AmeriCorps VISTA Creates Healthy Choices in Vermont

By Dana Forde

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Nicole Mitchell, a current AmeriCorps VISTA member, didn’t know much about food security or agriculture. But a five-month-long trek along the Appalachian Trial exposed her to regions known as “food deserts.”

There are a lot of people who live in places that don’t have access to healthy foods,” said Mitchell. “The trip led me to think about how important it is to forge the connection between agriculture and community development.”

Now she helps teams of volunteers—from high school students to corporate employees—understand this connection, too.

Mitchell is a food security coordinator for theVermont Youth Conservation Corps. The main goal of the program’s Health Care Share initiative, a partnership with the Central Vermont Medical Center, is to harvest organic food for low-income residents. Her main duties include researching Vermont’s food systems and organizing and managing groups and individual volunteers who work to collect, pack, and clean local produce. She also engages participants in discussions about how agricultural development functions in Vermont and across the country.

Mitchell, who is in her second term of service with the program, is eager to continue her role in what she describes as “a movement.”

“I really like that we are creating a space for this convergence of helpfulness and ideas,” she added. “I think about how communities can creatively reorganize themselves in terms of food systems. I think about how we can make this a place where everyone is working together and everyone has what they need.”

But before Mitchell was part of this team, the Colby College graduate had many interests but lacked specific direction, she said. And she credits her AmeriCorps VISTA experience for helping her explore multiple professional roles.

“During my VISTA service I have been a volunteer coordinator, a teacher, a recruiter, a fundraiser, a website designer, a program developer, a farmer, an event planner, and so much more,” said Mitchell. “Getting to try all of these roles is helping me determine which ones I especially enjoy and will pursue in my career.”

The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps is a host site of SerVermont. The Corporation for National and Community Service is celebrating the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps and highlighting the theme of healthy futures during the month of March.  For more information about the 20th anniversary, please visit the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary Resource Center.

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