Passion Guides VISTA Projects

Ecolibrium3 places VISTA members in a variety of host sites for a year of service, working for the shared goals of building community capacity and addressing poverty in Northern Minnesota. VISTAs serve in many different fields, including transportation, agriculture, administration, outreach, and more. VISTAs are placed in the position that best suits their skills and experience. During their service, members are connected with resources, training, professional development, and the opportunity to explore their interests.Many VISTA members take time during their service to work on a passion project of their choice. This month, three of our current VISTAs took time to share their passion projects with us.

Reese in Washington, D.C.
Poster created in partnership with the City of Duluth Sustainability Office

Reese serves as the Eco3 VISTA Leader. She supports all the VISTA members personally and professionally through their service, builds the capacity of the Eco3 VISTA program, and expands community awareness of AmeriCorps VISTA. In addition to all these responsibilities, Reese also supports community resilience work at Ecolibrium3.

Reese’s first experience with community development and resilience work was at a Community Action branch in southwest Michigan when she was nineteen years old, where she did casework to help community members access resources to alleviate energy poverty. In this role, Reese was also introduced to public service by a coworker who had served as a Peace Corps volunteer, later guiding her to AmeriCorps as an opportunity to serve domestically after college. Reese feels it is very rewarding to help people find the resources they need and plan for more stability and resilience in our community. Throughout her time at Ecolibrium3, Reese has worked on several different community resilience projects, including helping our partners at Ready North and aspects of the work funded by the Renewables Advancing Community Energy Resilience (RACER) grant. As part of this work, Reese has conducted dozens of interviews and gathered hundreds of survey responses to build a clear idea of how our neighbors have been impacted by power outages in recent years. She has also organized stakeholder meetings with community partners, including an emergency preparedness tabletop exercise and focus groups with Duluth residents. This March, Reese traveled with City of Duluth Sustainability Officer Mindy Granley to Washington, D.C., to attend a peer review conference hosted by the Department of Energy Solar and Energy Technologies Office. She helped present the concepts and research processes of the resilience studies to date and networked with other community organizations doing similar work across the country.

Laec working on his game
Screenshot from Laec's video game

Laec serves as the Eco3 Digital Design VISTA. He supports Ecolibrium3’s operations and builds capacity by developing database tools that are specifically designed for the unique needs of each program. He also helps maintain the Ecolibrium3 website and provides much-appreciated technical support for staff members.

Before becoming a VISTA member Laec worked in education, where he noticed that many students felt computer programming was beyond their capabilities. Game design is one of Laec’s passions, and he credits it with helping him learn to program. So when the opportunity arose to design a summer school course, he was eager to create a class on video game development that would teach basic programming skills. Laec has been able to use some of his service time to develop the materials for the course, which will be taught for the first time this summer. In Laec’s one-week class, students with no former programming experience will create their own computer games. They will be able to work at their own pace, choosing what modules and focus areas interest them and allowing them room to explore. The course is designed to be ADHD friendly: it is easily broken into smaller, non-overwhelming sections and provides plenty of opportunities for students to try out their own unique ideas. With this project, Laec has been able to pursue his passions while creating a useful community resource. He shared that providing an opportunity for students to explore the world of technology has been one of the best parts of his service.

Head shot of Michael Garvey
Michael at the start of service
Title slide of Michael's presentation

Michael serves as the Community Resilience VISTA at the Carlton County Community and Family Initiatives Department. He develops relationships with local organizations to build capacity and community sustainability. In addition to these responsibilities, Michael has also developed and presented a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) training focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and trans, queer and questioning, intersex, asexual or agender, two-spirit, and other queer identities (LGBTQIA2S+)

Before his year of VISTA service, Michael had worked with the Community and Family Initiatives (CFI) Department in the summers of 2021 and 2022. During that time he found CFI to be an accepting space for queer and trans people, which was a change that mattered to him from other jobs he had worked at in the past. Michael shared that living very publicly under the wrong name and gender in past jobs was draining, but at CFI, everyone knows him as Michael, and he is a lot happier. He feels he is surrounded by people not only willing to support him, but to learn more. When he decided to create a DEIJ presentation about LGBTQIA2S+ identities, he was excited to turn it into a chance to teach others about this community he is so proud to be a part of. The presentation covers some of the most commonly recognized pride flags, teaching a basic understanding of each identity, what each flag symbolizes, and a brief history of the flag’s creation. The results from his first presentation were very positive; people told him they had no idea how diverse the community is, and one attendee asked follow-up questions because their child had recently come out as trans. Michael is giving the presentation for a second time in early June.

Serving with AmeriCorps VISTA can be an incredibly rewarding and valuable experience when the work aligns with members’ interests. We are grateful to benefit from the passion of all of our VISTA members currently serving in our community. 

What are you passionate about? See our current VISTA openings to find your perfect fit!