriCorps year as the Client Services Specialist at Four A’s, I immediately jumped on the chance. This was what I was looking for.

I went into Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest wanting a sense of community and to have a chance to build relationships with all those I met. The first couple weeks were a whirlwind for me- meeting new faces and adjusting to a new service site in a new state on the other side of the country. However, after that initial adjustment, I began to build the relationships I craved. It started out small- sitting with clients at Friday lunches after I was done serving the meal and chatting about everything from family to living in Alaska. Little by little, I got to know the clients better.

world-aids-day-pumpkin-carving

Halloween pumpkin carving client activity

With each Friday lunch and Thursday client event, I got to know those I was serving, the struggles they had faced, the addiction they had overcome and were currently battling, and the challenges and successes in everyday life. My favorite client activity so far has been pumpkin carving. By engaging with others in a holiday tradition that I love, I found the joy of just being, sitting, laughing, and sharing stories. My knowledge of HIV/AIDS had shifted from the academic to the interpersonal. It was an experiential learning- the concepts I had learned were being put into the faces of those I served through sharing meals, smiles, and arts and crafts. This disease described in almost mythical terms now had faces and stories that I had grown to treasure.

Unfortunately, the stigma for those living with HIV/AIDS still exists within our society. I have seen that the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS comes from a place of fear. Because some of the ways the disease can be transmitted are often taboo, it creates a negative attitude towards those who are HIV-positive. By putting a face to the disease, I have seen the problem of this attitude. I have met clients who care deeply for others, often going out of their way to help other clients who are not as fortunate. It is in this generosity and in my daily interactions with clients that challenge what society says about those who are HIV-positive.

world_logo1Today is World AIDS Day, and we will gather as a community to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Our entire staff will be holding a candlelight vigil to remember those who have died of HIV/AIDS, including some of our clients who passed away this year. Also, we will view the film “The Normal Heart,” which tells a tale of the early days of HIV/AIDS activism in New York City.  This reminds us that the fight against HIV/AIDS is still not over, even as treatment and research continue to improve. It reminds me of the faces of those I serve every day.

Becoming a Girl on the Run

For this month’s blog, JV AmeriCorps member Rachel Young (Juneau, AK ’14-15) shares her experience serving as Young Parent Healthy Teen Assistant at the Catholic Community Services of Juneau in Juneau, AK. Below, Young reminisces about coaching elementary school girls through Girls on the Run, a program that inspires girls to accept and love themselves using a curriculum that incorporates exercise and running.

“We are strong! We are smart! We are unique! We are beautiful!” I echoed these exclamations amidst the hundreds of elementary school girls decked out in face paint and homemade tutus and choked back my own tears of joy. Why was it that at 23, I was only just realizing these lessons for myself?

GOTRThere was a general sense of excitement and energy in the air as these amazing girls made their way to the starting line of their celebratory, season-ending 5K run. They had been working for this. They were ready for this.

It hadn’t all been easy. As a coach, I’d seen tears, anger, and sadness. I had mediated conflicts and misunderstandings and even had my own feelings hurt once or twice along the way. But that is what eventually made us a strong, resilient team- by learning to work together and love each other to overcome our obstacles. These girls learned about themselves and their team-mates this season. They transformed into strong-willed, confident, compassionate teammates. They learned how to work together, how to support each other, and how to treat themselves with care. Each practice, they shattered stereotypes about femininity and redefined what it means to be a girl of the 21st century.

One student stood up to the bully who had been teasing her in class. Another learned how to communicate her feelings with her dad. A third girl gained the confidence to mediate a disagreement between two of her friends. As these girls learned about themselves, they brought me with them on their journey. I remembered that I, myself, am powerful; my body is beautiful; and my future is limitless.

The morning of our 5K run, 150 vivacious girls left the starting line at Sandy Beach, and later, 150 triumphant girls crossed the finish line. Some ran, some walked, some hopped, and some even crawled like a cat on all fours. That day, there were no losers; only joyful, empowered, loving, and courageous girls.

