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Two New AmeriCorps* VISTA Members
Spent Semester Working in Chippewa Valley

RELEASED: Dec. 6, 2007

EAU CLAIRE — Two new AmeriCorps* VISTA members have been working in the Chippewa Valley since August, creating and strengthening partnerships between the Center for Service-Learning at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and various governmental and non-profit agencies for the benefit of the Chippewa Valley.

The new VISTA members, Chalsea Lane and Zachary Barnes, are being supported in part by a new project grant provided through Wisconsin Campus Compact and the AmeriCorps* VISTA Community Based Learning Project I.

Don Mowry, director of the Center for Service-Learning at UW-Eau Claire, submitted the successful grant, and his office acts as a host site, providing supervision, workspace, equipment and some minimal transportation and professional development costs for the VISTA workers, who will work full-time for at least one year.

Mowry said that although UW-Eau Claire has been a host site for AmeriCorps* VISTA volunteers for the past three years, and two volunteers are still working or just finishing their stints, this current project is a new one, with several new areas of focus: Ex-offender reentry programs and community corrections alternatives to incarceration will be one area of focus, while strengthening low-income families and supporting low-income aging adults will be two others.

Chalsea Lane
Chalsea Lane

Chalsea Lane, who graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in political science and legal studies, has been working with several agencies, including the Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections, Western Dairyland, Restorative Justice and Choose After Care, to strengthen and improve existing ex-offender reentry programs and look at alternatives to incarceration in this area. Lane, who spent time in Washington, D.C., learning about reentry efforts nationwide, said she began with asset mapping — looking at the services offered by the various agencies to see where there might be an overlap or deficiencies in service — and would go from there to suggest ways to strengthen the programs and build capacity.

"The ex-offender community is generally a very forgotten population," said Lane, noting that she believes crime usually stems from other things, such as poverty, neglect, or lack of educational opportunities or support. "We need to improve our efforts in this area. When nothing is done to help people re-enter society successfully, recidivism rates are high, which makes it a public safety issue," Lane said. "I believe it's also a moral issue."

UW-Eau Claire students will be involved in helping with these efforts, as they did in the summer of 2006 when the Center for Service-Learning worked with an Eau Claire office of Community Corrections and the Chippewa Valley Correctional Treatment Facility to plan and implement a successful AmeriCorps* VISTA Summer Associates Program. During the eight-week intensive program, student associates became agents of support, friends and facilitators of resources that could contribute to the ex-offenders' successful re-integration into society. This relationship also led to collaboration between UW-Eau Claire and several other agencies on the AIM project, sponsored by Wisconsin District Court Judges, in which students from UW-Eau Claire are trained to serve as identified evaluators to divert women with dependent children away from incarceration in jail or prisons and into a community corrections alternative.

Zachary Barnes
Zachary Barnes

Zachary Barnes, who received his bachelor's degree in Latin American Studies from UW-Eau Claire in May 2007, is working on improving support services for low-income families and aging adults by partnering with agencies like Family Resource Center and the L.E. Phillips Senior Center.

As a member of the Foodlums group at UW-Eau Claire, Barnes is interested in helping make healthy, locally grown food more available to both these populations. Working with AmeriCorps* VISTA member Jeremy Gragert, who has already been active in this area for several years, Barnes has been looking into efforts to bring extra food from the campus food service to after school tutoring programs or weekend programs for kids in the area, collaborating on these efforts with other interested individuals, such as those involved in the Healthy Communities program. Gragert and Barnes said they would like to see UW-Eau Claire get involved in a Campus Kitchens Project like the ones that have been established at Augsburg College and Marquette University, and have students from a business management program actually organize and manage these efforts on an ongoing basis.

Barnes also has been looking into ways to help bring more of the Hmong elderly population into the senior center for services, as well as ways to bring some of the programs offered at the center to residents of low-income elderly apartments in Eau Claire.

In the meantime, Barnes will keep up with his interest in Latin American issues by assisting geography professor Dr. Paul Kaldjian's class in studying and making a multimedia report on the impact that migrant farm workers are having on rural Western Wisconsin and on the home communities that receive their wages.

Davin Haukebo-Bol is the other AmeriCorps*VISTA member just finishing up his time at UW-Eau Claire. He worked closely with Gragert on projects like the local food initiatives and last year's Big Read program and worked at creating more partnerships between the Center for Service-Learning and other local agencies. In addition, he has been working closely with the Boys and Girls Club to develop an after school Video Club that will promote multimedia literacy among middle and high school age students through learning the process of video production.

"I am currently developing the curriculum and looking to recruit service-learning students to be instructors for the video club," said Haukebo-Bol. "The Boys and Girls Club member students will have the opportunity to produce projects such as music videos, narrative stories, school projects and community based documentaries."

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