Browsing Category: AmeriCorps

Team DC Unveils the T.H.E. Memorial Garden

This year Team DC decided to collaborate with Transgender Health Empowerment in their efforts to enhance the quality of life of the diverse transgender population that they serve. Our team is worked hard to provide support to their clients, and revitalize the plot of land adjacent to THE. Our efforts were to help allow THE clients to take ownership of a community garden and provide a space to gather and facilitate community building.

Starting in February, we began to create a detailed plan on how the garden was going to look like, how much it was going to cost us, how we would raise the money and what kind of long-term effect we wanted the community garden to leave. We literally began the renewal of the garden with a pair of gloves, a few trash bags and our hands. We spent one full day pulling weeds, some reaching the height of our hips.  The messy plot of land was filled with rocks, clay, bricks, needles, broken glass, trash, you name it! However, once we finished the garden, it was filled with lots of herbs and vegetables including zucchini squash, oregano, okra, basil, tomatoes and our favorite, chocolate mint!  The goal was to have not only a peaceful place for their low-income, HIV positive clients to relax in but for them to also adapt a healthy lifestyle with fresh vegetables and herbs that they could hand pick.

After months of running in an out of Home Depot, getting assistance from local carpenters Danny and Randy, raising nearly $2,000, days in the heat working tirelessly, a 10′ x 12′ patio, picnic table, grill, bench, a hydrangea tree and many shrubs, vegetables and herbs later, we decided to reveal the garden on June 27, which happened to be National HIV Testing Day.  Our team ended up administering over 80 HIV tests to people in the local community along with passing out fish and hamburger trays as incentives for getting tested!

Team DC is so proud of our hard work as a team! Being able to create a space for such a small organization that serves a population that is constantly overlooked was a very rewarding way to end our year as Americorps members.

On the make: Team Chicago checks in

In mid-May, Team Chicago broke ground on the Bettendorf Place Community Courtyard.We expected to get dirty and sweaty as we made way for the perennials and annuals that now grace Bettendorf’s front and backyards. Instead, the sun kept the chill out of the air and seasoned greenthumbs made sure more soil ended up around the plant than on our hands. With the usual difficulties of a large scale planting project out of the way, there was time for us to take in the magnitude of what we had done and were doing: making a significant, sustainable contribution to the fabric of a community.

Making. Admittedly, Team Chicago did the easy part: we put a little force on a few shovels, and in a matter of hours a courtyard was there. Our partners in this project (and science) ensured that the plants were ready to put in the ground when planting day rolled around. Yet, it is appropriate to name what we’ve done at Bettendorf as making: The Community Courtyard was – and is – a creation in process.

When we initially brainstormed for our long term project, we wanted it to be as much about the community we were serving as possible. We did not want a project that whose only traces in a year’s time would be a picture or two. We wanted to sponsor something with both staying power and growing power. As the Bettendorf Community Courtyard continues to thrive without us, Team Chicago is confident that we’ve set a lasting process in motion: Upon arriving at Bettendorf to start planting, residents were already out enthusiastically planting the first bulbs.

It’s June now. On the 22nd, we’ll see the burgeoning fruits of our labor as we host the grand opening of the Bettendorf Community Courtyard with a BBQ. Long after the pictures are taken, the Courtyard will be there, ready for continual celebrations and conversations of a community in the making.

Team Indianapolis Unveils Wellness Garden to Public

After six months of beautification, Team Indianapolis welcomed the public to the Wellness Garden within Miss Mary’s Garden on June 12th.  Situated on the west side of Indianapolis, renovations to this garden were made possible through a collaboration with the Center of Wellness for Urban Women, Inc (CWUW), Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, and the Purdue Cooperative Extension.  Team Indianapolis has been working since the beginning of the year to make this artistic addition possible.

“Our original goal for the long-term project was to create a space for people living with and affected by HIV to express themselves.  With advances in medication and medical treatment, people with HIV are living long and healthy lives, so we decided to focus on the idea of life and holistic wellness rather than limiting our vision to a single disease.  It was amazing to see the response that we got from the community and the art projects that were submitted,” said Lisa Passmore, AmeriCorps team member.

The Wellness Area consists of a path made of bricks with inspiring messages for health and wellness painted by volunteers, clients of the nearby Damien Center, and neighbors.  A new Health Circle also adorns the yard, offering an artistic space for retreat, group activities, and exercise. Various art projects and contributions are placed throughout the yard to attract and accommodate wildlife and visitors.  All the beautification projects were completed with supporter donations and through a special grant from the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiative.  With the help of community members and students from Butler University, the majority of these works were installed as part of National Volunteer Week in mid-April.

“The addition of the Wellness Area makes this garden more than just a place to grow vegetables. It will also be a hub for education about sustainable gardening, community beautification, and garden and art therapy,” said Rhonda Bayless, executive director of the CWUW and one of the community speakers at the garden’s opening event.

The garden, on the donated former home of Miss Mary Kinchlow, was built by the CWUW in 2010 as an educational resource for the west side neighborhood. The garden is heavily focused on the seven dimensions of wellness, as originally described by Dr. Hettler of the National Wellness Institute.  Team Indianapolis was proud to be a part of this community effort and create a natural wellness space for all to enjoy for many years to come.

In bloom: a longterm project update from Team Chicago

Photo of Team Chicago planting

by Brittaney Bethea, Member, AU AmeriCorps Team Chicago 

As we inch toward the summer months, the residents at Alexian Brothers’ Bettendorf Place have a lot to look forward to. To encourage them to engage more with one another, the outdoor space surrounding Bettendorf Place will be transformed into a community courtyard.