After the event, we stopped for a team picture and the runners thanked me and my fellow coaches. I then thanked them right back. Thank you, girls, for showing me that it’s never too late to learn and grow and I’ll never be too old to be silly. I’ll always be a Girl on the Run.

Willing to Listen in Willow, AK

During the month of September, the Corporation for National and Community Service is spreading knowledge and awareness of disaster services. In honor of this month’s theme, JV AmeriCorps member Anna Nilles (Anchorage, AK ’14-15) shares her experience serving as Preparedness and Casework Specialist for the American Red Cross of Alaska. Below, Nilles describes her experience responding to a disaster in Willow, Alaska.

14-15_Anchorage_Nilles_RedCross

An American Red Cross of Alaska volunteer looks at the after effects of the wildfire

My first large-scale disaster response happened near the end of my service year when wildfires broke out across the state. While listening to the stories of people displaced in Willow, Alaska, I came to understand resiliency and community in an entirely new way. The two are inextricably linked: people can survive on their own, but to thrive and to bounce back after a disaster requires the helping hands of neighbors. I had never seen people who were so resilient; who were smiling while they sifted through piles of ash they once called home, because they knew this would pass. They knew they were not alone.

Willow, AK is a place where people go to escape, to have space and solitude. Even the names of the streets where the fire raged – Serenity, Tranquility – reflect this desire. Forced out of their sanctuaries by the approaching fire, the people of Willow went above and beyond what they had to do to keep themselves safe. They gave generously of their time, resources, and services to others. The Red Cross collaborated with other agencies to support and facilitate this effort. Experienced volunteers from near and far teamed up with new local volunteers to train and mentor them. All worked tirelessly to do everything possible to shelter, feed, and assist those displaced by the fires.

14-15_Anchorage_JVCommunity

JV AmeriCorps members (Anchorage, AK ’14-15)

Equipped as I was to address only the immediate needs of residents, I offered water bottles, snacks, and time to listen to everyone’s stories. Only by listening could our organization become woven into the fabric of this community. I observed the powerful calming effect of patience and clear communication on people who were understandably frustrated.

Recovering from a natural disaster takes time, collaboration, and hard work. The Red Cross offers reassurance that the aftermath of a disaster is the start of a new normal and that no one has to rebuild alone.

Living with the Land and Building Community

JV AmeriCorps member Sarah Komisar serves at the Sitka Conservation Society in Sitka, Alaska. Below Komisar shares her experience teaching Sitka’s youth how to live with the land and build community through the processing of deer. 

Photoshop 3

Miller explains how to process deer while respecting animals and native traditions. Photo by Bethany Goodrich

Living with the land and building community can be done in many ways. As a JV AmeriCorps member at The Sitka Conservation Society (SCS), my placement included working with the Alaska Way of Life 4-H program. During January of 2015, SCS and Sitka Native Education Program (SNEP) partnered to teach Sitka’s youth how to process one of Sitka’s local bounties: deer. The children from the 4-H program and SNEP Culture Class learned from Chuck Miller, SNEP Youth Program Coordinator, more than just how to butcher a deer as he removed the hide from the animal.

Miller shared with students the customary traditional practices of deer processing. Right away, Miller said, “It is important to not waste, and it is disrespectful to the animal to say ‘eww’ or ‘that’s gross’ because that animal gave up its life for you, so you can live.”

14-15_Billings_Goodrich_DeerProcessing 2

Students learn how to wrap meat in freezer paper. Photo by Bethany Goodrich

The children were certainly not squeamish. No ‘ew’s resounded from the audience of eager and fascinated onlookers. The first thing he pointed out was that the head of the deer was missing. Chuck explained that the brain of the deer could be mixed with urine and used to tan the hides long ago. The children learned that the hoofs could be boiled down and used for rattling sticks to dance with. The hide was removed carefully, and the kids discovered that it could be used for clothing or drums. The children eagerly peered over each other to get a look at the deer’s heart, liver, and stomach. Chuck explained that the tendons are so strong that they have been used for battle armor, dream catchers, and to latch many other things together.

The class also discussed the Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulations and the importance of limitations on does for protecting fawns to conserve the population.

