Despite COVID, the Try This AmeriCorps members were invaluable to the success of Try This WV during the pandemic, and changed the way Try This will operate far beyond their service year.
"This year turned me into an organizer."
The Wonderful 2020-21
Try This WV AmeriCorps Members
Laura Anderson: "I am no longer just a community member. I’m a leader."
During the pandemic, everyone’s lives changed. Mine did too. I found my passion. A year ago, I joined the Try This West Virginia team as an AmeriCorps volunteer.
This past year has made me see that I can be a community leader. I haven’t looked back.
Before Try This, I wore many different hats. Starting at 19, I served 5 years in the Air Force stationed in Charleston, SC and then moved to Asheville, NC but when I found out I was pregnant, I came back home to WV. I wanted my children to experience growing up here.
For years, I’d watched exciting improvements in our community, but was happy just sitting on the sidelines and enjoying the new opportunities. Then last August, I saw a Facebook post about an AmeriCorps position with Try This WV. Within 24 hours, I knew I was going to do it.
In fall 2020, Laura researched and wrote her first article spotlighting her county's effort to feed kids during COVID.
I like the way Try This connects West Virginians, so they can share their successes and struggles. We all learn from each other. As an AmeriCorps volunteer, I found I enjoy talking to people and picking their brains about the way they started and carried out projects.
I found that Try This had already given others in my own county a way to create projects. Because of Try This, we now have outdoor fitness equipment at Jane Lew Park, community gardens, walking groups, and even an urban orchard.
I started thinking, “If those people can do it, I’m sure I can do something too.” I have noticed needs in our community, and I’m kinda like a sponge. After a few months of learning the ropes and meeting folks who had made things happen, my own dreams started to seem attainable.
After months of chatting through Zoom, phone calls, and email, I finally got the confidence to believe I could be a community leader too.
I started with a dream for my son. My son Aidan is 14 years old. He’s one heck of a basketball player if I do say so myself. Like many kids, he dreams of playing college sports, but there are no opportunities in Lewis County during off-season, and we don’t have a gym that is open to the community.
Before Try This, when I saw needs in my community, I thought, “Why doesn’t someone do something about this?” Now that I have tools to do something myself, I think, “What could I do about this?” and “Who would like to help with this?”
So one of my first thoughts was: We need a community center with basketball courts so these kids can practice during off-season. Before Try This, I never would have thought I could roll that ball. Now I thought, “Who else would like to help? And I started talking to other parents. Now I have a team of hard-working mommas to help and support this dream. We’ve all gotten tired of hearing “Lewis County needs …” and that's the end of the conversation. We aren't going to wait for someone else to do it.
Will it be easy? HECK NO!!! Projects like these take time. We don’t have a building or even land, but in the short term, we’re talking with people, and we already have a great start. It’s a little scary, but because of my experience with Try This WV, I am ready to tackle it.
My good friend Brianne Warner, mother of two youth athletes, has been my partner in this
project. Without her connections, this would still be a dream. Bri has been actively making a
difference in many different youth sports programs in Lewis County for years.
First problem to solve: We had an immediate need for some off-season court time. Aidan and
his classmates will play high school basketball together for the next four years. Travel team’s
pop up all over WV, but the cost can be more than most parents can handle with hotel, travel,
food, uniforms, and fees for the tournaments. So that wasn’t an option.
My brain started turning. In Weston, we do have St Patrick’s church gymnasium that the youth basketball league uses several months out of the year. I asked the church if our boys could use the gym. For a small fee, we were granted access.
That problem was solved, but all the sudden, my dang brain started turning again... So why are we including only these eight boys?
After a few phone calls and brainstorming, Bri and I came up with a new and more inclusive plan. We would host basketball clinics three days a week during off-season. We got commitments from 6 youth coaches and parent volunteers, so we could include up to 20 kids, ages 13-17.
We emailed the church with the updated plan. They loved it! This new program is targeted to players who are eligible for the Lewis County Youth Senior League ages(12-17 years old) so they can practice when the League isn't operating.
It’s amazing how fast this came together and how we were able to overcome challenges together as a team. Each week we averaged 12 players, and the coaches changed most weeks. We started weekly clinics June 29th and finished up on Aug 31st when the regular Senior League basketball season resumed, and our players could try out.
