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AmeriCorps VISTAs fight to alleviate poverty in the Interior of Alaska

Published: Dec. 22, 2020 at 4:55 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - As Fairbanks feels the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTAs) continue to serve the Fairbanks community through capacity-building anti-poverty efforts.

These VISTAs have signed on to serve for a year, each working alongside an organization that helps at-risk members of the community. The VISTA program is part of the national AmeriCorps program.

Kenzley Defler is the Team Leader for the VISTA program in Fairbanks, based out of City Hall. She explained that VISTAs “do a lot of capacity-building work to strengthen the organization as a whole, with the focus being on reducing poverty.”

Defler has been serving as Team Leader since August, after serving with the Peace Corps in Tanzania. “I’ve really loved working with VISTA, and I’ve also loved integrating into the Fairbanks community. Of course that’s a little bit different with COVID, but it’s such a unique experience to live in the state and to experience winter here.”

According to Defler, there are eight VISTAs currently serving in Fairbanks, with five more positions scheduled to begin by February. “There are so many different focuses, whether it’s food security, whether it’s working with populations with mental health considerations, whether it’s the entrants who are coming back into society after a time in prison, [or] youth education.”

Current VISTA hosts in Fairbanks include United Way of the Tanana Valley, the Noel Wien Library, and The Door youth shelter.

VISTA Tessa Holmes serves as the Project Development Specialist with the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District. Her term of service also began in August, and since then, she has been “getting used to Fairbanks, and the winter and the dark.”

For her project, Holmes is working on an indoor hydroponics farm. “We’re kind of getting started on a community farm that’s going to host agricultural job training classes and host an internship program for high school students, and then we’ll also be hosting community classes that are open and free to the public related to food, nutrition and at-home growing.”

“It’s a cool opportunity to look at the intersection of environment and food, and also poverty alleviation through creating opportunities for people to have job training, to learn more about agriculture, and to spread the agricultural sector here in Interior Alaska,” Holmes said.

Three VISTA positions are currently accepting applications. More information about the VISTA program in Fairbanks can be found on their website.

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