AmeriCorps VISTAs, hosted by HPU and serving the city of High Point, from left, are Helen Barker, Amy Grener, Tomas Cusicanqui, Te-Nia MacFarlane, Anne Custer, Jamie Trogdon, Immanuel Bryant, Erin Murphy and Meredith Kreeger.
HIGH POINT, N.C., Sept. 12, 2018 – Nine recent college graduates are dedicating a year to serving to the High Point community as AmeriCorps VISTAs. For the sixth year, High Point University is hosting VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America), who will provide thousands of hours of service to local organizations.
Each VISTA will be placed with a nonprofit in the city to build sustainable programs in an area of focus. HPU invests more than $200,000 annually to provide housing, meals, office space and access to student volunteers to carry out projects with their partner agencies. They are mentored by the Rev. Mary Beth Foust, HPU’s assistant director of civic responsibility and social innovation.
“The HPU AmeriCorps VISTA program is a huge asset to the city of High Point,” says Foust. “We receive feedback regularly from our community partners that our members aid them in building capacity that broadens the scope of the work they can do. Their initiative for offering innovative ideas to city leaders is unmatched. The community of High Point is made better by our VISTA members’ leadership and energy. It is a great joy to watch their programs grow during the course of their service year and see the impact of multiple years of VISTA service to our city.”
HPU has grown its VISTA program to become one of the largest, single-site projects in the country, which also represents a federal investment of more than $150,000 in High Point.
This year’s VISTAs are as follows:
Helen Barker, a West Virginia native, graduated from HPU in 2018 with degrees in biology and English-creative writing. She is working with the Greater High Point Food Alliance, focusing on food education. She will be assisting with a variety of projects, including planning the Food Security Summit in late September. Barker is familiar with serving in the High Point community. As a student at HPU, she worked with Dr. Cara Kozma to co-author a book with the Washington Street community.
“Living in High Point has helped me grow and discover who I am as a person, so, to me, a part of my heart will always reside here and I wasn’t ready to leave,” says Barker. “I’m excited to get to stay in the community that holds this piece of my heart and to learn more about the city itself. I hope that by the end of my VISTA year, I will have created a lasting impact on the community.”
Amy Grener, originally from Mebane, graduated from HPU in May with degrees in psychology and criminal justice. She is an education VISTA and will be working with the Hayden-Harman Foundation, specifically with PNAC and the Community Writing Center. While at HPU, she was involved with the Civitan Club, where she did service projects throughout the city of High Point, and Zeta Tau Alpha, which partners with PNAC for two annual events.
“I am excited to be a VISTA and work in High Point because I see so much potential in this community and I think with the right programs, High Point can become an even more thriving place to live,” says Grener. “I am really looking forward to helping expand the efforts of PNAC and the CWC and hopefully get more of the community involved. I hope to see High Point flourish even more over the next year.”
Te-Nia MacFarlane, of Winston-Salem, graduated from HPU in May with a degree in psychology. She is an education VISTA working at High Point Central High School. She plans to create a College Access Program, which will include a series of workshops to prepare students for life after high school, college tours, and a mentorship program. As an HPU student, MacFarlane interned at High Point Central with the Communities in Schools office.
“I fell in love with the school and wanted to find a way to make a difference in the city of High Point while still working with high school students,” says MacFarlane. “VISTA has made it possible for me to do what I am passionate about.”
Erin Murphy, originally from Massachusetts, graduated from HPU in May with a degree in criminal justice and a minor in psychology. She is working with Fairview Elementary School to build community involvement and a college-going attitude among students through projects like developing Fairview’s first PTA in six years and coordinating college visits for the students. As an HPU student, Murphy participated in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and mentored a Fairview student. She was also a member of the Criminal Justice Honor Society and coordinated supply collections for local women’s shelters.
“I’m excited to be a VISTA working in the High Point community because I have the opportunity to affect change in the community I called home throughout my undergraduate experience,” says Murphy. “It’s important for HPU students to recognize that High Point is their community, not just the city where they live.”
