Update Through the Lens of the AmeriCorps Vista, Katelyn Victor

For those of you who don’t know, Cherry Hill is a community in south Baltimore. In 2005, Towson University partnered with the Baltimore City government, the Baltimore City Public School System, and neighborhood organizations to start the Cherry Hill Learning Zone (CHLZ). The CHLZ allows TU to work alongside community members to build upon the strengths of Cherry Hill and aid in its economic, community, and educational development.

Recently, I was able to collaborate with Katelyn Victor (among many others) to develop a new Cherry Hill section of TU in the Community. Katelyn has been the AmeriCorps VISTA, specifically dedicated to supporting the Cherry Hill Learning Zone, since August 2011 and has been instrumental in the development of new programs and continued success of existing projects.

I recently sat down with Katelyn, to learn first-hand about her role and her biggest “take-aways.”

What is your role as the AmeriCorps VISTA for Cherry Hill and what do you do when you are in the community?

Katelyn: My job as the AmeriCorps VISTA for Cherry Hill Projects is to work with TU faculty and Cherry Hill community members to develop and implement sustainable programs that improve that neighborhood and the lives of its residents. AmeriCorps VISTA is a national service program that is designed specifically to fight poverty. In Cherry Hill, I work toward reaching that ultimate goal by supporting programs that help students achieve academic success, enable residents to access healthy foods and make healthy choices, and more.

How has Towson University’s partnership with Cherry Hill grown since you started as the VISTA?

Katelyn: Since starting as the VISTA, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with faculty and staff from across Towson University’s divisions and departments to start and expand programs in Cherry Hill.

With Dr. Honi Bamberger of the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics, I developed and implemented an after-school program. After a few months of planning, the program launched in January 2012. It employed 14 Towson University undergrads and grads as tutors/mentors for small groups of Cherry Hill middle-school students. TU students tutored Cherry Hill students in mathematics twice weekly and we also invited guest speakers to talk about careers and everyday applications of science, technology, engineering and math. From January to May of 2012, the program served a little over 60 students from two schools in Cherry Hill.

I have also worked with Dr. Nadine Braunstein from our College of Health Professions on the Cherry Hill People’s Garden Project. With Dr. Braunstein and a committee of university and community leaders, I have helped that project to fund 4 new community and school gardens in Cherry Hill. I also developed and maintain a website for the project.

Lastly, I have worked to enhance communication about the partnership by teaming up with TU’s Division of Economic and Community Outreach to develop a new section of TU in the Community that is dedicated to Cherry Hill. The site allows interested individuals to submit their contact information through a ‘volunteer application’. I then work with those individuals to get them involved in projects and programs in Cherry Hill that match their interests.

What is your favorite thing about working in Cherry Hill?
Katelyn: My favorite part of working in Cherry Hill is all of the amazing people from the community who I have had the opportunity to meet and work with. Cherry Hill has a very strong group of community leaders who are passionate about improving their neighborhood. They are inspiring and energizing. Having the chance to work with them and learn from them has really been a pleasure.

What do you think is in the future for Cherry Hill?
Katelyn: The future of Cherry Hill is bright. In the short amount of time I have worked in the neighborhood, I have met so many passionate, capable, and committed individuals- from Towson University, Cherry Hill, Baltimore City Government, and other places- who are working to make it a better place. The programs that TU and others are currently operating in the neighborhood are already making positive changes. In the future, if all of these groups come together, I have no doubt that they will have an even greater impact in Cherry Hill.

Katelyn will be leaving her position at the VISTA in August, but there will be a new AmeriCorps VISTA for Cherry Hill projects to start right where she leaves off. TU’s programs have already grown so much and are sure to keep growing.

For more information about Cherry Hill and what Towson University is doing in the neighborhood, visit the Cherry Hill Learning Zone.

Katelyn Victor, left, and the tutors from the after-school STEM program in Cherry Hill