Keeping Up with the Corps: Part 1

CEDAM proudly hosts a fresh cohort of more than 30 people dedicated to improving Michigan’s communities through two AmeriCorps programs: the Michigan Financial Opportunity Corps (MFOC) and the Rural Opportunity VISTA Program. Members in the MFOC facilitate financial education classes and events, and members in the VISTA program serve to build capacity for organizations reducing poverty in rural areas. These are just two of the many AmeriCorps programs that contribute to over 600 full-time service members in the 2017-18 term that serve to reduce the causes of poverty in Michigan.

While other AmeriCorps programs will match accepted individuals to a host site for their service, CEDAM is unique in relying on member organizations to recruit their own AmeriCorps members. This has proven essential in the program’s integration and acceptance into the tightly-knit communities across the state and gives the program a broad range of representation for the communities that exist in Michigan. Our members are equipped with the tremendous resources available to them as members of AmeriCorps and CEDAM as well as in-depth understandings of the poverty and needs that they are addressing.

Kate Lietz, VISTA Member

KateLietzGreetings! I’m Kate Lietz, and I first heard of AmeriCorps more than 10 years ago when I served on a trail crew partnering with AmeriCorps and the Student Conservation Association. My current position was previously held by a woman who participates in my organic farm’s Community Supported Agriculture program. She and I both share a passion for quality, healthful food and it was through her that I applied and accepted my assignment with the Lakeshore Food Club.

The food club, which functions very much like a regular grocery store, opens its doors in October. Once in operation, the food club will be primarily volunteer-run, so a big part of my focus will be recruiting and training volunteer staff to manage nearly every aspect of the club. Since the majority of the club’s food is being purchased through Feeding America and other distributors, I will also be working to secure additional and ongoing funding.

I’m excited to work with community members that share my enthusiasm for food, food access and healthy lifestyles. I’ve already learned so much in just a few weeks connecting with folks in the community, some who I knew previously and many I am just beginning to meet. There is a lot of love and buzz around this project and I am curious to see its evolution as the food club gets off the ground.

Jaime Junior, MFOC Member

Jaime JuniorI’m Jaime Junior, a 41-year-old mother of one and a native Detroiter with Cerebral Palsy. My primary reason for wanting to serve with AmeriCorps is that as a person with a disability I understand the feelings of helplessness and being marginalized, so I think that I am in a unique position to help others in my community. My thinking is that my tenacity or keep-it-moving spirit, if you will, could inspire people to do just that! Reach higher, be better and make it easier to start the conversation about overcoming a seemingly bleak situation. Essentially, giving out of my own need.

My project focuses on creating financial empowerment by providing access to information through the facilitation of financial literacy workshops and promoting financial goal setting and savings. I am looking forward to helping people gain access to information and developing skills to better manage their money and leverage resources available to them so that they can save and grow financially. Even if its twenty dollars, they will feel better and more in control of their situations and ultimately be more self-sufficient.

My vision for the community is to make the “money” conversation more palatable and inclusive. I envision the reshaping of whole communities because empowered people make for more engaged neighbors; thriving communities and eventually, a better quality of life for our prioritized populations.

Amber Wiechec, MFOC Member

AmberMy name is Amber Wiechec and I am a CEDAM AmeriCorps Member serving at United Way of Saginaw County. During my service term, I will be promoting financial stability through facilitating financial education classes, hosting a Show Me the Money Day event, and coordinating the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program within Saginaw County.

I fell into the AmeriCorps program by chance more than anything. I recently graduated from college and was job searching, as you do, and felt unsatisfied with the positions I was applying for. Straight out of college a job is a job, but I really wanted to do something where I could actually feel that what I was doing mattered. I had no idea what AmeriCorps was when I applied to the listing for United Way of Saginaw County, but I knew that I met all of the listed requirements and that was exciting enough.

What I am looking forward to the most is being able to make a direct impact on the lives of others. I’ve already jumped head first into VITA, and while there are a few setbacks going into this season the volunteer response that I have already received is highly encouraging. I’ve also been able to make some headway in facilitating financial education classes and will officially be teaching my first class in just a couple of weeks. I look forward to improving the financial stability of Saginaw County residents during my year of service!

Ryan Bond, VISTA Member

I was influenced to submit an AmeriCorps VISTA application by the vast array of experiences that a close friend had during her AmeriCorps year. I selected the opportunity in Grand Haven due to factors that aligned with recent research in Germany and the U.S as well as my plans to explore future career options in urban/rural planning and community development.

The largest project of my first few weeks here has involved outreach for our annual ArtWalk, a collaboration of the lakeshore art and business communities in a collective celebration of art. There are over 150 individual works of art this year spread across the downtown area that actively engage the residents of Grand Haven and draw many visitors. This event also infuses downtown businesses with increased sales, which is a much needed “off-season” catalyst for the primarily summer tourist economy. Even at this early stage in my year of service I have already had several occasions to meet with business owners and leaders who have brought significant impact to the city by supporting this annual event. ArtWalk has been an excellent “initiation” mechanism into active community engagement in Grand Haven, and I have been consistently treated with respect and gratitude for my service and goals for the coming year. The event has caused me to focus on future projects and acquainted me with the challenges and rewards of serving in this region.

Outreach and community engagement are the primary objectives in my present role in Grand Haven, and I’ve presented ideas for multiple projects to implement during my year in Grand Haven. I wish to establish a firm internship program with colleges and high schools where students will be able to gain experience through volunteer and community service initiatives. I also hope to establish a conduit of innovative partnerships to bolster and enhance the mission of Grand Haven Main Street: “to strengthen the economic base of our vibrant historic business district through community efforts and events, and public and private partnerships.”