How do you lead and inspire change in your community? Ecolibrium3 AmeriCorps VISTA members dedicate a year of service to help eradicate poverty in Duluth, MN, and surrounding communities. Our current VISTA cohort is wrapping up its year of service this month, but what are the results of a year of service to the Duluth area? For the 2019-20 Eco3 VISTA cohort, it resulted in impact.
The collective impact of the 17 Eco3 VISTA members is reflected in numbers that show they:
- Recruited and trained 1,430 community volunteers
- Leveraged over $349,226 in-kind and cash resources for local initiatives
- Built 58 new systems to enhance processes and organizational efficiency
- Provided essential resources to 1,836 community members through VISTA-led or influenced programs
However, impact can also be measured in stories.
Home Weatherization for Reduced Energy Costs: Armed with her caulking gun and window kits, Madison (Community Energy Program Coordinator VISTA at Ecolibrium3) addressed and improved energy efficiency in homes. This efficiency helped reduce the energy expenditure of income-qualifying households in Duluth. Her most memorable home weatherization involved a leader in the community who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. Madison and her team were able to convert the leader’s home from fuel oil to natural gas heating, install a new water heater, and provide air-sealing to reduce the amount of heat leaking out of the home by 17%, saving the household $163 per year.
Educating Preschoolers on Social Justice: How do you teach preschool-aged children about social justice? That was the question Marissa (Community Learning Advocate VISTA with the Duluth Children’s Museum) set out to answer. She designed and helped lead an “I Am Special” social justice curriculum. In one particular lesson, the students talked about the concept of “being special.” Each student made a page about why they were special which were compiled into a book. This engaging social-emotional learning focused on self-love and love for others is vital at this young age.
Improving Community Health Outcomes: Freedom from substance dependency goes hand in hand with mental health and resiliency. Two VISTA members, Stephany and Sara (St. Louis County Opioid Specialist VISTA and Public Health VISTA respectively) worked to improve the health of individuals and the community as a whole. Stephany was a leader in organizing National Take Back Day which took large amounts of opioid drugs out of the community so they could be disposed of properly. She also helped coordinate the first ever Sobriety Resource Fair on the Iron Range. Sara was instrumental in building the Bridging Health Duluth coalition and running campaigns to educate youth on the risks of vaping. Education, ensuring support structures are in place, and addressing challenges at the source are important elements of a healthier community.
Addressing Hunger and Increasing Access to Food: We all need to eat. Food security is a key issue that a number of Eco3 VISTA members worked to address. Kelsie (Garden Education VISTA at the Duluth Community Garden Program), Conor (Food Sovereignty VISTA at the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa), and Sarah (Agriculture and Food Systems VISTA at the University of Minnesota Northeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership) focused on increasing access to local and nutrient-dense foods. Whether it is teaching and managing volunteers in a community garden, developing an edible landscape policy for Indigenous foods, or assisting with the creation of a farm-to-school program, these members have worked to address hunger by developing food systems in our communities.
Responding to Community Need During the COVID-19 Pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way our society functions and exacerbated community needs. Lucas (Low-Income Energy Partnership Developer VISTA at Ecolibrium3) saw the opportunity to meet these needs, and shifted the focus of his service. Community stakeholders identified two community needs: the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) for community members and frontline workers and food security for families of students. Lucas set out to develop partnerships and initiatives to address these needs. He coordinated the distribution of 350 grocery bags to families of students at Duluth Public Schools during spring recess when regular meal service was not available to students to ensure no child would go hungry during that week. He helped design and execute, along with Eco3 AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates Wren, Joel, and Kiefer, the Pay It Forward PPE Project which produced over 220,000 face shields for frontline workers, distributed over 5,000 masks to community members vulnerable to the coronavirus, and donated over $50,000 of PPE proceeds to local charities and groups. Partnerships and coming together as a community are vital during this time.
These are just a few of the impact stories from our 2019-20 cohort. Other Eco3 AmeriCorps VISTA members built capacity at their respective organizations in multiple ways: grant writing; numerous fundraising appeals; writing communications campaigns; crunching and analyzing data; coordinating gatherings and stakeholder meetings; creating resources for the public; and putting systems in place to make organizations that serve the community operate more effectively and efficiently.
As our members’ service terms come to a close, we take a moment to reflect on their year with the Ecolibrium3 AmeriCorps VISTA program. Their dedication to addressing poverty-related issues has had, and will continue to have, a lasting impact in our community. Thank you for your service!