Browsing Category: AmeriCorps

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.

AmeriCorps Week: Team DC

Greeted by balmy spring weather, Team DC members started off AmeriCorps Week putting their green thumbs to use at The Washington Youth Garden (TWYG), part of the National Arboretum.  Established in 1960, TWYG provides educational programs for youth of the DC metro area.  Focused on teaching youth about nutrition, about where food comes from, and about urban gardening, TWYG offers year-round classes to families and school-based programs.  In preparation for the growing season, Team DC spent a portion of the day weeding and mulching the surrounding butterfly garden.

The remainder of the day was spent at Transgender Health Empowerment’s (THE) Wanda Alston House.  This home provides transitional housing for LGBTQ homeless youth of DC.  Being the only housing directly serving this population in DC, it became the clear choice for Team DC’s long term project (LTP) efforts. After meeting a couple of residents and taking a tour of the house, the team was able to sit down with a current resident and discuss the vision for the house, and her experiences, so we could establish a better idea of where the focus of DC’s LTP was headed.

AmeriCorps Week with Team NOLA

While many organizations in New Orleans have devoted themselves to rebuilding houses destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana State University AgCenter has been working to rebuild Louisiana’s natural resources– especially its wetlands. During AmeriCorps week, Team NOLA took some time to aid in that project by volunteering at the wetlands plant center in City Park, a 1500 acre space located in New Orleans. We were joined by another AmeriCorps member who had brought a team down from Indiana to volunteer.

Before we started working, Caitlin Reilly– the AmeriCorps alumna who supervises the center– took some time to explain to us the purpose of the work the wetlands plant center is doing. The wetlands plant center grows various plants which are then replanted in City Park’s wetlands. Preserving the state’s wetlands is important because they help to prevent erosion and also act as a filtration system for pollutants.

After Caitlin’s informative talk, we got to work, cleaning out barrels and weeding plants. It was hard work. Most of the weeds did not want to give way, and some of the plants were infested with red ants. The day was also quite warm.

After a late lunch and some work on our long-term project, we headed to the New Orleans Museum of Art. There we saw an exhibit of art called “Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial”. Thornton Dial is an artist who grew up in poverty in rural Alabama and who makes use of discarded objects in his art. His art takes on topics like racism and war. It was a difficult but powerful exhibit to see.

Team Indy works for local veterans on MLK Day

AmeriCorps Team Indianapolis spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day serving local veterans and their families in Indianapolis.  The Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation (HVAF) is dedicated to eliminating homelessness for veterans and families through prevention, education, supportive services and advocacy.  Two of the supportive services offered by this non-profit organization are a food pantry and clothing donation center.

The AmeriCorps team worked to help sort donations and organize the contents of these service centers.  It was incredible to think of the volume of goods moving into this community resource.  But it was even more astounding when we realized the amount of goods moving out.  The HVAF is an invaluable resource to the Indianapolis community.  It is just one example of how service for a single group of individuals can have a widespread impact on an entire community.  By reaching out to not only veterans, but also their families, the HVAF has an impact that reaches far beyond the material resources it provides.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly… This is the interrelated structure of reality.”  Team Indy continues to explore and contribute to this interconnectedness by remaining involved and engaged in our AmeriCorps service.