By Christian Lampart ‘16
In his second year as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America, or VISTA, Ryan Reeves ’08 is coordinator of the Harvest Kitchen youth and job training program for Farm Fresh Rhode Island. Working in collaboration with chefs, volunteers and returning graduates, Reeves trains youth who are under the care of the Rhode Island Department of Youth and Families in culinary, sales and life skills.
“My day-to-day is never the same, and that is why I love it,” remarks Ryan, who will become a full-time employee of Farm Fresh Rhode Island in August. “I spend time talking with farmers, ordering produce, buying kitchen equipment, writing recipes, coordinating our online and retail sales, managing farmers’ markets, keeping inventory, cooking and teaching. I interact directly with trainees in the hectic atmosphere that is created when you put 10 16-to-18-year-olds in a kitchen with 200 pounds of apples, boiling vats, a beat up clock radio and a bunch of knives.”
Employees and youth in the program produce a line of jarred goods, using produce sourced through a growing network of local farms in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. “My favorite part of the job is seeing the change as the trainees start to believe, contrary to almost everything anybody has ever told them, that they are needed, valuable and full of promise.”
By Christian Lampart ‘16
Kathryn Trahan ’12 is also an AmeriCorp VISTA, serving with the Franklin Grand Isle Bookmobile, a non-profit mobile library serving rural communities in northern Vermont. The Bookmobile serves all ages, with special emphasis on helping youth connect with literacy.
“The Bookmobile fights poverty by making books fun and accessible,” states Katie. “In this part of rural Vermont it is not always easy for childcare providers to go to a library and check out books for their kids. “ In addition to making books more accessible to rural youth, the Bookmobile holds events and fundraisers.
“The Bookmobile has story time and does a series of events. For example, I play Pathfinders with sixth graders after school. I am lucky enough to be a part of planning those events; whether they are free or fundraisers, it is always a blast.” Katie says her experience in theater at Marlboro has helped her with group communication and mediation.
“My biggest challenge has been learning how to engage the youth in the afterschool programs so that we have a safe time while having fun. There are so many components that need to come together to make the program successful, and when one element falls apart the whole team needs to come together and figure out a solution.”
I am currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer at the In-Sight Photography Project in Brattleboro, Vermont. In-Sight is a youth-focused arts education organization that teaches analog and digital photography to kids, from age 11 through 18. Because classes are offered on a sliding-scale basis, In-Sight is able to reach youth that might otherwise not be able to access after-school programming, especially arts education programs.
I first learned about In-Sight from photography professor John Willis, who co-founded the organization 20 years ago and with whom I was taking a photography course at Marlboro. I volunteered to co-teach a couple stop-motion animation classes at In-Sight, then took a Work Study position there. After graduating, it was an easy decision to accept the VISTA position there, as it would entail service that I was excited about. It also enabled me to develop my relationship with the organization further, helped me with professional experience and funding for future education, and provided increasingly hard-to-come-by darkroom facilities.
Day-to-day, my activities at In-Sight vary quite a bit, as I hope is the case for any work I do in the future. On any given day I might be: meeting with a new volunteer to show them the space and develop curriculum for a class; learning how to merge an Excel document with a Word document in order to print hundreds of mailing labels; testing old film cameras to make sure they are ready for students to use; preparing photographs for installation at our annual auction fundraiser; or planning and implementing an event during Gallery Walk to recruit students for classes.
My favorite thing about my service at In-Sight would certainly be the opportunity I have to work with students directly and see the impact that the program has on them. While the AmeriCorps VISTA program is focused on indirect service, there are times, especially due to In-Sight’s small size, that I am either working in the same space as students or facilitating classes with a volunteer. Interacting with the students is always a nice break from work that often requires a lot of time spent with a computer. Sometimes, I get to hear kids say really funny things.
My Plan of Concentration was in literature, and, while I have few opportunities to bring up James Joyce or Dante at In-Sight, I am able to use my writing skills every day. Often, when proofreading a grant proposal, report or other document, I remember lessons in grammar that Laura Stevenson taught me in the Elements of Style class that I took five years ago—really! Photography was 40 percent of my Plan work, and my experience from that enables me to work with volunteers who are planning a class and to offer specific solutions. I am currently looking to continue my education in photography—I’ve applied to a few MFA programs and am now weighing my options.