YWCA Community Garden Kickoff
To wrap our "Serving Across the State" AmeriCorps Week project, the MYBC again traveled westward, this time to the Springfield YWCA. For the first time since Monday's event in Boston, the nice weather found us. Under a sunny sky, YouthBuild volunteers were organized into teams by YWCA staff and set to work on a wide variety of projects to get their organization's community garden project up and running for the growing season. Tasks included prepping garden beds, building raised beds, installing fencing to keep out pesky deer, mixing potting soil, potting transplants, painting signage, and building a tool shed. In short, we had our hands full.
The garden space at the YWCA will be tended by residents of the emergency shelter on site, and what they grow will be theirs to keep. The volunteers from ten Massachusetts YouthBuild Coalition programs were grateful to play a role in getting such a community and need-based model off the ground. It was clear there will be a day two, three, and many more spent on this project, and YouthBuild students will surely be around to help in that process.
I learned early in the day that this particular garden project had been planned by a VISTA in the Springfield area, who just so happened to be graduating from UMass later in the afternoon. And while YWCA staff kept informing him of his 11:30am departure deadline (his mother would be made if he missed his own graduation), Peter stuck with us well beyond that to see that everything was going as planned. VISTA and AmeriCorps service is all consuming at times. It pushes those who choose it to put their community first in everything they do. Peter's help made me feel nostalgic about my own VISTA service. After all, it was about this time last year that I broke ground, with the help of many YouthBuild volunteers, on a community garden project in my home town. I spent the better part of my summer out there, taking care of our vegetables and selling them (proceeds went right back into the program) at the farmer's market every Friday. One garden was enough to keep our hands full, but Peter informed me that the YWCA is but one of fifteen similar sites he is getting off the ground in the area. That is answering the VISTA call to be sure.
Our programs did something special this week under the banners of the MYBC, Massachusetts Service Alliance, and AmeriCorps Week. We traveled over 5,000 miles to make it happen. We rose early each morning and worked late into most evenings. We landscaped the Massachusetts State House, built handicap accessible picnic tables in Lawrence, showed after-school program youth a great time in Worcester, cleared brush and invasive species in partnership with the Trustees of Reservations on the South Coast, and helped launch a garden that will be growing and giving volunteers a place to work for years to come in Springfield. We truly served across the state, and did so because we thought it was our responsibility as YouthBuild and AmeriCorps programs.
From the MYBC staff, and from one very grateful VISTA, we thank everyone who made this week happen and helped it run smoothly. Time to start planning for AmeriCorps Week 2012.
-Paul, your VISTA blogger
Day Five, Springfield: 50 volunteers (42 AmeriCorps Members, 1 Alum) served 225 hours
Week Totals: 180 volunteers, 741 hours
The Trustees of Reservations
I would be lying if I said this week hasn't been totally exhausting. I'm sure some of the MYBC students and staff that I've been blessed to serve with this week feel the same way. We knew it wouldn't be easy to coordinate ten programs, hundreds of students, and five projects across the state. And though the week doesn't officially close until tomorrow's project wraps in Springfield, I already find myself thinking about how massive-and impressive-an undertaking this has been for the Coalition, and being thankful for our amazing group handling every detail, all the way down to the paper towels, bug spray, and sun block. Fill up that coffee mug one more time Friday morning, and make it a strong one, because we still have one more project and community left to serve.
Today's event with the Trustees of Reservations, a long time friend and partner with our South Coast programs, proved that sometimes it is nice to get back to basics. Away from the urban hustle and bustle that surrounds most of our programs, we convened at the Trustees Westport Town Farm site. The first thing I noticed was the quiet of the place, set alongside the Westport River. Volunteers worked in the garden space pulling weeds, trimming grass, and watering the vegetables that were already coming in (radishes, onions, peas, and some great looking lettuce). Others performed maintenance on the tool shed, transported loam to needed locations, and worked the compost pile. Not to let a good opportunity go to waste, Steve of the Trustees and our activities coordinator for the day, took our students for some much needed R&R by giving the group a walking tour of the entire property. Not only were the vistas picturesque, they served as a reminder that serving your community can put you in some truly amazing places. Through it all, the farm dog was our constant companion and kept an eye out for trouble. Rumor had it there were some coyotes about, though the worms making a home in the compost pile probably gave our students the biggest scare of the day.
Besides our group at the Town Farm, two other teams headed off to other nearby Trustees properties. While we practiced organic garden maintenance techniques, volunteers from Fall River, Lawrence and Worcester broke out the heavy equipment to clear brush at the Trustees' Copicut Woods site. According to Nicole, my VISTA colleague from YB Fall River, the wood chipper only malfunctioned once (not bad) and they were able to get a lot of work in on the day. Volunteers from YB New Bedford and YB Brockton did the important work of clearing invasive plant species at Cornell Farm.
Through it all, it was clear why The Trustees and Massachusetts YouthBuild programs have been close partners for many years. Their staff was passionate about what the work they do and the land they are lucky to keep in its beautiful, natural state. We take that same passion and direct it toward the youth we serve in our programs. We thank the Trustees for allowing us to serve this week and hope to continue this great relationship.
Photos below, care of Jamilyn Gordon, YB New Bedford.
Tomorrow, we're wrapping it all up with YB Springfield as our host site and a community garden kickoff event on the docket.
Day Four, South Coast: 32 Volunteers (27 AmeriCorps Members, 1 VISTA) served 128 hours
Week Totals: 130 volunteers, 516.5 hours
Tomorrow's Weather.com forecast: Mostly cloudy skies. High 72F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph.
-Paul, your VISTA blogger
Mentoring initiative carnival
First, a little background. In August of 2010, the MYBC kicked off its first ever mentoring initiative. Students from Coalition programs were matched with mentors (usually directors or program staff). Mentors and mentees meet frequently and also take part in a mentoring activity at each monthly Coalition director's meeting. This group was tasked with organizing a service project as a capstone to their year and have been planning ever since. They decided this event would focus on after-school youth in a program community and elected to hold a carnival. To fit into our "Serving Across the State" model, YB Worcester offered to host.
A carnival is nothing without fun activities for kids. Good thing we have ten programs with students and staff who hone their construction skills over the YouthBuild year. YB Lowell kicked in a "human whack-a-mole" stand. YB Fall River built a ladybug bean bag toss. Just-A-Start YouthBuild had kids fishing for candy. Throw in face-painting station, temporary tattoos, bubbles, jewelry boxes, a clown, a whole lot of prizes and the kids in the Guild of St. Agnes after-school program didn't know where to begin. It was great to see the enthusiasm YouthBuild students brought to giving back to youth in Worcester. By the time the carnival wrapped and the prizes were running low, the 50 or so youth in attendance had all our volunteers gasping for air, but that is the sign of a great day.
This event goes to show that serving your community more often than not begins with its youth, and it can mean nothing more than brightening their afternoon. I think we all walked away from this event with a smile on our faces, and MYBC programs were happy to donate all of the carnival games and snacks. We hope to be back to the Guild of St. Agnes soon.
Special thanks to Maren Reisch, MYBC Mentoring Coordinator for organizing this event, and to all of the mentees who planned it every step of the way. The Guild of St. Anges provided a great space and were accommodating to all our needs.
Tomorrow, we're serving at the Trustees of Reservation Westport Town Farm site.
Photos below, care of Jamilyn Gordon of YB New Bedford.
Day Three, Worcester: 35 Volunteers (30 AmeriCorps Members) served 105 hours total
Week Totals: 98 volunteers, 388.5 hours
Tomorrow's Weather.com forecast: Mostly cloudy skies. High 58F. Winds NNE at 15 to 25 mph.
-Paul, your VISTA blogger
My first two observations after arriving at the 15th annual Carpentry Challenge...1) It is ALOT colder than yesterday; and 2) There is ALOT going on here.
The level of planning needed to put on this event became apparent early on, as construction pits were marked off with caution tape, the DJ tent was set up, what seemed like miles of extension chords were plugged into generators and stretched out across the Home Depot of Methuen parking lot, and programs began arriving not only in the usual vans, but also with U-Haul trucks filled to the brim with construction equipment. The fact that 12 programs from across Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island were participated is a testament to the hours and hours of planning done by April Lyskowsky, the staff of YouthBuild Lawrence, and Jennifer Kelliher of the MYBC.
The Carpentry Challenge is a Coalition institution, and Home Depot has been our host site each of the past fifteen years. I could tell the students were excited to put the carpentry skills they learn building affordable housing in their communities up against those of the other programs. By about 10am, when the power tools were fired up and crews of YouthBuilders went about building three walls to be judged for speed, accuracy, and safety practices at the work site, I had dubbed the Challenge "The Super Bowl of the MYBC calendar". For someone like me who lacks a construction background, it was hard to imagine the excitement surrounding building three walls in a Home Depot parking lot. That is, until I saw teams building three walls in a Home Depot parking lot. Trust me. One moment, crews were working on the ground, nailing boards together. The next, there were standing structures in most of the pits. The precision and intensity they worked with was incredible to say the least.
In the end, YouthBuild Brockton took third place, host site Lawrence grabbed second place, and, for the third time in four years, YouthBuild Fall River took top honors at the Carpentry Challenge. Congratulations.
As I said above, there was ALOT going on at the Carpentry Challenge today. For the first time, a service project accompanied the traditional Challenge element. Beginning around 10a, students got to work building handicap accessible picnic tables to be donated to VA organizations in Massachusetts. While students from most programs in attendance took part in this project, I have to give a few shout-outs. Greg Earls of YouthBuild Lowell was on hand to oversee a team of students in the service project, and I personally saw him work through lunch, cleanup, and most of the awards presentations to ensure that every table his team of volunteers started was finished by days end. The same can be said for the students of YouthBuild New Bedford, who were unable to participate in the Challenge but went all out on the service project. And as the day was wrapping up and most other teams were busy tearing down their walls and cleaning up their work areas, Peter Hinrichs and a handful of volunteers from YB Boston and YB Springfield built a table from start to finish.
That is the thing about volunteerism: individuals aren't doing it to be noticed, but as these few names and faces I listed above illustrate, someone always notices. Nice work and a big thank you to all those who participated in the service projects. Veterans groups were on hand to receive the tables, and here's to hoping for many warm, sunny days this summer so they can be enjoyed.
A few more thank yous before I grab some much needed rest:
Kristen Nelson, our grant officer from the Mass Service Alliance was on hand for a site visit. For all the reasons listed above, I hope the day was as memorable for you as it was for me. Without MSA funding, we wouldn't be able to conduct these projects throughout the week to the same scale and effect.
The staff and students of YouthBuild Lawerence and Lowell, who coordinated the Challenge and service elements and had a long, long day setting up and tearing down long after the other programs were on the road home. Hope you all were able sit back for a moment and enjoy the fruits of your labor today.
Finally, to everyone who participated. We'll see many of you tomorrow at the Worcester Carnival event tomorrow, organized by students in the MYBC mentoring initiative. We expect at least 50 youth from after-school programs to attend, and I'm sure they are looking forward to some of the games and activities you have planned.
Photos below, care of our AmeriCorps Week photographer, Jamilyn Gordon of YB New Bedford.
Day Two, Lawrence: 26 Volunteers (18 Full Time members, 3 Alums) served 117 hours total
Week Totals: 63 Volunteers, 283.5 hours
Tomorrow's Weather.com Forecast: Cloudy skies. High 61F. Winds N at 10 to 20 mph.
-Paul, your VISTA blogger
Boston State House Landscaping
My name is Paul Rouhas and I am an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer serving with the Massachusetts YouthBuild Coalition. I arrived here from my hometown of Rockford, Illinois after serving my first VISTA year at YouthBuild Rockford. In September, I moved to Boston, made the transition from Green Project Coordinator at one YB program to a Resource Developer for the ten great programs that make up the MYBC.
As this is VISTA year 2.0 for me, that makes this AmeriCorps Week 2.0. As a Coalition, we began planning for this service week at the first director's meeting I attended and have been hammering away ever since. The statewide service model was the brainchild of Program Committee Chair Gloria Williams (YB New Bedford), but as we filled out the week's schedule, every program, director, and staff member in the MYBC soon had a role to play. In late April, we learned the Massachusetts Service Alliance had selected the MYBC to receive one of four AmeriCorps Week grants awarded statewide. After a few more eventful weeks of planning, we were finally ready to kick off "Serving Across the State" in Boston this morning.
Rriding the T over to the State House this morning, I thought about every step in my AmeriCorps journey thus far: from interviewing for my first VISTA position, to PSO (pre-service orientation), to meeting all the other YouthBuild VISTAs at IST (in-service training) in Las Vegas each of the past two Decembers, to meeting group after group of new YouthBuild students. Truthfully, it is still hard for me to believe all the people I've met and experiences I've had while serving with AmeriCorps. And that is only my story: 9 of ten programs within the Coalition receive AmeriCorps funding through the Mass Service Alliance or YouthBuild USA National-Direct funding. AmeriCorps Week is about impacting our communities through service while at the same time celebrating stories like mine and those of the nearly 300 AmeriCorps enrolled YouthBuild students within the Coalition.
We could not have asked for a more perfect day to kick off "Serving Across the State". The sun was shining, our "Serving Across the State" t-shirts looked fantastic, and Governor Patrick came down to greet YouthBuilders from all ten of our programs around 10am. Both ABC 7 (WHDH) and Metro stopped by to film our students at work and take some photos. While this is the third year Coalition YouthBuild students have done landscaping work at the State House (and we're always happy to help), this marks the first year it was part of AmeriCorps Week. Special thanks to all our student volunteers, the State House staff for providing everything we needed (box lunches, water, tools, and plants), and Peter Hinrichs of YouthBuild Boston for coordinating day one.
Day One, Boston: 37 Volunteers (25 Full Time Members, 1 VISTA, 3 Alums) served 166.5 hours total
Tomorrow's Event: Carpentry Challenge, Lawrence
Weather.com Forecast: Partly cloudy early followed by mostly cloudy skies and a few showers later in the day. High 62F. Winds NNE at 20 to 30 mph. Chance of rain 30%
Photos coming soon.
-Paul, your VISTA blogger