HIGH POINT, N.C., Aug. 16, 2021 – High Point University is welcoming nine of its recent graduates as AmeriCorps VISTAs, who will dedicate a year of service to the city of High Point. For the ninth year, High Point University is hosting these AmeriCorps VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America) to provide thousands of hours of service to local organizations.
Each VISTA works with a nonprofit in the city to build sustainable programs in either food insecurity or education. The VISTAs will serve as a vital part of the university’s new Center for Community Engagement, connecting students and faculty to service opportunities in the city.
HPU invests nearly $200,000 annually to provide housing, meals, office space and access to student volunteers to carry out projects with their partner agencies. The Greater High Point Food Alliance, Resilience HP, Growing HP, City of High Point Neighborhood and Community Development Division, and the High Point Schools Partnership are a few of the groups with which the VISTAs will work.
Reverend Dr. Joe Blosser has led the HPU VISTAs since HPU began serving as a host site. He’s also the director of Service Learning at HPU and associate professor of religion and philosophy.
“I love the chance to mentor and guide recent HPU graduates as they devote a year of their lives to giving back to this community that has supported them throughout college,” says Blosser. “One of my favorite things is watching these former students fall in love with the city of High Point through their service and then decide to make it their home as they graduate and start their professional careers.”
This year’s VISTAs, all HPU graduates, are:
Rachel Prandoni, from Charlotte, graduated from HPU this year with a bachelor’s degree in political science and education studies. She is also completing her M.Ed. in Educational Leadership at HPU too.
Prandoni says she’s motivated by issues of equity and social justice with a passion for policy and advocacy work. In the next year, she’ll be working with the Hayden-Harman Foundation on numerous projects to help carry out their mission of transforming under-resourced neighborhoods in the High Point community.
Prandoni’s commitment to policy and advocacy work was cultivated in her undergraduate years by working with and studying under her mentor, Dr. Allie Blosser, program coordinator of education studies, who Prandoni interned for during her senior year. The two worked to charter a chapter of the Student North Carolina Association of Educators at HPU.
“I am so grateful to have the opportunity to give back to a community that has given so much to me over the past four years,” says Prandoni. “Poverty and inequity permeate our society, and we must strive to alleviate its insidious effects and manifestations. The AmeriCorps VISTA program is designed to do exactly that, which makes it a true honor to serve for such an organization. My primary goal is to ensure that the citizens of High Point have the access to the resources they need to live, learn and prosper.”
Gabrielle Bryce came to HPU from Texas. She graduated from HPU in May with a degree in graphic design. While she attended HPU, she worked as a campus photographer documenting and capturing community service programs and projects that HPU students participated in. She had the opportunity to see how much of an impact they were making on the community on a personal level and knew she wanted to be a part of that.
She is excited to be using her experience in visual communication to benefit the community while gaining more career experience.
“In my future career, I want to work on the design side of nonprofits,” says Bryce. “I’m excited to work as a VISTA and get the opportunity to be connected to a community. I’m excited to use my love for art and design to help improve the community.”
Chloe Contreras is originally from San Diego, California. She graduated in May from HPU with a double major in international relations and political science with a minor in history.
She’ll be working with YWCA and is looking forward to promoting higher education opportunities to local students. She’s also excited to spend more time with the High Point community through service.
“As an HPU VISTA I will be serving in the community that has been my home during my years as an undergraduate student,” says Contreras. “I am looking forward to promoting the educational opportunities and life skills that the High Point community offers.”
Gabby Kozlowski graduated from HPU with a B.S. in psychology and a triple minor in civic responsibility & social innovation, women’s & gender studies and nonprofit leadership and management.
In her four years at HPU, she served as a Bonner Leader and became very familiar with the Macedonia neighborhood while serving at the Macedonia Family Resource Center.
As a VISTA, she’ll be serving at the city of High Point’s Neighborhood and Community Development Division looking to enhance the quality of food systems in High Point.
