By Gina Nguyen, Reading, PA
It was a brisk Monday morning at the Franciscan Roman Catholic institution, Alvernia University, where the VISTAs gathered for the first Reading Regional Meeting.
Rachel Lillo, myself, Rhiannon Jacobs, Briana Pearson, Melody Dillee, Daisy Porrazzo, and our leader, Erin Sullivan, assembled at the Holleran Center Conference Room in Bernardine Hall.
As I poured myself a cup of scorching hot coffee, Erin began the meeting with a warm VISTA welcome, sharing with us the morning agenda.
Rachel spoke first, eager to share her perspectives from Albright College. As a year one VISTA, she devotes her time to the 13th Street Educational Partnership. She recruits Albright students to volunteer their time at Northeast Middle School with hopes to increase writing and math skills. Rachel aspires to motivate students to strive toward education, attend college, and pursue a career that would result in decreased poverty levels in the Reading area.
As a Penn State Berks alumna, I am serving as the first year PEPP VISTA on the Berks campus with the education initiative, PEPP (Penn State Educational Partnership Program). PEPP is an afterschool tutoring and mentoring program that operates within the five Reading School District sites.
Similar to Rachel’s initiative, I recruit Penn State Berks college students to serve as PEPP Learning Assistants, or PLAs, to work directly one-on-one with the Reading students. In addition to PLA recruitment, I develop and establish mechanisms and protocols to assist with the retention process at each site.
Also serving at the Berks campus is Rhiannon, a year two VISTA. As the Community Development Specialist for the Be Bold Take Charge (BBTC) initiative, Rhiannon is working to “address root causes of poor health in the City of Reading.” She explains that BBTC seeks to create transformational change, focusing on social determinants of health such as economic development, food access, and nutrition education.
Briana and Melody both serve at Alvernia University. Briana, or Bri, the Tyson-Schoener Educational Outreach Coordinator, facilitates the afterschool program for first and second-grade. She mobilizes Alvernia student employees and volunteers to work for the program and assists in planning logistics with the school.
Similar to Bri’s responsibilities, Alvernia-Millmont Educational Partnership Program Manager, Melody, manages the Millmont Elementary School site and has approximately 40 Alvernia students who help tutor and engage in fun, educational activities with the Millmont students.
“I look forward to collaborating with the other VISTAs in the Reading area to expand the reach of my project and create a bigger impact in the community,” she says.
Second year VISTA, Daisy, Alvernia University alumna, also serves at Alvernia. She assists the Berks Department of Agriculture and Berks Agriculture Resource Network, also known as B.A.R.N., to host events such as Harvest Fest and the Bountiful Berks Banquet.
Daisy is currently in the midst of rebranding the Bountiful Berks logo with hopes that local farmers, producers, and vendors will utilize the logo to support themselves as well as others. Additionally, she researches and helps with the Bountiful Berks’ social media and plans on launching it using the hashtag, #bountifulberks.
“I’m also helping at Bog Turtle Creek Farm with whatever is needed,” Daisy adds, “primarily guidance and helping with a possible kick off Food Pantry at Alvernia.”
In this moment, we realized we shared more similarities than differences. Through some serious and not-so-serious discussions, the six of us shared laughter, advice, and words of encouragement for one another.
As a result, we have come to the conclusion that it is most important to support each other in all future endeavors, care for our own health and well-being first, and be honest and speak your mind.
In the words of Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
By: Nicolette Epifani, Philadelphia, PA
On Wednesday, October 18th, PACC VISTAs from the Philly area got together in the very place where their journey as a cohort first began – Drexel University’s Lindy Center for Civic Engagement. There were three universities represented – Drexel University (myself), the University of Pennsylvania (Jaz and Janae), and West Chester University (Gabby).
Our fearless VISTA Leader, Erin, started the meeting in the best way possible – with homemade pumpkin bread! Beyond the delicious treats, she created a space of loosely guided activities that sparked natural discussion. This meeting gave us the time to catch up with each other informally, find touchpoints for connection, and express our trials and tribulations thus far.
Throughout the session, we voiced concerns we were having at our site and received feedback on how to navigate them and move forward. While a VISTA year may bring challenges, it also presents many rewarding and exciting opportunities – a fact that was evident to us all, even this early in the game. Erin guided us through an activity that encouraged us to talk about what parts of our projects are currently going well or which opportunities for growth we were hopeful for.
So often we refer to one another as a “VISTA” (a title I am proud of!) with so much focus on our specific projects, but it was nice to have a meetup like this where we could pause and appreciate one another as fellow young, female professionals. We each talked about some of our passions outside of our project or our goals for after this year of service.
Overall, the regional meetup in University City was a success, and we are all looking forward to seeing one another again soon at the next one!
P.S. Erin – if you have any leftover pumpkin bread, I’m sure we won’t mind you dumping it on us again
Lots of VISTA love,
By: Desiree Ventureira, Allentown, PA
In our region which is Allentown, we have three vistas working at three different college campuses which are, North Hampton Community College, DeSales University, and Cedar Crest College. Our first visit was hosted by DeSales University, home of the Bulldogs, located in Center Valley, PA. When I first arrived I was greeted by lots of open fields and cozy campus feel, and complete confusion on where the building Mcshae was, but its okay I got through it. Erin O’Neil the VISTA that hosted the meet up greeted me with the familiar friendly smile I knew. She than gave us a mini tour of the building which is also their student center. To the left there was pool tables and TVs, to the right there was a mini café (that made me salivate a little) and in front of us was a giant showcase of some plaques and trophies highlighting DeSales. What was amazing to see was the charter inside the show case for Alpha Phi Omega, the community service fraternity on campus, with Erin’s name listed as a founding member! We then got to hangout in Erin’s office for a little while we waited for the last VISTA, Katie, to arrive. The office space was filled with great scents and lots of paintings which gave it a not so “office feel”. We than took some time to discuss some apple pie recipes and when we all started to get a little hungry Erin (our vista leader) told us that she brought us brownies as a silver lining. We then went into a conference room and disused our current vista situations, challenges, and how we can work together and utilize each other. After the meeting, brownies, and many tortilla chips with salsa the room felt a little less tense and a little more lite. I feel that this regional meet up made me and the girls realize that we are not alone in the feelings we share and it helped us discover new ways on how we could use each other as a balance to many of those problems. By the end of the day we even discussed how we are going to create a “Community Conference Day” during the spring semester which can bring all of our service projects and ideas together in one setting. It was really great to be able to get out of the office and my regular work routine to meet up with friends and just come back to reality that we are not alone during the hardships we endure. What I took away from this experience was the feeling of togetherness and how I have come to love the people in our cohort because there is nothing but unique ideas, good vibes and endless support from everyone. What I appreciate the most is that even when you can’t see the finish line for yourself this cohort adjusts your glasses and runs with you to the end, and that’s something special.
By: Francis Miliano, Harrisburg/Lancaster, PA