BENNINGTON —In June, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch announced $2.1 million in funding for AmeriCorps workers, which impacts those involved in the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) Health Care Share (HCS) program.
Funds are made possible from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency for volunteering and service programs. Their announcement cited the impact AmeriCorps volunteers had on the state this year so far in terms of implementing policies, improving water quality, providing services to veterans and their families and supporting affordable housing. AmeriCorps workers on the VYCC farm are supported under this new initiative.
VYCC employs three full time crew leaders who work year round to partner with local entities, develop programs, work alongside an AmeriCorps VISTA to fundraise and organize projects, document and report on how many people participate in the HCS and how they're using it through surveys, according to VYCC food and farm director Paul Feenan.
HCS started in 2012, however, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC) is in its second year of the program that runs for 12 weeks in the summer. About 40 patients from both the cardiology rehabilitation phase II department and pulmonary rehabilitation department get shares and utilize the Vermont Food Bank's services for additional ingredients, said Tiffany Tobin SVMC director of hospitality and HCS organizer.
"We wanted to increase access to fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables for our patients and increase the consumption because it leads to a healthier lifestyle," she said. "We saw the VYCC program and thought it was a perfect model."
Since implementation Tobin said the patients consumption of fruits and vegetables has increased and that they're curious about learning what to do with their share. To fulfill that need, the hospital's executive chef and dietician educates shareholders on recipes and ways to add flavor to a meal without salt, for example.
SVMC's shares come from Clearbrook Farm in Shaftsbury and Tobin said the relationship between the two is great. Deliveries come weekly for Tobin, the AmeriCorps VISTA and the hospital's retail manager to divvy up produce and bag it for each participate to pick up when they attend a rehab session. This avoids any transportation issues, Tobin said.
Other agencies in that state that use HCS include Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin with 150 shares; University of Vermont Medical Center with 100 shares; and Rutland Regional Medical Center with 100 shares, Feenan said. There are plans to expand the program to St. Albans and Brattleboro next year.
In order to get more participants at SVMC, Tobin said a pre and post program survey will help identify additional needs, but also patients in other departments who could benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables.
In the HCS there is a community crew and a residential crew. The community crew is made up of local youth crew members and those enrolled in the Vocational Rehabilitation Division. The residential crew consists of AmeriCorps workers who live at VYCC and work on the farm there, but are also available to help other farms in the state with gleaning for the health care share or with other needs.
AmeriCorps is a national service program that connects 70,000 Americans each year with communities that lack education, environmental sustainability, public safety, health and homeland security. Members serve with more than 2,000 nonprofits, public organizations and community groups every year, according to its website. Those who serve embark on a 10 to 12 month term and can be awarded up to $4,725 to pay for college, graduate school or to pay back qualified student loans.
VYCC is a nonprofit with the mission of teaching individuals to be responsible adults and to create residential service opportunities while seeking conservation experiences.
For more information on HCS visit farmatvycc.org.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-490-6471.