Team Chicago presented this idea to Alexian Brothers mid-December last year. The Team’s vision was simply to provide a space where the support of friends and peers can reduce stress, encourage a positive outlook on life, and motivate individuals to remain proactive about their health. Since the beginning of 2012, Team Chicago has been planning and fundraising to ensure this project’s success.  In January, we held a focus group with Bettendorf residents to ensure the courtyard would meet their expectations. In February, we began a vigorous fundraising campaign that included fundraising through Indiegogo.com and partnering with local Chicago businesses such as Target, Early to Bed, Trader Joe’s and Home Depot to gain monetary and in-kind donations. Additionally, God’s Gang, a horticulture organization, and Whole Foods have agreed to provide flowers, plants, seeds and planting supplies.

Most recently, “Benefit for Bettendorf” was held in early April to also raise funds for the cause at MultiKulti, a multicultural community center located in the heart of Chicago serving the public as a central location for diversity, artistic expression, and activism for social justice. The event’s purpose was threefold: to promote safe sex, to raise awareness of the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic, and to raise money for Bettendorf Place. Thanks to a slew of spoken word artists, musical guests, and graffiti artists, the event was a huge success!

Soon picnic tables, benches, and other courtyard furniture will be purchased for the courtyard. As we enter the last two months of our AmeriCorps year, Team Chicago is gearing up to landscape the courtyard and host a celebratory end-of-project BBQ at Bettendorf. The Team is thankful for the friends, family, and co-workers who have supported the long-term project thus far. Stay tuned for updates on our project and a long list of thank yous to our supporters. Hope you’re as excited as we are to reveal the flourishing new courtyard to the Bettendorf community!

AmeriCorps Week in Tulsa!

Team TulsaTeam Tulsa’s service day during AmeriCorps week was at Community of Hope United Church of Christ. We helped out in the community garden, where 12 of the 40 garden plots are dedicated to growing food for families affected by HIV/AIDS. We also cleaned up the memorial rock garden that honors people who have died from AIDS.

Community of Hope was started in the 1990s as a church that welcomed people with HIV/AIDS. At that time, many other churches in the area openly discouraged these people from attending. Since then the church has seen changes in its location, denomination, and members, but it still caters to people affected by HIV/AIDS.

One of  the ways the church does outreach is through “Tables to Go,” a program that provides a week’s worth of food every month to 12 families (36 people) affected by HIV/AIDS. The community garden located on the church property has dedicated 12 of the 40 plots to growing healthy food for this program.

The memorial rock garden on the church property is a beautifully landscaped memorial to people who have died from AIDS.  Family members and friends can write names and messages on rocks as a way to remember and honor them. The 1997-1998 AIDS United (then National AIDS Fund) AmeriCorps team created this memorial as its long term project, so it was great to be able to continue the work that the team started!

What we did:

There was a lot of work to be done – spring sprang very early in Tulsa! Brant spent much of the day pruning an apple tree that was growing out of control. The meticulous task was a perfect job for him and the community garden leaders were so pleased with the result!

Karen, Carolyn, Paige and Naomi spent time cleaning up the memorial rock garden. The pine trees in the garden are lovely, but there were a LOT of pine needles that needed to be removed! We carted away 15 wheelbarrow loads of leaves, weeds and needles!  We uncovered memorial rocks that had been buried, and prepared the garden for some people who are going to be doing planting soon.

Paige and Karen got the dirty job of cleaning out the community garden water tank. It was pretty gross, but it’s important to have a clean water supply to grow food! They also got to harvest cilantro for the next day’s delivery of food to the families the garden serves!

Overall we had a tiring day of work in the sun, and it was a lot of fun to get to work with a group that has such a rich history of serving people in Tulsa with HIV/AIDS.

AmeriCorps Week | Team Carolina

Team Carolina has been busy. For AmeriCorps Week, we traveled North Carolina to find individuals who embody the message: “Life does not stop after a positive diagnosis.” Our long term project started with an idea, and has now blossomed into the production of a public service announcement campaign. Millions of individuals get newly diagnosed every day. Without the proper support system, these individuals may feel lost and alone. Additionally, because HIV-related stigma may keep people from disclosing their status, they may lack the public education necessary in order to take the next step after a positive diagnosis. We aim to produce awareness and information that help relieve this problem.

When we conduct interviews, we ask our interviewees to answer our questions as if they are talking to an individual who has just been newly diagnosed.  As a result, we hear suggestive, honest, nostalgic, and regretful commentary. One of our goals for this project is for newly-diagnosed individuals who may see it to begin to feel like they have a community they can turn to.  As human beings, a sense of community is something we naturally long for. When a stranger who has been positive for twenty-some years is telling you that life will be okay, the message becomes not only powerful, but intimate.

Team Carolina has conducted over ten interviews and the footage is truly inspiring. We have traveled from Charlotte to Greensboro to Fayetteville, while also recording anecdotes within the Triangle Area of North Carolina as well. Once interviews are completed, the editing process will begin. Our goal: one short public service announcement, one long(er) informational piece, and several commercial-length videos. It would be a dream if AIDS service organizations across the country could use the footage as an avenue to reach newly diagnosed people in their area. To launch the finished project, we plan on having a screening party with other local AmeriCorps teams, several AIDS Service Organizations, and the local community and media.

All of this could not have been possible without the assistance from AIDS United, and the University of North Carolina Center for AIDS Research. They have enabled us to maximize our resources in order to cover the various facets of this production.