AmeriCorps volunteers in Fairbanks adapt and keep serving their community

 The current cohort of VISTAs serving in Fairbanks. (Photo courtesy of Ashton Varner)
The current cohort of VISTAs serving in Fairbanks. (Photo courtesy of Ashton Varner) (KTVF)
Published: Apr. 6, 2020 at 5:16 PM AKDT
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AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America, or VISTAs, have had to adjust their service in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

VISTA is a federal program in which members devote a period of time to fighting poverty by working behind-the-scenes to, among other things, develop programs for non-profit organizations and other entities.

According to VISTA Team Leader Ashton Varner, seven out of the eight VISTAs currently serving in Fairbanks have transitioned to teleservice.

Despite these changes, VISTAs have continued to serve the community. Zak Mitchell, who serves at Noel Wien Library, helped to start a Virtual Storytime program while the library building is closed to the Public.

Brynn Butler, who has served with the Fairbanks Reentry Coalition since August of last year, has begun working directly with homeless clients at a warming center, taking temperatures and sewing face masks.

“I think we’re more important than ever to our organizations,” Varner said.

A new cohort of three VISTAs began serving in Fairbanks in March. “We were able to have an in-person orientation on March 16th, and then we’ve been teleservice ever since. Honestly, they’re still hitting it out of the park,” Varner said.

Shea Brenneman, one of the new VISTAs, moved to Fairbanks in order to serve with United Way of the Tanana Valley. She said her introduction to the job was “definitely not super conventional. I think I got here three days before everything shut down so I didn’t get to meet my supervisor face to face, and just had to go right into communicating via Slack and virtual platforms.”

While the pandemic has affected Brenneman’s project goals, she still manages to serve Fairbanks by working with others to create an online list of volunteer and donation needs on United Way’s website. “I’m mostly just thankful that we have technology because I can’t imagine this quarantine without it,” she said.

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