Miller shared with students how to respect the animal by properly processing the meat, as well as by not wasting parts of the deer. He then explained how respecting the animal transfers to respect for the community: the first deer of the year you get should never be kept to yourself.

“You give it away to somebody who is a widow, an elder, or both. You want to make sure you take care of people in the community who cannot hunt for themselves and our elders.” One of the boys in the group whispered to his friend, “I’ll give it to my grandma.”

14-15_Billings_Goodrich_DeerProcessing

Deer processing complete! Photo by Bethany Goodrich

The class was able to see the deer processing steps all the way from removing the hide to wrapping the meat in freezer paper. The kids shared stories of their own deer hunting experiences and favorite recipes as they packaged the meat. Students were enthralled and walked away with both a practical understanding of the deer butchering process as well as a stronger respect for this treasured resource.

The Sitka Conservation Society looks forward to partnering with the Sitka Native Education Program in the future to teach Sitka’s youth how to live with the land and build community.

Economic Empowerment in Anchorage, AK

JV AmeriCorps member David Quigley serves as the Workforce Development Youth Specialist at Covenant House Alaska in Anchorage. He tells his story of working with homeless youth to promote economic empowerment.

14-15_Anchorage_DavidQuigley_andWorkforceTeam

JV AmeriCorps member David Quigley along with Workforce Development team members Kim and Camille.

Covenant House Alaska provides shelter, food, immediate crisis care and a variety of other services for homeless youth ages 13-20. The ultimate goal is to direct them out of homelessness and into a sustainable, independent life. In my four short months at Covenant House, I have learned a myriad of things about homelessness, service, and myself. Among these are two essential principles. First, there is no cookie cutter blueprint or magical formula for ending homelessness. Each youth deserves respect, care and individualized attention to help him or her become a confident, capable and independent person. Second, economic empowerment is invaluable in aiding someone out of homelessness. Financial instability is a major underlying cause of homelessness. Without a steady source of income, how is someone supposed to pay rent, purchase food, buy clothes or perform any other tasks requiring money that are basic for living?

14-15_Anchorage_DavidQuigley_WorkForcePresentation

David leading a job readiness presentation for Covenant House youth.

At Covenant House Alaska, we tell the youth, “our job is to help you get a job.” We are the support that enables independence and a way out of homelessness through economic stability. We offer a multitude of resources, opportunities and support to the youth in a variety of ways. Each morning I co-facilitate a “Job Group” workshop to a group of youth, presenting on different job related skills. Topics include “Mock Interview Mondays” and the “Do’s and Don’ts of Resumes” (do-add relevant work experiences to the job you are applying to; don’t-use Comic Sans font). Workforce field trips allow the residents to get a hands on feel for different occupations and presenters from local businesses come in and discuss their career paths and the obstacles they overcame, such as the high school dropout who became one of the managers at Bear Tooth Theater Pub. We bring in companies that have entry level job openings, and they extend interviews to our residents. Schools present the different opportunities and programs they provide, such as attaining a GED through Nine Star or the different vocational certifications offered at AVTEC (Alaska’s Institute of Technology).

I often work individually with the residents. I sit down and discuss what the youth needs and assist from there, and no day is the same. One day, I’ll work with someone to create or update a resume and explain the importance of marketing oneself through past work experiences as well as the “soft skills” a homeless youth has, such as perseverance and the ability to adapt to difficult situations. The next day, I’ll help youth sift through job applications to separate scams and non-sustainable jobs from the legitimate opportunities. Any of these services can happen on any given day, but the constant from Covenant House Alaska is support and encouragement that the youth are smart, talented and capable individuals. The combination of these services is critical to economic independence and exiting homelessness.14-15_Anchorage_ChugachMountainsfromJVHouse