Jamie Trogdon graduated from HPU in May with a degree in psychology and a minor in religion. She will be working with Northwood Elementary School, a public school with an International Baccalaureate magnet program open to children throughout the county. She will help raise awareness of the school and a stronger connection with the High Point community. She will also work with third-year students in the Bonner Leader program to promote community involvement opportunities among HPU students. While a student at HPU, she worked with Reading Connections at the High Point Public Library through a service learning class. She decided to postpone her plans for graduate school in order to spend a year immersed in service to the community.
“This HPU AmeriCorps VISTA position was presented to me by my service learning professor, and it was an easy ‘yes’ for me,” says Trogdon. “It combines my desire to work in the High Point community as well as my passion for the public school system. I’m excited to invest my efforts in order to increase the overall success and well-being of my community.”
Immanuel Bryant, originally from Goldsboro, is a graduate of Elon University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in professional writing and rhetoric. Serving for his second year with AmeriCorps, he is HPU’s VISTA leader and will focus on the personal, professional and project development of HPU’s VISTAs. Some of his projects include providing professional development opportunities to VISTAs, analyzing and reporting project assessment data, and working with partners to strategically alleviate poverty and build capacity in the community. Previously, he has been involved in service related to food insecurity, health disparities and education.
“My main goal is two-fold: making sure all VISTAs meet their professional goals and ensuring the sustainability of projects within the communities we serve,” Bryant says. “I also want to help produce deliverables that will inspire people to see the value of serving their country this way. Why not start local, especially if you’re considering a gap year after graduation?”
Tomas Cusicanqui, originally from Lima, Peru, has a degree in international business from San Diego State University and a Master of Science in food quality management from Wageningen University and Research, located in the Netherlands. His focus will be developing a food hub for future food produced at urban farms in High Point, managed by the Hayden-Harman Foundation, United Way, Greater High Point Food Alliance and Guilford County Schools. He will support the business plan for the food hub by planning ahead for its operational needs. He will work with urban farmers toward developing more productive and sustainable food systems, such as soil-based organic agricultural methods and permaculture principles, coupled with soil-less food systems like hydroponics and aquaponics. He also will assist with the development of a school garden at Union Hill Elementary.
“I’m excited to be a VISTA and work in High Point because the community benefits tremendously from sustainable food systems that produce healthy and nutritious fresh food,” says Cusicanqui. “I’ll work hard to deliver on my goals together with the network of hardworking people.”
Anne Custer, a native of Virginia, graduated in 2017 with a degree in health sciences and a minor in medical Spanish from James Madison University. She is focusing on food security and will be working with the community gardens and Farmer’s Market of High Point. Some of her projects include volunteer recruitment and management, maintaining and supporting the work of the market, and developing and supporting the gardens. As a student, Custer planned and co-led service trips focusing on a variety of social justice issues, and she also spent time in Seattle learning about organic farm practices.
“I am passionate about food, community and justice, so this position is extremely exciting. I am thrilled to have hands-on experience of doing this type of community work,” says Custer. “I’ve already met kind people and I feel welcome in my new community of High Point. I look forward to meeting more community members, building more connections and making a positive impact in the community.”
Meredith Kreeger, originally from Pfafftown, graduated from North Carolina State University in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition sciences and a minor in genetics. She also completed the Didactic Program in Dietetics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2018. She will be working with the Hayden-Harman Foundation piloting a shared-use kitchen and healthy corner stores program to improve healthy food access and entrepreneurship in High Point. She will also serve as the community liaison for the Food Recovery Network at HPU. As a student, she volunteered regularly with Out of the Garden project in Greensboro and the Food Recovery Network at UNCG, and she was a member of a service fraternity, as well as a crisis counselor.
“I’m excited to improve healthy food access in High Point and expand resources available to community members,” she says.