“My four years as a Bonner Leader afforded me the opportunity to become familiar with the nonprofit sector,” says Kozlowski. “I’m excited about serving as a VISTA because I will be exposed to the government side of policy and service. I’m ecstatic to be exposed to the types of decisions that are made that affect nonprofits, and I’m excited to expand my network and enhance my communication skills while immersing myself as fully as possible into the High Point community.”
Heather Simmons is originally from Massachusetts. She graduated magna cum laude from HPU in May with a degree in elementary education and a minor in special education. Simmons is continuing her studies at HPU to pursue a master’s degree in education with a literacy concentration.
As an HPU student, Simmons was involved in the Phi Mu sorority, serving as philanthropy chair; Teachers of Tomorrow, serving as president; and 1,000 Miles for Kids, serving as director of fundraising. She was also an active member of the Civitan Club, College Democrats and Council for Exceptional Children. Simmons was a member of both honor societies Alpha Lamda Delta and Kappa Delta Pi, and she worked for Campus Recreation as a group fitness instructor.
Now, as an AmeriCorps VISTA, she will be serving as a School and Community Partnership Coordinator.
“While studying to be a teacher and working in the community, you learn a great deal about how to use a groups’ strength to thrive,” Simmons says. “I hope I can use all of the lessons I have learned in my past leadership experiences to help a community that gives so much to its students and teachers.”
Chloe Lewis has explored many parts of the U.S. having lived in four different states. But she says that High Point, North Carolina feels like home to her.
She graduated from HPU in May with a degree in business administration and a minor in finance. She fell in love with helping the local community through her time in the Circle K Club, as well as volunteering with the VITA tax program throughout college.
Now, she will be working with Growing High Point to help combat food insecurity and poverty in the surrounding area.
“During my college years, I finally felt like I knew what I wanted to do with my life when I volunteered and saw what a difference a few dollars could make in people’s lives,” says Lewis. “Any extra money they received from their tax return could be the difference between putting food on the table. I’m excited to help develop community gardens and see the change healthy food and spare income can make in High Point.”
Natalie Lucas is a 2020 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. While she was at HPU, she worked at the Community Writing Center as a part of the Bonner Leader Program for four years. She’s also a freelance designer.
Lucas says what made her want to return as a VISTA was the positive impact of her four years as a Bonner Leader at HPU and all the community opportunities they were able to engage in.
“High Point is my home,” says Lucas. “The community in which I, as a VISTA, will serve this year is filled with my neighbors, friends, family, and people who may have impacted me in some way throughout my life. I’m really excited to be back and involved with the Bonner Program and the Community Writing Center after a year like 2020.”
Douglas Mathis came to HPU from San Antonio, Texas. He graduated in May with a degree in political science and minors in philosophy and religion.
As a student at HPU, he served in multiple leadership roles in Student Government Association, College Democrats, Student Justice Program and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.
During his time living in High Point, he developed a connection to the city’s youth through community service in the different organizations he was a part of. Now he is excited to be serving AmeriCorp’s VISTA program by working alongside the Community in Schools of High Point.
“Being able to work with leaders with the aim of strengthening the High Point community and being a compelling mentor to the city’s youth has been a developing aspiration since my time at HPU,” says Mathis. “I am excited to continue to learn from the community and to grow at both the professional and personal levels.”
Casey Tyndall is from Mint Hill, North Carolina and graduated from HPU in 2019 with a degree in event management.
She served as an HPU AmeriCorps VISTA with the Greater High Point Food Alliance during the 2020-2021 service term, when she had the opportunity to work on multiple projects in the High Point community. She is excited to be serving another year as the HPU AmeriCorps VISTA Leader. In her role, she’ll mentor and coach the eight VISTAs in a variety of ways, such as hosting workshops and book clubs to help them understand more about the places where they are working.
“My time as an HPU AmeriCorps VISTA helped develop my professional skills in more ways than I could have imagined,” says Tyndall. “It has been rewarding to serve in the community, and I am lucky to be able to serve another year as the HPU AmeriCorps VISTA Leader.”