“Oregon is pretty special”, according to Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS). Oregon Campus Compact was honored to receive a visit from Mrs. Spencer on August 19, 2014 and to share with her many of the reasons we think Oregon is special too.
Oregon Campus Compact has a long-standing relationship with the Corporation for National & Community Service. Since 2009, ORCC has hosted 98 VISTA members, 227 VISTA Summer Associates, 15 minimum time state AmeriCorps Members, and 13 College Access Corps AmeriCorps members. Those AmeriCorps members have mobilized over 16,760 volunteers (serving 8,576 academic priority youth).
The CNCS - funded MLK Mini-grants program funds 13 projects across the Western Region of CNCS to promote the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Several of ORCC’s current AmeriCorps members and community partners came to meet Wendy Spencer and share with her their experiences as National Service members.
Current VISTA members Andriana Alexis, Heidi Whitehouse and Allisha Tull spoke about the programs they worked with this past year and how important service-learning has been in their lives. Courtney Nolta and Sean Hagen, two ORCC Summer VISTAs currently serving in Central Oregon joined the meeting via video call. Kara Carmosino, Community Engagement Coordinator at All Hands Raised described how the partnership between ORCC and 9th Grade Counts has contributed to the ongoing success of the program.
Spencer was excited to share a new grant opportunity soon to be offered by CNSC. Operation AmeriCorps would have CNCS “partner with governments of U.S. cities, counties, or towns; federally-recognized Tribes; Territories, and school boards to engage AmeriCorps members as the transformative catalyst to address a pressing problem. Leaders (a tribal leader, mayor, county executive, or other chief executive of a locality) will propose a transformational project that uses a national service solution to ensure that every high school senior has a career or educational opportunity upon high school graduation. The goal is for every graduating high school senior to pursue one of the following five options following high school graduation:
1. Higher education, including two or four-year institutions of higher education
2. Military service
3. National service in AmeriCorps
5. A paid internship, registered apprenticeship, or job training program.”
So what are Wendy Spencer’s goals for CNCS and what is her opinion on the future of national service?
According to Spencer, national service is an integral part of addressing injustice and inequity in this country. “We should be asking community leaders and elected officials to consider putting civic engagement into the mix when looking at solutions [to the issues that most deeply impact their communities].”
One thing she views as a struggle for AmeriCorps members and and leaders across the country is limited understanding of the scope of the program. “Elected officials aren’t connecting Campus Compact, Boys & Girls Club, Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity, etc with AmeriCorps.” They certainly recognize the names and impacts of their local non-profits, schools, and government institutions, but they usually don’t realize the extent to which those agencies are deeply involved with AmeriCorps.
Her solution? Make sure the AmeriCorps logo is everywhere. Have conversations with elected officials and show them how many of their community organizations are invested in AmeriCorps and national service. “When they’re voting on national service legislation, they need to understand just how many individuals and groups are affected by that outcome.”
Spencer is invested in collecting stories that show the impact of national and community service to share with elected officials and community leaders.
Says Spencer: “We know that participating in National Service is a great resume builder and helps people get jobs. The next question to explore is: To what degree is National Service creating jobs? How often do host sites actually create a brand new job description in order to hire an AmeriCorps member after their term of service? How often do members gain enough skills to create their own organizations, departments or programs?”
At ORCC, we can think of several examples right away that we’ve learned from some of our member campuses. Concordia University’s Servant Leadership Department was created by AmeriCorps members. An AmeriCorps VISTA member at Warner Pacific College founded their Service-Learning Program, and the current Warner Pacific President credits that VISTA member with helping to change the perception of Warner Pacific in the community.
We are sure there are many other examples and we want to hear them from you! Do you have stories about how AmeriCorps and national service have created jobs in your community? Share them with us, and we’ll pass them on to Wendy Spencer at CNCS.
On August 17, 2014 thirty-two students from nine Oregon colleges and universities arrived at McKenzie River Mountain Resort for Oregon Campus Compact’s 2014 session of The LeaderShape Institute. The students spent a week developing their leadership skills and learning how to create a “just, caring, and thriving world where all lead with integrity and a healthy disregard for the impossible”.
Students participated in activities, simulations, and discussions that helped them to reflect on their values and their commitment to leading with integrity. One student said, “I learned that sharing things about myself is not the scary, risky experience I imagined it would be, but was freeing, helped boost my confidence, and helped me connect and inspire others." The week culminated in each student creating a big, bold vision for the future and developing an action plan to create change within his or her community.
ORCC AmeriCorps VISTA Matt Jernigan served as a one of the cluster facilitators, working closely with a small group of participants throughout the week. He reflected that, “I had only heard amazing things about LeaderShape, and what I witnessed was truly inspiring. Students made real connections with each other as well as inner connections on how to be empowered leaders motivated by compassion and driven to action.”
