VISTA workers promote resilience through varied projects over past year
Given a year to create an impact, AmeriCorps VISTA workers Colin Hendrickson and Andrianna Betts have sought to make the most of their time in helping Minot build its disaster resilience and increase its environmental stewardship.
Hendrickson completed his year’s service to the community Jan. 29, while Betts will continue through March 12. They’ve assisted in projects that have turned empty lots into community space, encouraged water conservation and created a more positive perception of the Souris River.
“It’s been a pretty rewarding experience, getting to do work on projects that will help to strengthen the community,” Betts said.
One of the projects they hope will have a big impact will launch soon. Hendrickson developed a proposal for a tool library, believed to be the first in the state, that will be operated and maintained by Minot Public Library.
Hendrickson and Betts held a tool drive Sept. 1 to collect donations and wrote grant requests, receiving a $750 grant from Verendrye Electric. They also purchased tools using part of a $25,000 grant provided to the VISTA program in Minot through the sponsoring organization, Cities of Service Resilience AmeriCorps.
“We are excited that the tool library will be opening soon. We hope it will help the community become more resilient, especially in the event there’s another natural disaster,” Betts said.
Partnering with Friends of the Souris River, the VISTA workers helped coordinate two river cleanup events and organize a river bike tour. The goal of Friends of the Souris River is to renew the city’s river culture.
“Which is really exciting,” Betts said. “I hope anyone who continues to have a negative perception of the river will transition to seeing the river as a place of recreation, a place to bring the family and have a really fun time.”
The VISTA workers also partnered with the Minot Area Council of the Arts. Pepsi donated 55-gallon barrels that were painted during the summer Arts in the Park events. It also was an opportunity to educate the public on water conservation and the benefits of collecting rain water. At the end of the summer, the six painted barrels were donated to the Great Tomato Festival auction, raising $580 for charity.
Another project the VISTA workers pursued with Minot Park District and Minot Young Professionals is the Adopt-a-Lot program on land purchased by the city after the flood. Nine organizations adopted lots, growing vegetable and pollinator gardens, setting up a passive park and installing a giant tic-tac-toe board.
“Everything grown was donated to food pantries,” Hendrickson said.
Through their creation of a website, resilientminot.com, Betts and Hendrickson workers have been able to spread the word about different initiatives to protect the environment and make the community more resilient and sustainable. Tips on the website provide information about issues such as recycling or emergency preparedness.
Betts said there’s a particular desire to reach vulnerable populations and provide them with resources, from the tips on the website to the tools at the library.
“It helps the community to be more inclusive. It becomes about meeting everyone’s need versus just the needs of a few,” Betts said.
Betts said she has learned much about environmental sustainability during her time in Minot, while for Hendrickson, that aspect of their mission was in line with his interests and training. He had been involved with an environmental organization in college that engaged in public issues.
He said coming to Minot taught him to tailor the environmental message to a different audience. The message in Minot has focused on resilience in the face of climate change.
Minot had been awarded the services of AmeriCorps Vista through the National Disaster Resilience Program for two years. Two volunteers worked in Minot in 2016, and Hendrickson and Betts replaced them in 2017.
Hendrickson has returned to his home in Illinois, where he plans to work for his father’s company until next fall when he will enroll in graduate school. He is a graduate of Illinois State University with a degree in environmental health and minor in sociology. He plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in environment and infectious disease.
He said the professional experience and chance to see local government operations up close in Minot have been invaluable. The opportunity to work alongside city leaders and getting to know city council members amazes other VISTA workers in much larger cities, he said.
“We are in the smallest city in the Cities of Service,” Hendrickson said. “I love the medium-sized city feel, the connections you make and the neighbors you see every day.”
Betts likes the metaphor of the Mighty Mouse, a local reference to the Souris (Mouse) River.
“Mighty Mouse is kind of how this whole town is. It’s small but it’s strong, and there’s a lot of character in the people and the place,” she said. “When you spend time getting to meet the people and going to these different historical places in the city, I feel like you see its beauty.”
Betts, a native of the Baltimore area, graduated from Ohio University with a master’s degree in communication and development studies. Upon completing her work in Minot, she hopes to remain with AmeriCorps in a leadership position, mentoring other VISTA workers.
“I really like the experience of working at the local level. I just feel you can get more done in a grassroots sense. Just being with people on the front lines, trying to provide new programs and projects for the community they are in, is something I think is really awesome,” she said.
Over the next several weeks, Betts will continue to work with the tools library and follow through on another project she and Hendrickson have been working with the city’s engineering department. The project will place flood remembrance signs at key locations in the valley. The project is an initiative of the Federal Emergency Management Program. As a community awareness project, it counts as part of the Community Rating System through which Minot residents can receive flood insurance premium discounts.
Graphic design students and alumni of Minot State University will be participating in a competition to design the signs this spring. A three-judge panel will pick the top three, with the winner selected by the public in on-line voting. Signs will be locally printed and displayed at about 16 sites.
The resilience and environmental projects were designed to continue long after the VISTA program concludes.
“Part of our work is to build capacity and create sustainable solutions. So every project we worked at had to conclude in a way that will continue on in the future without us,” Betts said.
“It definitely has been both a rewarding and a challenging experience,” she added. “This has been a time for just personal and professional growth, and it’s definitely something I will carry with me wherever I go next.”
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