This program worked because we came together and asked for help. People are excited and talking. We have filled a gap, and our young people enjoyed the extra court time.
My new path is exciting and filled with new possibilities for Lewis County. I’m excited to join in on other projects like the rails to trails expansion, new trails by the Lewis County Park, and continuing our dream of a community center. I am also joining the Blueprint Community Recreation subcommittee to try to work together for our overall goal of a community center.
My AmeriCorps year with Try This WV has given me the tools and confidence I needed to do things like this and be more active in my community. I will be forever grateful. I am no longer just a community member. I’m a leader. I am part of a team of parents who know they can make a dream grow. When we contact new parents, we have been greeted with excitement and nothing but positivity. Our community is working together to give our youth more opportunities and help them with their future dreams.
Tell me your need, and we can figure it out together!
Kionn Burt: "This has been a growthportunity."
I spent a lot of time this year pinching myself, like “Am I really working this job right now? Is this really happening? And the people I’ve been around, learning from on a day-to-day basis, have been very rewarding. I’m always grateful for this experience. This has been a growthportunity.
As a talented photographer, Kionn took the photos below as part of his service. Along with his Try This duties, he helped two Try This minigrant recipients with their Kanawha County programs: The Chi Lin community tai chi group and Cafe Appalachia, which is part of a bigger substance abuse recovery project that employs people in recovery and helps them learn culinary skills.
He chose some favorite experiences and reflected on what he learned from them.
At the Cafe:
I was asked to lay tiles for a large patio: Laying down the tiles was a great inner experience for me. I had to place one tile at a time. I didn’t really look at the entire process as a whole, because that can be overwhelming. So I just focused on one tile at a time. There’s a saying that says “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Other people helped out with it, and it got done.
I created a new way to build low-tunnels, for growing tomatoes. At first, I did it the way you’re supposed to do it. Lay the plastic over the round frames. But then a winter storm hit, and when I came back, everything was all over the place, and the snow was heavy enough to sink the plastic into the garden beds. I was disappointed and muttered curse words to myself as I looked around. Then I saw that one of the frames was bent in a pyramid shape, so the snow had slid off to the side. That gave me an idea to use the tomato cages, to point them
toward each other in a pyramid shape, and I put the plastic tarp on top of those. It worked.
There is a quote. I don’t know who said, Theodore Roosevelt or somebody. Something like,
“In the midst of defeat are small victories.”
I also worked in the kitchen. Mostly, I washed dishes and cleaned tables. I like going in and
out of roles, with quality. So I had to let go of my preconceptions of what I should be doing, like “I’m a gardener. I don’t do this. I do this, not that.” So I cooked a little bit and also helped clear the area for the cooks to cook on. Those experiences helped me with letting go of my ideas about what I should be doing and getting into a new role with quality. I want to be flexible. And the Café has definitely helped me with that.
I was asked to help set up the hydroponics towers the Café bought with a Try This grant. I assembled the tower with Sam, a Café employee. We were struggling a bit, but having a positive attitude, so we had fun. Once it was assembled, I felt a sense of accomplishment and was happy to have had the chance to collaborate with Sam to set it up.
And that’s with any job that I’ve worked, whether it be Walmart or a movie theater, the people you’re working with can make it feel like you’re working a million-dollar job. I try to never place myself, mentally or spiritually, in the position where I’m looking down on people. Like if somebody is trying to give me advice that’s something I already know, I’m trying to be more receptive. Everybody has something to teach, and I don’t want to miss the lessons.
With the Chi Lin community tai chi group:
I helped with community tai chi classes. The Chi Lin tai chi classes have helped me a lot to slow myself down and read a room or a situation better. I took photos and videos to document them. I started helping with the class to help get ahold of my scatterbrain thinking and ways of experiencing life. I'm learning to take in more and observe more of myself and others around me.
I worked with kids in different ways with Chi Lin. It requires a lot of patience. The camping trip funded by Try This was especially wonderful. I especially liked helping out with the scavenger hunt. It was a team effort, and we all pitched in. We gave them headlamps, and it was dark. They got little prizes along the way and ended in a field of glow-sticks. It was so rewarding to see them go crazy with that, especially after the year we’ve had.