One of the unique opportunities Workforce Development offers is a 30 day internship with local businesses. The internship provides the youth with an opportunity to earn money and gain valuable work experience. It has enabled some of our youth to transition from homelessness to independent living. One youth, we’ll call Joe, came to Covenant House in the middle of September, frustrated and upset. He was placed on full time job search, and he worked tirelessly applying to any and every job opening he could find, but was discouraged at the lack of response or his acceptance to menial, low paying jobs. We worked with him to figure out his career goals and how to best attain them, and he expressed interest in the restaurant industry. We informed Joe that the owner of a local restaurant was going to give a presentation in an upcoming Job Group. When the owner came in, we encouraged Joe to introduce himself, and they stayed after the presentation to talk. After filling out an application, Joe was offered a 30 day internship as a prep cook in the restaurant. Three months later, Joe has a full time job at the restaurant and has been cross trained in food prep as well as cooking, warranting a promotion enabling him to move out of Covenant House. He currently resides at one of our affiliated agencies, where the residents pay a fixed rent to prepare them for the transition to completely independent living. Through his hard work and perseverance, and with the assistance of the services and programs provided at Covenant House, he is now on a path to true economic independence.

JV AmeriCorps community in Anchorage, AK.

JV AmeriCorps community in Anchorage, AK.

Serving Communities in the Midst of Crisis

Last year, JV AmeriCorps Member Laura West served as the Preparedness and Casework Specialist with the Red Cross of Alaska. In its 20 years of existence, AmeriCorps has provided critical support to millions of Americans affected by disaster. In the month of August, as we continue to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of AmeriCorps, we highlight Disaster Services and our very own Laura West!

One month into my year of service, the American Red Cross of Alaska witnessed one of the worst multi-family apartment complex fires in our chapter’s history. One hundred four residents, in the city’s lowest income neighborhood, were displaced from a 38-unit complex that had burned almost completely to the ground. When I and the other Red Cross Disaster Action Team members arrived on scene the building was still ablaze; within minutes of our arrival, the entire roof erupted in flames. For four hours, we stayed on scene, interviewing families, offering refreshments to the first responders, and planning how to open a shelter for the displaced residents.

RedCross13_14

 

As a JV AmeriCorps member in Anchorage, AK, I served with the American Red Cross of Alaska as the Preparedness and Casework Specialist. Half of my time was devoted to managing the Preparedness Education program statewide, while the other half was dedicated to serving as a recovery caseworker for individuals and families affected by disasters. In that role, I would meet with residents after a disaster, either in person or over the phone, provide them with assistance for immediate, disaster-caused needs, and work with them to develop a recovery plan. This included securing new housing, seeking health or mental health help if needed, and directing them to other agencies that could fulfill certain needs the Red Cross could not meet.

Scenes like the one above – of immeasurable loss and immense grief – frequented the weeks and months I was with the Red Cross. In November, I experienced my first fire where there was a casualty. Later in the year, I listened to a man on the phone sob at the loss of his girlfriend. January was one of our worst months for home fires – we had six in the first two weeks, including another multi-family apartment fire. In mid-May, my supervisor called me early in the morning, and asked me to lead the response at one fire, while he was about to head out to another page we had received from the fire department. The next weekend, the whole Disaster Services team was called in on Sunday afternoon to open shelters and begin an operation for a wildfire that eventually burned 200,000 acres on the Kenai Peninsula.

Most of the individuals that the Red Cross assists are low income, unemployed, or disabled. What made serving as a caseworker the most difficult were the times when I realized that our services would not be enough for my clients. Many of them needed full time case management or more long-term services, which we could not provide and which were not readily available in Anchorage. I remember one case in particular, where I worked with an army veteran for over three months, guiding him step-by-step through a turbulent recovery process, all the while knowing that he would need more assistance than the Red Cross could provide. In the end, we were able to find him new housing and after much persistence, I was able to connect him with other agencies that could provide additional services.  But, in situations where I worked with individuals and families for only two to twelve weeks, it was almost impossible to know whether or not my clients received the support they needed.

Despite this, I found solace in the fact that our organization could provide temporary respite amidst chaotic situations. We could provide comfort in a seemingly hopeless moment. I suppose that one of the most important lessons I learned while at the Red Cross was that while it wasn’t my role to be a savior to the people whom I served, it was my responsibility to provide them with compassionate and earnest case management.

americorps_20years_700x650