ORCC is committed to helping students connect with each other and with their communities around issues of social justice. Save the date for next year’s LeaderShape Institute happening August 16, 2015 – August 21, 2015!
Participating schools included: Lane Community College, Lewis & Clark College, Linfield College, Oregon State University, Pacific University, Portland State University, Reed College, University of Oregon, and Umpqua Community College.
We at Oregon Campus Compact are pleased to welcome Lupita Méndez, our new College Access & Communications Program Manager. Lupita will develop and implement the newly created and still evolving AmeriCorps College Access Corps, as well as working with K-12 partners in the AmeriCorps Connect2Complete program and managing communications for ORCC.
We asked her to share the experiences that brought her to Oregon Campus Compact and her hopes going forward.
I am so thrilled to be joining ORCC this month, coordinating and supporting the College Access Corps and Connect2Complete AmeriCorps programs. As I think about my hopes and goals for these programs, there is a statement that keeps coming to mind that I have heard attributed to Paul Gorski: “Just because a student of color (or first generation student, or LGBTQ student, etc…) scores high on a standardized test or graduates with a 4.0 GPA, does not mean that they experience school as equitable or just."
This always rings true to me on both a professional and personal level. I grew up poor in rural Oregon and was lucky to have adults in my life who inspired and encouraged me to stay excited about education, but it was a difficult journey for me and I watched the educational system fail many of my peers and family members.
I have brought this equity lens into my previous roles, such as coordinating programs at the Portland State University Queer Resource Center and the Portland Community College Multicultural Center. I am excited to bring it into my work with the CAC and C2C members and their programs.
My hope is that these amazing AmeriCorps members will build programming that both gives marginalized students the tools to succeed and also examines underlying systems of inequity and injustice.
I am a huge believer in the value of community-based learning and I am committed to ensuring that this year of service is also a time of professional development and personal growth for our AmeriCorps members. I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA in southern Oregon as a young adult, and that year of service stands out in my memory as one of the best learning experiences I’ve had.
In fact, it inspired me to pursue a masters degree in community-based social work so I could continue learning about social justice issues and community organizing. I hope that the CAC and C2C members will gain the same rich learning experience that I did and that it will support their development as leaders and social change agents.
As the year of service comes to a close, our AmeriCorps VISTAs set aside time to reflect on the challenges and victories of the past 12 months. For VISTA Gabe Hernandez, the last year has been a whirlwind of activity.
After finishing his undergraduate degree at Oregon State University, Hernandez looked toward joining Oregon Campus Compact to give back to his hometown community of Woodburn, Ore.
Initially he worked on the Woodburn Grow Your Own Teacher program - a partnership between Chemeketa Community College and Pacific University. The program focuses on increasing college access through mentorship.
Eventually the program piloted into French Prairie, Teach, Learn, and Grow mentoring. Hernandez described his role as capacity building – figuring out how to find mentors and promote the program.
Hernandez not only describes the experience as a success but he also sees potential for it to keep serving the community.
“This program has huge potential to serve Woodburn for years," Hernandez said. "Personally, I feel like there is support system behind it that wants to keep moving and improving."
He added that people in the Woodburn community are taking time off their summer breaks to make sure the next VISTA arrives ready to hit the ground running.
For Gabe, the Teach, Learn, and Grow mentoring provided resources for students that were sorely lacking in Woodburn. In addition, the program brought together the largely Hispanic population of students together with mentors who shared their backgrounds.
In addition to sharing stories and understanding, the mentors provided students with a framework to pursue higher education goals.
"It was very empowering, first couple of sessions they would be shy,” Hernandez said. “But toward the end, many of these students wanted to get on a path where they knew where they could get some help."
Hernandez knows the value of having mentors who can set one on the right path. He describes his AmeriCorps VISTA experience as one that gave him the same motivation that he was giving to the students in Woodburn.
He describes a stellar growth from learning professional etiquette to becoming a keynote speaker for the Crystal Apple Awards.
When Hernandez finished his undergrad degree, he knew that he wanted to go on to graduate school, but he was plagued by the feeling that he was not good enough to get his masters.
Hernandez credits his AmeriCorps experience with developing professional and leadership skills.
“[Oregon Campus Compact] gave the necessary skills to be confident to pursue grad school,” he said. Hernandez is returning to OSU to get his masters in the College of Student Affairs Program. He has also received an assistantship in the Center for Leadership Development that will pay for his tuition. His ultimate goal is to work with students of color at four-year universities.
As for the community in Woodburn, Hernandez said it is hard to leave the position. But he feels optimistic the program will continue to grow and give back.
“I see a bright future for the next VISTA coming in,” he said.