I’ve also learned some tai chi, enough to teach other people. I’m still learning as a student, but I am teaching my family more. Right now, my nieces and nephews are staying with us, and we had a tai chi session last week. I was teaching them as much as I knew.
Through Try This staff:
I learned about making Web sites. I had a great Try This teacher with that. I was nervous at first, but that seems to be a recurring emotion whenever I start doing anything new. But now I also see the end result, after my 33 years of living. It’s like “OK, eventually, I’m going to get better.” My Web site teacher definitely helped me along that process a lot. I enjoyed learning something new and having another tool in my tool belt. Now I can be helpful to others. My life partner wants to make another Web site for her art, and I can say, “Oh yeah! I can definitely help you out with that!”
I think I am a better person now for other people and for myself. I think I’ve made some good relationships this year. I’ve been going through some self-discovery. The past year definitely re-framed my role as an adult. I’m always pinching myself, now that I’m 33 years old, and I’m experiencing life through this perspective. I remember, when I was a child, looking up at bigger humans than me and wondering what their lives were like. Now I’m embodying that.
Lexi Carder: I am better connected in my community and region now, and that will help me get better opportunities for myself in the future. I have a lot of career options and a lot of help to get myself there. I do feel I’m in better position to get a job after I graduate.
Lexi carried out her AmeriCorps duties while she was finishing her final year of undergraduate school. She has already entered graduate school in Communications.
I loved the in-person placements I was able to do with Try This partners before COVID. At the Thrive Community Empowerment Center, I learned better ways to run a food pantry. Customers can choose their own food and supplies. They encourage people to incorporate fresh produce into their shopping. They have frozen and chilled options and a bread table. They have fresh greens growing on a hydroponic tower funded through a Try This minigrant.
Lexi made a short video about that experience, showing why she thinks Thrive is a model food pantry.
I learned through working in the food pantry and Hope Grows farmer’s market that there are a lot more people in need in the area than I thought there were. I learned about a whole bunch of other opportunities for people that I didn’t even know about. I was so impressed with all the help that Hope Grows and Thrive offer people. I didn't know, for instance, that Thrive will take old people to their appointments and make sure they had what they need. I had just assumed they took the bus if they couldn’t drive. I thought public transportation was enough, but it’s not, and it's great that Thrive can help.
I was impressed by the kindness of the people who work at the food pantry. Once, when a woman came who had already been there her allowed two times that month, the lady that I was working with helped her anyway. We had free bags of food allotted for people who really needed it, and we gave her one. She was so happy because she said she had people staying with her till they found a place to stay. I was impressed with that.
That whole experience makes me feel good about my community. I ran into one of the ladies I worked with at Thrive at TJ Max, and she immediately remembered me, and we had a good conversation. It made me feel so good.
After we had to go on Zoom, I was still able to develop some good relationships, especially with Sarah Barton (Senior Projects Director / Coplin Health Systems). She’s a good talker. I got to know her and helped her as much as I possibly could when we were working on inventorying physical activity opportunities in the Mid-Ohio Valley. I learned a lot through that experience, including new skills.
I also learned that there are a lot more opportunities for physical activity in the region that I thought there were. I was helping Sarah do the research and list them for the Move More MOV Website her team had a Try This minigrant to produce.
I also organized the physical activity for the Try This conference. That was a very valuable experience, even though the conference did not occur due to COVID. Planning it was a lot of work, and I learned valuable things about gathering people and information together.
Over the year, I also learned new computer skills that I will be able to use in my graduate school work. For instance, I learned how to make a directory with Word. That makes it a lot easier to input names and phone numbers, because Word does the rest. I also have a better working knowledge of the Google suites now that I have used them a lot for Try This. Melissa (Try This Administrative Assistant) showed me a lot of tricks that I can apply to my schooling.
I have definitely learned over and over and over that sometimes even in the non-profit world, sometimes they won’t answer your phone call or email, and you can’t take it personally, They’re too busy or they miss the emails or they don’t want to. But everyone’s not like that. I am really glad I was able to work a bit with the people who are creating a kayaking project for Pleasants County with their Try This minigrant. The director’s so busy, in charge of the whole Parks and Rec Department for the county, but he still made time for me. That was really great.
