Updated: Jul 1
It’s Sydney (AmeriCorps VISTA 2021-2023) writing to you all and it feels surreal to be here almost 2 years later talking to you all about what being a VISTA at Community Roots has been like. In case you missed my introduction from when I first started or are new to all of the Gardening and Growing that happens all around here, you can visit one of my very first blog posts HERE! Serving as Community Roots VISTA for the past year and a half (soon to be 2 years) has truly been one of the best opportunities life has given me thus far. It saddens me to know that my time here with some of the coolest people around is quickly coming to a close, but this has been one journey that has shaped my future thanks to this organization allowing me the opportunity to simply try my best. Please, feel free to join in my journey and experiences here at Community Roots, as it has personally been a meaningful one.
My First Week
I wasn’t sure how I was going to begin explaining what it has been like working here at Community Roots, so I figured a brief introduction into what my first few weeks looked like would be some good insight, as it was an exciting time and helped set the pace for the expectations I had for myself and the organization. My first day at work was also my first day in Mount Vernon (except for one college tour at MVNU back in 2014). My first stop was the garden to meet my supervisors, Kim and Emily! Once I got a tour of our magical property, we headed over to Dave’s Cosmic Subs, where I am treated to a delicious lunch and got the honor of meeting our first Farm to School Coordinator, Nancy!
To be completely honest everyone, on my first day, I was extremely nervous. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting myself into, but I knew that when I interviewed and read the position details I was all-in on the opportunity. My focus has always involved food security, nutrition education, and utilizing our own spaces as a source of food security. As it turns out, this position was not anything that I had imagined it to be within the first year, but slowly evolved into a space that allowed me to begin incorporating my focus into a blend of the Community Roots mission.
After my first week was over, we were going in feet first! I had my very first volunteer group scheduled and ready before I even got there. Thanks to Dr. Neal at MVNU and his nursing class, we had a solid 4-day clinical event scheduled with loads of hands available for each day. In those four days, Community Roots Garden was already in its shift of transformation, and thanks to the continuous help from this class each year, we are able to get a fresh start each year. These first two weeks definitely set the pace for the direction we were all headed throughout the next 12 months.
My main job with Community Roots was to help aid in their Farm to School program that Nancy has been coordinating for the last 3 years now. The grant process was fairly close to completion when I arrived, so my job was to help improve the website (Thanks to the help from my friend and owner of Stack Strategies), maintain our social media accounts, and help recruit volunteers. I’ll tell you out of all of these, the recruitment portion of this job is primarily one of the most difficult, but also the most rewarding as well. A lot of the volunteer work done at Community Roots is sustained through served probationary hours. I had the privilege of working with a few volunteers throughout my 2 years needing some community service hours and they always create such a fun working space when we are together!
In my first month of service, we received a notification that we had a volunteer sign up for a few opportunities that we have on our Sign-up Portal. Showing up early, this volunteer was needing to complete community service before a specific date. Kim, Nancy, and I banded together to help this volunteer get those hours completed. Throughout our time with him, I was grateful for the opportunity to witness the importance of having organizations like Community Roots in our communities, as it allows a space for people to be seen as only human and utilize their special skills and personality in our garden to continue to tell the story of what makes us Community Roots. Being able to witness a volunteer's personal growth, even in a short period of time is an experience that will always be important to the growth of my own journey and I am eager to take these experiences with me throughout the rest of my life.
My first year truly flew by, but you know what they say? Time flies when you’re having fun! Luckily with the AmeriCorps program, I was able to stay a second year as long as Community Roots wanted me to stay again. There was so much growth between all of us in my first year, I just couldn’t pack up all of what we have worked toward and hope for the best. I wanted to see everything start coming to fruition, so when I was asked to stay a second year I couldn’t say no!
As I sit and reflect and write about my experiences through my AmeriCorps service and with Community Roots, I recognize that I am a little over halfway through my final service term here. The craziest part about it all is that I would say that my term this past year has been one of the most meaningful chapters in my life. I have been able to watch this exponential growth in this organization and it has been wicked cool! From expanding our community relationships to new and exciting projects to one of my proudest moments, receiving funding through different methods to help us continue our mission in Mount Vernon and Knox County.
