MARCH FELLOWS BLOG
JAMES MADISON UNIVERSITY
- What college/university is your alma mater? How did the institution instill or foster your current passion?
I went to James Madison University. There were two offices within the institution that cultivated both a strong passion and a clear path for my passions and brought me to where I am today- the Learning Centers, and Community Service-Learning.
For three years, I worked in the Learning Centers as a Peer-Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) leader and as a chemistry tutor in the Science and Math Learning Center. The consistency of the work fed my passion for student engagement and co-creative spaces- twice a week I facilitated workshops for students in traditionally challenging courses (Gen Chem II and Human Physiology) to provide a welcoming, shared, and inclusive learning environment. This grew my passion for fostering my peers’ confidence in their intelligence, and to trust their own paths for learning. It also grew my passion for bringing enthusiasm and calming presence to stressful situations, and planted the seed for me to explore identity and ways that power and privilege influenced educational spaces at the institution.
Another high-impact organization that fostered my passion for community engagement and social justice was the office of Community Service-Learning. I served as an Alternative Break Leader twice for weekend breaks that engaged in service on sustainable farms. This expanded my understanding of social justice issues and how they intersect with the food system, and also gave me the opportunity to feed my passion for farming and cooking nourishing foods while serving as a leader for my peers.
- Share a fun fact about yourself!
The fall of my sophomore year at JMU, I took time away from the University to attend a cooking school situated on a 100-acre organic farm in County Cork, Ireland- called the Ballymaloe Cookery School. The 12-week experience infused in me a more global perspective on the food system, and connected me with other budding chefs from around the world as we shared in learning about local food systems, farming, fusion cuisine, and cooking for health and cultural sustenance.
- Name 1-2 societal issues that you are passionate about aiding and eradicating.
I am passionate about aiding and eradicating issues of hunger, and more deeply the issues of racism and hate in our society.
Food is something that connects all of us to each other, and to the Earth that we share with many other beings. It transcribes the energy from the natural world into sustenance for our bodies to live thriving and meaningful lives. Not only is it one of the fundamental needs we have as humans- it is also a staple of culture, bridges divides and expresses much more about who we are as individuals and as a community than words could ever describe.
We cannot consider ending hunger and the denial of food as a basic human right without addressing root causes, which I have learned from many leaders in the sphere of equity and activism to be grounded in structural discrimination based on race. It is an immensely complex issue steeped with painful history and erasure, and while there is already much being done to heal, we still have far to go to eradicate hate and oppression. Right now, I am passionate about remembering the past (particularly the stories that aren’t always told) and better understanding the historical trauma that lives within us, and how this shapes our relationships and ways we show up in the world.
- What is your current position? What projects/initiatives are you currently working on as a Fellow?
Through the Campus Compact of Southern New England, I currently serve as the Community Engagement Programs Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA for James Madison University and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. (I know, it’s a mouthful).
I started in July 2019, and have a variety of initiatives for which I build capacity. Most prominently, I support the inaugural Good Food School Market, a high school food pantry that addresses teen food insecurity through a collaboration between Harrisonburg City Public Schools, Harrisonburg High School, the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. Each month, we show up in the city’s beloved Mobile Café and host a pop-up market, with tunes and lots of student volunteers to provide free produce and shelf-stable foods to fellow students at the high school. Our Market also partners with a collaboration between JMU’s Community Service-Learning, Off Campus Life, and Campus Kitchen in order to manage our waste by sending leftovers to JMU to then provide access to free food for college students who are food insecure. My team at the Food Bank is about to launch a second Good Food School Market in March at Broadway High School with Rockingham County Public Schools, so this initiative will continue to grow and expand as a model for other high school pantry programs.
There are several other initiatives that I support in my role as well. Currently, I am working to align Harrisonburg City Public School middle and elementary school backpack feeding programs so that students receive the services they need, and in a coordinated way. For the office Community Service-Learning at JMU, I also support in building community partnerships and connections with students and faculty around food programs in the area. This in turn bridges communication between the many groups and organizations in Harrisonburg within the food system in order to foster connection and cohesion. Another initiative that I am particularly excited about is bringing conversations around racial equity as well as culturally appropriate food access to the forefront of the work I do with my team at the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. For the Food Bank, I also lend my Spanish-speaking skills to build the organization’s capacity to have more inclusive language for our diverse community of clients. And finally, as a chef by trade, I build capacity for the Food Bank around creative ways to get clients (particularly youth) cooking up tasty and nourishing foods based on what our team can provide.
- Share an interesting, surprising, or touching story or moment that you have witnessed or experienced that fueled your inspiration and passion, either at your current position or in the past.
A major grounding force for me is bringing joy and enthusiasm to my work in collaborative settings, in the face of the hardship and hurt rooted in these deeper inequities we’re addressing. One of my favorite stories so far in my service is the day we made beet brownies at Harrisonburg High School to get students excited about the Good Food School Market for February. Most of the morning, I worked in the cafeteria kitchen with some of the initially skeptical cooks who could not seem to understand the steadfast faith I had in these beet brownies, and that there was no doubt in my mind that they would be delicious. We made about 300 servings for that day’s lunch, and with the help of our fearless and bold student leaders, who gave out samples, market information and recipes to fellow students… we had zero leftovers! Students were even vying for the crumbs of the pan at the end! It brought us all joy to encourage students to step outside their comfort zone and taste something familiar yet with a novel (and nutritious) twist. I also hope this showed students that talking about and accessing a food pantry can be fun (as opposed to stigmatizing) and an opportunity for self expression and creativity in the kitchen! The following market was a smashing success, with many new students attending the market as well as more of the beets going home with students. This is only the beginning of what we’re creating with the Good Food School Market, and I have so much gratitude for the enthusiasm and trust built into this multifaceted collaboration.
- If you could have your dream career, what would it be?
I have a pipe dream of cultivating a collaborative and collective community space that brings together people of diverse cultures and languages over food- gardening, processing, cooking, eating, composting…while also mirroring this work internally through identity exploration and understanding of social justice issues. Through education around these activities, I would hope to offer a space for creative expression and economic opportunity to community members. In the meantime, catch me learning and growing alongside my community as a culinary educator and farmer, dismantling white supremacy in our food system and creating spaces of belonging, partnerships, and peace.
- There’s a child that sees a societal issue in their community and wants to help but doesn’t feel empowered to or know where to start. What would you tell them/how would you encourage them?
I would tell them to start with their curiosity and by asking questions of their peers, adults, and of their elders. Learn about the history of the societal issue, and what people are already doing about it locally and globally. Consider as well the historical baggage you may bring to certain spaces- what is your own identity and heritage, and what role did your ancestors have in the history of either creating or experiencing such societal issues? Make sure to find others around you who care deeply about the issue, including those who are most affected- we can make small ripples individually, but together as a community we’ll make waves of emergent change. Through it all, move forward with love in your heart, rooted to authentic joy that will sustain you through the hardship of confronting social injustices.