What Can Happen in a Year…Of Service? [Part Two]

In March, we said goodbye to several brilliant AmeriCorps VISTAs who fulfilled their one-year terms and left a mark on THI. Now we say goodbye to 10 more, each of whom embodies the spirit and work ethic of a VISTA. Each of them will go on to do great things, and while their service year at THI is over, their impact will be felt for years to come. Below, they share some of their favorite experiences from the year and what the next chapters of their lives entail.

Cady PenaCady Pena | San Angelo | Field Organizer

I loved being re-introduced to a somewhat familiar community, but in a new and very different way. It was humbling to see different aspects of my city that I had failed to notice years before. I was also able to work with some great community leaders, some of whom I had worked alongside in a previous career, ironically. It was great to have the opportunity to build on existing relationships and create new ones as we worked together toward a common goal. I met some fascinatingly driven and ambitious people this year, and the idea that they each wanted to assist me in our coalition’s hunger outreach endeavors was mind-boggling, but so appreciated.

What’s next?

I will be pursuing volunteer opportunities in my town, getting to know my neighbors and doing my own type of ‘outreach’, in between raising our first child and caring for my family. I have never had an interest in setting specific career goals, and I plan to welcome any random opportunity that gets placed in my path along the way.

KelseyHilton_LBKKelsey Hilton | Lubbock   Field Organizer

I perceive the biggest impact I have made on the community to be relationships I fostered. I enjoyed getting to know both stakeholders and individuals experiencing food insecurity. Bringing the community together was the most rewarding part of the job. THI exposed me to the nonprofit world and allowed me opportunities to dream big and try new things. I am also thankful to NYCCAH for the chance to work with people across the nation. Texas is not the only place where people are food-insecure, but if Texas can end hunger, anybody can, and the Texas Hunger Initiative is leading the way.

What’s next?

 I have accepted a job as a Web Application Developer for a small computer networking and data security company here in Lubbock. As a native Coloradan, I will admit that the West Texas Vortex, comprised of wind, friendly people and a great sense of pride, has sucked me in.

Jadi Chapman | Waco | Hunger Program Specialist

As a VISTA in the Waco Regional Office, I had the opportunity to focus primarily on the impact food insecurity has on the senior population and what some of the barriers are to seniors getting proper nutrition. Getting to speak with older Americans at the Waco senior centers, housing complexes and Meals on Wheels sites has been the most impactful part of my term. JadiChapmanThey have great stories and insights, and they always say how blessed they are, no matter what situation they are going through. This population does not get a lot of recognition or focus in the anti-hunger community, so being able to serve them was wonderful.

What’s next?

 I will be moving to Washington, DC, to serve as the VISTA leader with the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

Maddy McDaniel and Max Castillo | Houston | Field Organizers

Maddy and MaxDuring our year of service, Max and I had the opportunity to develop important professional skills.  We learned about media relations, volunteer recruitment, grant writing, event planning, and building community engagement through partnerships.  We also had the opportunity to learn about federal benefits programs and the challenges clients face in accessing resources.  After his VISTA year, Max is hoping to work for a nonprofit organization in the Greater Houston area to improve the lives of the people in his community.  After my VISTA year, I will be moving to Chungcheongnam-do, South Korea, to teach English for a year before going to graduate school for an MA in International Affairs at George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.

Stephana Sherman | Community Outreach Coordinator | Lubbock

Stephana Sherman copy

Wow, what a year! I have learned so much about my local community because working for THI has opened so many doors for me. I have had the opportunity to attend community meetings such as the South Plains Homeless Consortium and the Lubbock Churches Coalition for the Homeless and others. These meetings have taught me about Lubbock and given me the opportunities to meet local stakeholders and learn more about what they are doing in the community. From each meeting I go to, I learn so much about the town that I thought I knew so well.  While attending Texas Tech University, I thought I knew the ins and outs of Lubbock. When I started this job, I took off my rose-colored glasses in order to see what the needs were in my community.

 My most impactful experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Lubbock was realizing that what I am doing positively affects those in need. I am not a direct service provider, and because of that I don’t often directly help those in need by signing them up for SNAP or giving them a food box.  In the beginning, it was hard to believe that I was helping anyone. This view changed when I visited a Community Partner who helps hundreds of people each month sign up for or renew their HHSC benefits. How were they able to help that many people? By being a Community Partner and using the online YourTexasBenefits portal. That is a lot of people that are getting the benefits that they need! Indirectly, I do make a difference in my local community.

What’s next?

After my term is over, I am unsure of where life will take me. However, this experience has taught me that I genuinely care for those who need a helping hand and will continue to support those in need in any way that I can. I will encourage those around me to volunteer or donate to organizations that are helping people. I’ve met with local organizations who need volunteers or donations, and I know that they are good people trying to do good things in their communities because God has blessed them with a caring heart. I walk away from this experience with an open mind and a caring heart. 

Desmian Alexander | CPRI Outreach Coordinator | San AntonioDes Alexander

The most impactful experience came when another Corps member and I gave our last Navigator training to an organization we had been working with since practically the beginning of my service year. It was really great to see how they had come full circle through the process, and remained passionate about the program and what it could do for their community. They asked really thoughtful questions about how they could use CPP to best serve their clients, and at the end, were all too eager to give us hugs, thanking us for our help. It was really great to see how this experience will have long-term benefits for those in the community.

I am not yet sure what I will be doing since I’m still looking for jobs. However, whatever I will be doing will definitely be something that is for the public good.

Aleigh Ascherl | Community Outreach Coordinator | WacoAleigh_Ascherl

Although I could never pinpoint one experience, my VISTA term has been a whirlwind of learning from my low-income neighbors, those working in their communities across the state and the members of the Waco Regional Office. What began as a transition year ended up being so much more. As I move on, these experiences and lessons I have learned will shape my own work as I seek to continually think critically about what I am doing and who it is truly benefitting.

What’s next?

I am currently exploring job opportunities in the nonprofit sector.

Sonya Thomas | Community Outreach Coordinator | WacoSonyaThomas

Service as an AmeriCorps VISTA has reframed my understanding of domestic poverty as existing in a system context, which has in turn motivated me to understand how disease exists and operates in a socio-cultural context.  My work for the past year has shown me how the lack of access to resources and large-scale barriers presents serious consequences for individual and community well-being, but it has also solidified my interest in understanding the social determinants of health.  My VISTA experience encouraged me to ask questions about how government funding shapes services and the outreach work of nonprofit organizations.  It also raised questions about the influence of cultural understandings of gender upon illness, and how public health research can effectively be translated to inform policy and the implementation of interventions.

What’s next?

After completing my VISTA term, I’ll be moving to Houston to complete graduate work in public health.  I’m a nerd at heart, so I’m excited to be back in the classroom!

Compiled by: Matt Chelf , Share Our Strength No Kid Hungry Youth Ambassador, Baylor University ’16