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VISTA volunteer Savonne Crews helps Cayuga campus build bridges to low-income community

DATE: 10-24-2011

It takes a special kind of college graduate to seek out a job that intentionally pays at the poverty level, but Savonne Crews of Rochester, N.Y., is ready for the challenge.

Crews, a 2011 graduate of Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., accepted a one-year position as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer at Cayuga Community College, where she will develop and deepen campus-community partnerships that will benefit students at the College and in the broader community.

Founded as Volunteers in Service to America in 1965, VISTA volunteers create or expand programs designed to bring individuals and communities out of poverty, and are responsible for establishing such well-known programs as HeadStart, Upward Bound, and the credit union system. Volunteers receive a small living allowance and are eligible to receive food stamps and other federal aid programs for low-income people. After they complete their one year of service, they are eligible for either a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or post-service stipend.

Two months into the position at Cayuga, Crews says her bills are starting to pile up but so are the positive exchanges she is having with students and community members.

"Being a VISTA volunteer isn't for everybody," Crews said. "It's like taking on a mission. You're living the experience of the populations you're trying to help. And it does give you a better understanding of the issues that people living at the poverty level face. You start to see your own pre-conceived notions about people and your own biases. I am much more aware and conscious of those things."

Crews is working on an after-school program with Booker T. Washington Community Center in Auburn and is recruiting Cayuga students to volunteer and serve as mentors for the young people who attend the program.

She is also dropping into club meetings and student activities to become a familiar face on campus. Crews is planning a range of events to get Cayuga students interested in volunteer and internship opportunities in the community and more engaged in student life on campus. She is leading by example and is involved in the College's fall theatrical production.

"I love working with students and promoting education, especially to those who aren't afforded access to adequate resources," Crews said.

Meg Osborne, Cayuga's coordinator of career services and Crews' supervisor, said she couldn't be happier with Crews' performance thus far.

"We're just so pleased with her work," Osborne said. "Savonne is thoughtful, proactive, and mature. She works very independently, and she is dedicated to improving the lives of the people she works with. She will be a tremendous asset to us this year."

Crews is picking up on the groundwork laid by Cayuga's 2010-11 VISTA volunteer, Ashley Shaw, who initiated the partnership with the Booker T. Washington Afterschool Program, hosted volunteer fairs with community organizations and local non-profits, and organized the Celebration of Service event to recognize Cayuga CC student volunteers.

"We have been so fortunate to have these VISTA volunteers working with us," Osborne said. "Service-learning is a great way for students to build their resume, especially since the job market is so poor right now. Volunteer experiences are an outstanding way to develop and showcase your abilities to a future employer. Savonne will help carry that message to our students."