Last year I was able to establish myself in Community Roots through my Wednesday workdays, monthly newsletters, and other goals that we had set at the beginning of my term. One of the biggest goals we had set for my VISTA term this year was to find different funding streams that can help improve our garden site along with different programs that have been going on. One thing I had always wanted to get some practice with was grant writing. To me, this was an extremely valuable skill to have under my belt as I begin to advance in my professional career.
I started attempting this goal through our SeedMoney Campaign in November. Thanks to ALL OF YOU we were able to raise $2,300 in just 30 days!! This was huge for me and helped give me so much confidence in my abilities with fundraising. I personally cannot thank everyone enough for all of the support of our campaign! I was fortunate to be able to continue this momentum and find two potential grants to help with the accessibility of our ongoing programming at The Learning Center along with basic maintenance and upgrades that any space like this requires. I have never truly written a grant before, but Kim and Emily let me go at it and then helped coach me through the whole process. I would honestly say that thanks to the effort from everyone on our board, we were able to get everything together and ready to submit. I’m not sure how it happened, but in December Community Roots applied for 2 separate grants and we received funding for both! HIP-HIP-HOORAY!
Thanks to the funding from these 2 grants, we are now able to expand our operations in a way I never saw coming. Many of these upcoming projects we have in the works have been things we have always talked about since I started. It all just started as a dream and writing these grants was a way for us to have a solid plan for these dreams and get ourselves organized. Well. Now we have that opportunity in the palm of our hands and our dreams are becoming a reality. Thanks to the support from Blasing Landscaping, I get to see these imaginary garden plans turn into a gardener's dream. I’m not sure I will ever be able to express how excited I am to see where this funding will take Community Roots, but I know I am excited to be able to watch the growth happen as quickly as it has!
I would like to say that the funding is what has been the most outstanding moment of my final term, but I have to say that it wasn’t. The one thing this year has brought me, especially in a time when I never knew that I needed it most was community. The community dynamic in Mount Vernon is one that can make a stranger feel at home. From being a part of all of the committees and councils involving health and wellness, to markets and festivals, and the community partnerships with local businesses and educational systems I have been able to feel included in an ever-evolving community.
In August, we were approached by Kim Hood at The Learning Center. We were thinking of a way to combine her classroom with the Community Roots mission. Thus began our Transition-U partnership. My supervisors allowed me this opportunity to work with such a unique classroom dynamic and teach them horticultural methods in gardening and now this has become one of the best parts of my work weeks. Transition-U and I have been creating a program that is educational, but also engaging! We have been keeping our Seed Library stocked thanks to their diligent work, we have started seeds thanks to our SeedMoney funds, and lots of crafts and art to be given away at future markets and events.
This community is one like no other. I truly thank each and every one of you for allowing me to be a part of something so amazing for the last 2 years. Never could I imagine the relationships that can be formed throughout one community, but Knox County really has done its job at showing me how to work together. I hate saying goodbye to my AmeriCorps VISTA, but I am excited to see what doors have opened thanks to the opportunities I have been given through these two organizations.
With the realization of my term coming to a close, the reality also sets in that this opportunity will soon be available to someone else this September. As Community Roots continues to grow, so does their need for assistance. I am eager to hear about all of the applicants for BOTH of our VISTA positions that are currently open. I hope that my story is one that inspires you to be more informed about the AmeriCorps program and about my host site Community Roots. If this mission is one that truly speaks to you, please consider applying to one of our positions. Community Roots is capable of offering a Seasonal Summer VISTA and a Full-Year term replacing my current position.
Some of the benefits that follow being an AmeriCorps VISTA member are:
Biweekly living stipend of $675.08
End-of-term education award- Summer = $1,459; Year = $6,895 (Cash award available upon opting out of education award)
Housing Stipend= $200
Non-Competitive Employment eligibility for 1 year after service
Health Insurance coverage and allowances (Full-Year Only)
$100 Professional Development Fund (Full Year Only)
PTO 10 days sick, 10 days personal (Full-Year Only
If you have any questions about Community Roots or current job openings, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can view job postings here:
Part-Time Farmer’s Market Coordinator - VIEW HERE
Full-Time Compost and Produce Coordinator - VIEW HERE
"To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow"