By Elena Gustavson
Started in 1965, Volunteers In Service to America program, better known today as AmeriCorps VISTAs, was established to help bring both individuals and communities out of poverty in the United States. To that end, individuals who join the program commit one full year to a specific project and/or organization committed to serving low-income Americans, immersing themselves in the work and communities that they serve. In Vermont, several organizations across the Green Mountains have benefitted from this national service and Rutland Area Farm & Food Link is no exception. This year, we have been fortunate to engage two accomplished and intelligent VISTAS for our Glean Team and our community outreach efforts.
Our gleaning program, Glean Team, was established in 2009. In 2014, Jenn Simons, our first AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for the program, helped us expand our capacity to collect and distribute produce from farms that for various reasons, couldn’t be sold by the farmers. Besides the day to day work of collecting, sorting and delivering gleaned produce, Jenn went on to establish written structure, work with the statewide Vermont Gleaning Collective, organize volunteers and assist in the outreach efforts for Glean Team. Now in our second year of Glean Team, Julie Schubert, this year’s Glean Team VISTA, has filled Jenn’s shoes beautifully by building on her initial work, delving into statistics and opportunities for deepening the program, engaging volunteers and as always, gleaning and delivering a LOT MORE produce. Since 2009, when the gleaning program was first established, RAFFL’s Glean Team has collected and distributed 131,000 pounds of farm produce throughout the Rutland region and in the last two years alone, RAFFL Glean Team has collected and distributed more than 61,000 pounds, an increase that we directly attribute to the hard work of Jenn and Julie.
This year, for the first time, we had the fortune to bring in a VISTA to assist with our outreach efforts within the community, including volunteer management, assistance in delivery of locally grown foods, assistance in our Everyday Chef Food and Cooking program as well as helping us to establish new relationships and build on existing local partnerships and collaborations to expand our service to our low-income neighbors. Alexandra Kazimir, by way of the University of Rochester, has also helped establish databases for our outreach contacts, taken the lead in organizing events like Farm to Ballet, demonstrated use of local foods for several Farm Fresh Connect sites and has begun to create systems for including more volunteers in our organization. Heading into the warmer seasons of Vermont, we are excited to have her and Julie organize a community wide screening at the Paramount in May!
Last week was AmeriCorps Week and as a staff, we got together to celebrate and recognize the hard work our VISTAs do for RAFFL. Julie’s and Alexandra’s volunteer service to our organization, like Jenn’s before them, is something that we are all grateful for and their investment in us will serve to benefit many in our region.
To find out more about the AmeriCorp VISTA program in Vermont, visit the Corporation for National & Community Service at www.nationalservice.gov.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald on March 15, 2016.
Photos courtesy of Heidi Bagley.