By Carrie Henderson
Robeson County, one of the most economically-distressed places in the state, is getting assistance in a big way – from students, faculty and staff at UNC Pembroke.
One of the people coordinating the efforts is an unlikely candidate: Chika Kusakawa, a native of New Jersey who recently graduated from Elon University. As a NC Campus Connect AmeriCorps VISTA – Volunteer in Service to America – Kusakawa works with UNCP’s Center for Leadership and Service (CLS) to help motivate and prepare students to engage the community.
“As a VISTA, I support CLS through events and service projects – like the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, the Pembroke Day of Service and regular blood drives. I have also been given the opportunity to create events based on my undergraduate volunteer experience that are specifically tailored to the needs of Robeson County,” explains Kusakawa.
Kusakawa sees a great need for volunteers in Robeson County, and assistance provided by students through tutoring, roadside cleanup and food pantries is highly valued.
Jonathan Romm, Program Coordinator at NC Campus Compact, emphasizes the importance of VISTAs starting things that campuses can keep going: “VISTAs help lay the foundation or bolster current service engagement activities and programs for students, staff, faculty, staff and the community. Our hope is the projects are sustainable and continue on once VISTAs have completed their service."
This is the fourth year that UNCP has hosted an AmeriCorps VISTA worker. Thirty other colleges and universities across the state also have VISTAs through the North Carolina Campus Compact, which is a coalition of colleges and universities collaborating to increase campus-wide participation in community and public service.
Kusakawa is interested in pursuing a career in higher education and the VISTA experience has given her perspective on the importance of engagement from a university-level: “I believe involvement is so important, and it comes in so many forms. College students have a lot of potential for leadership, and they need opportunities.”
“The goal of the VISTA program is to engage students with community service,” says Aubrey Swett, Director of CLS. “But more than that, we want to foster a culture of service on our campus.” This goal is directly in line with UNC Tomorrow’s major recommendation 4.7 to engage with members of the North Carolina community.
So far, Kusakawa is accomplishing her goals and making her mark on UNCP’s campus: “Kusakawa has brought in a wealth of experience and been able to relate and engage with students as a peer. By organizing service events, she has been instrumental in addressing the needs of Robeson county and involving students to create sustainable events and partnerships,” says Swett.
For further information, please contact:
North Carolina Campus Compact AmeriCorps*VISTA
Center for Leadership and Service
University of North Carolina at Pembroke