Back to school - to serve
Graduate Akilah Childs returns to MSC Southeast to serve as Basic Needs Outreach Specialist through the AmeriCorps VISTA program
When she was a student at MSC Southeast, Akilah Childs made a major impact, serving on Student Senate, working as a peer tutor, planning campus events, and helping Student Services with recruiting and admissions. She graduated from the Early Childhood Education program in 2016.
MSC Southeast is excited to welcome Akilah back! In January 2021, Akilah returned to serve the college community in a new role - as an AmeriCorps VISTA member volunteer.
"A lot of people at Southeast were very supportive of my success and helping me find my way. I made really strong connections with my teachers, my advisors, and people in student affairs," explained Akilah. "I think I found myself here. It's very fulfilling and it makes me feel good to know that I made an impact by who I was."
AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) volunteers serve full time in non-profit organizations and public agencies for one-year terms. Academic Success Coordinator Arielle Pompilius, who has served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer herself, was instrumental in applying for the college's participation in the program.
"We have been awarded a five-year grant to participate. In the first year, we are in Phase One, which is needs assessment," Arielle said. "Phase Two runs for three years and is focused on building community partnerships. And in the last year of the grant, we will survey the program's efficacy."
At MSC Southeast, Akilah will serve as a Basic Needs Outreach Specialist. "My role here is to provide service to both the Red Wing and Winona campuses, helping strengthen and find new relationships within the communities to help our students. I will also be a resource for our students, whether that means food security, transportation options, finding jobs and other resources after graduation, drug and alcohol mitigation -- any type of resource that would fulfill a basic need for any of our students."
When she's on campus, you're likely to find Akilah in the food pantries (now located in Room 313 in Red Wing and adjacent to the Student Commons in Winona). She is responsible for stocking and organizing the pantries. With the aid of CARES Act and state grants, the pantries have expanded to include refrigerated and frozen foods. Custom cabinetry has been built and installed by Construction Technology program students and additional shelving has been purchased.
Food insecurity - and other concerns
"We know that food insecurity is an issue that is impacting students not only nationally but also locally. A 2019 survey of Minnesota State 2-year college students reported that one in three ran short on food, and 26% said they went hungry," said Melissa Carrington-Irwin, MSC Southeast Associate Dean of Students & Director of Student Success. "By offering our students access to fresh food as well as to non-perishable staples, we are helping to reduce the stress of wondering where their next meal will come from."
As Akilah recalled, "I was a single mom when I was going to school here. The last thing you want to do after working all day, or being in school, is going to pick up your kids and then hitting the grocery store. Especially in a time like now with COVID, everybody could use a little bit of help. And the support is here. We want to normalize the idea of getting help, remove the stigma."
Akilah's job is a creative challenge, because as an Outreach Specialist, she needs to find ways to connect with students. "I'm looking forward to doing the advertising and marketing to the get the word out to everyone. I encourage students to email me and ask me for things they want to see in the pantry, or ask me questions about anything they might need."
She said she had already connected with students about how they can get assistance paying for their prescriptions or eyeglasses. "It's not just about having food pantries on campus; it's helping with anything our students need."
You can contact Akilah by email at Akilah.Childs@southeastmn.edu. She would love to hear from you!