Even if I decide to work in non-profit as my career, I know that I have a lot of resources and connections I can use if I do not know how to do something or I run into issues or I just need some help.
Dr. Laurie Ruberg: exploring the strata of her community
As part of my transition from working full-time to part-time, I established a small business called, PLANTS, LLC, where I could continue my work as an instructional designer to help K-12 schools and informal educators by offering plant lessons and engaging technology activities. Through this venture, I became aware of the creative projects that Try This WV was initiating throughout West Virginia. I wanted to connect with Try This WV activities that were stirring waves of community-based wellness-focused initiatives. Signing up as an AmeriCorps volunteer allowed me to fully immerse in the Try This WV push for positive change while continuing to offer health-related education activities for kids and families.
This photo was taken by Wheeling City Council representative, Rosemary Ketchum, illustrates how my personal goals aligned with Try This. On June 7 at the Wheeling Middle School garden. Jenny Craig (center of photo), special education teacher at WMS, hosted a “Make and Take” activity for community members. Parents and area residents were invited to take home tomato and pepper plants to get their summer gardens started. I’m in the photo with my WVU baseball cap on, standing behind Ohio County School Board member Grace Norton.
The remaining photos highlight favorite memories from my year as a part-time AmeriCorps volunteer with Try This WV.
In spite of COVID-related social distancing restrictions, I felt that I was part of an energetic and cohesive team. We met weekly (and more as needed), collaborated on outreach activities and special events, and shared snippets of daily tasks we were working on in our region. Below is a screen shot of one of the early virtual team meetings held under the leadership of Try This executive director, Brittney Barlett.
The team meetings led by Brittney Barlett, shown in the center of this photo, helped our geographically distributed group work as a cohesive team. Top left in the photo is Kate Long, Try This media coordinator. At the bottom right is Mel Young, administrative coordinator for Try This WV. Top right is Laura Anderson, second row at left is Lexi Carder, and third row left is Kionn Burt—all my fellow AmeriCorps colleagues. Second row right is the Try This former regional coordinator, Evan Young. I’m in the top row, middle.
In the first quarter of my year of service, I worked with the Grow Ohio Valley non-profit which had established a farm-based school for pre-K through fifth grade.
The Wild Farm School approach to learning is based on Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder as well as other related material that show how important learning outdoors is for children and adults. I worked directly with AmeriCorps volunteer Grace Dai and together we presented a series of six hydroponics hands-on learning activities for the children attending the Wild Farm School during the 2020 COVID pandemic. The image above shows Grace getting the kids started in building their own portable hydroponic systems.
This photo shows students at Wheeling Middle School measuring and comparing seed shapes, sizes, and features as part of a seed germination investigation.
Through my AmeriCorps work with Try This WV, I was able to partner with WVU Cooperative Extension agent, Karen Cox, to win a one-year grant from the NASA WV Space Grant Consortium to create a hydroponics 4-H curriculum for grades 4 through 8. Wheeling Middle School will be one of three Ohio County middle schools helping to pilot test this curriculum during the 2021-2022 academic year.
My year of service with Try This WV has given me new connections with non-profit and social service organizations in my community. Prior to my AmeriCorps experience, I wasn’t aware of the Ohio County Food Security Team. This is an organization that I would like to continue to stay connected with after my service, since it relates to my interest in helping local families and community groups have year-round access to fresh produce.
The Blessing Box to the right, installed April 14, 2021, on National Rd. is adjacent to Garden Park in Warwood, Ohio County, Wheeling and is sponsored by the Ohio County Food Security Team.
My AmeriCorps year of service gave me an opportunity to explore my community as a geologist explores the strata of the ground through which construction is to be carried out. As the mission of Try This WV is to build healthier, more physically active WV communities, my service this past year has encouraged me to explore the strata of life in my immediate community. Through my Try This WV regional outreach work I was able to see how the variety of social services, school, work, recreation, food production, distribution, meal preparation, and eating play a role in promoting or inhibiting healthy choices. I’ve made connections with several organizations and people that I hope to continue collaborating with for many years. Promoting healthy choices is beneficial to my community, to me, and it’s fun.