This summer, the Be Mighty team grew to a size we haven’t seen since the program’s inception. Working with the national AmeriCorps program, we hosted 4 summer AmeriCorps VISTA Associates. Coupled with the 3 long-term service members already serving with the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS); our program was able to take exciting new strides! Not only were our members excited to continue the meal distribution program, but they were instrumental in piloting new programs as well. Ever flexible and always up for a challenge, we could not have asked for a better group of members.
Please join us in thanking these amazing people for their service to the Central Arkansas Library System, and the Be Mighty campaign. Below you will read about some of their many accomplishments, as well as segments of their key takeaways from the experience.
Thank you, Ashley, Lily, Katie, Megan, Jamee, Sierra, and Olivia (all pictured). You are all rockstars!
Megan began a year-long service term as Be Might Little Rock VISTA in August 2020 and has served in various capacities throughout. Especially when struck with the difficulties of the pandemic, Megan was a tremendous help in maintaining our momentum, ensuring the community always had up-to-date information regarding key resources through the implementation of marketing and communications strategies. Megan also assisted with meal and produce box distributions at branches system-wide, and even hosted various projects, such as a panel discussion of local leaders for MLK Jr. Day. She says the year has made a tremendous impact on her career, and she is glad to have served with Be Mighty Little Rock.
Olivia began a year-long term as Grants& Development VISTA in January 2021. In this first portion of the service term, Olivia has been integral to the CALS Development team, diligently researching grants aimed at alleviating poverty, specifically related to library initiatives such as the Be Mighty program, Rock It! Lab, Community Resources Department, and Outreach Department. She also works on grants that relate to education, crafting proposals for literacy kits or tool kits for the CALS tool library. Without such grants and diligent research behind the scenes, many of our programs could not exist! We are so happy to still have a few months with her!
Katie began an 8-month term with CALS at the Children’s Library and Learning Center as an AmeriCorps Full Circle FarmCorps Team Leader. Through the FarmCorps pillars of farm, outreach, and teach, Katie has served to address food insecurity and strengthen communities in Pulaski County. As a part of her service, Katie has assisted the management and beautification of the garden, greenhouse, and apiary at Children’s, resulting in over 650 pounds of fresh produce that was used in gardening/nutrition education programs or provided free to local patrons. She produced or contributed to several streams of kids virtual and in-person programming, and even facilitated an entire virtual nutrition education program using the Growing MyPlate curriculum.
Lucky for us, Katie has accepted a position with Be Mighty as the new Garden & Nutrition Education Facilitator. She will be leading children’s garden and nutrition education courses throughout the fall. Keep an eye out and take advantage of all the knowledge Katie has to share!
The Be Mighty summer VISTA Associates began their terms in June 2021 and served with 4 different CALS branches: Ashley with Dee Brown Library, Jamee with Children’s Library, Lily with McMath Library, and Sierra with Main Library. The objective of the Associate service term was to increase food security in Little Rock by increasing the number of meals served through the USDA meal distribution program, referring patrons to federal/community resources, and providing educational programming about nutrition for children. Food insecurity among children is a significant issue throughout Arkansas, and particularly in Little Rock, where 77% of children qualify for free and reduced meals. The Associates not only provided relief through meals, but also organized programming to help families support themselves through federal benefits, like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and nutrition education.
Throughout the months of June and July, the Associates distributed a total of 6259 meals to kids and teens across just their 4 branches with an average daily participation of around 128 kids. They also became trained SNAP navigators through the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, participated in the SNAP Challenge, and established weekly SNAP office hours at their library branches for patrons who may need food resources. Though only up and running for a short time, these office hours seemed to be a success!
— You can read more about the importance of SNAP and the Associates’ experience with the SNAP Challenge in our previous blog post, titled SNAP Challenge: Reflections and Resources —
Lastly, the Associates were key to launching Be Mighty nutrition education. We hosted several nutrition education opportunities for children in June and July, both virtually and in-person, and the Associates prepped hundreds of accompanying recipe kits, planned & facilitated lessons, and developed curriculum content to a format suitable for a free online curriculum to be available to kids throughout the 2021-2022 schoolyear on Niche Academy. Not only is it important for individuals to have money to spend on food, but nutrition education is vital in empowering individuals with the confidence to cook easy, healthy, and affordable meals at home for themselves and their families.
Overall, growing more informed on the issue of hunger at-large has helped the Associates become better advocates. Ashley, who hails from Mississippi, agreed that the opportunities to immerse herself in the LR community brought light to the issues most of the community is facing and helped her understand how best to address the issue during her term. As Sierra shared, the severity of the issue at hand may seem alarming but hearing positive patron feedback about how programs like Be Mighty can help alleviate the burden of poverty keep us motivated to continue strong.
Jamee said sharing what she has learned, and helping others become more aware of the resources available to them throughout Little Rock has not only helped her grow as an advocate, but also as an individual and artist, and she feels she is now professionally better suited to serve communities. Lily highlighted that through this experience, she learned the issue of food insecurity in Arkansas is complex and must be approached from many angles. Although it is essential to health and happiness, food is often sacrificed when families face financial hardship, so addressing the need for food and the root of financial hardship are both necessary to eradicate food insecurity.
Our service members made the most of the unique experience that an AmeriCorps terms with CALS provided them. Libraries have long acted as resource hubs, and CALS and Be Mighty are excited to continue finding innovative approaches to support our community in the fight against hunger. We know that none of this work would be possible without dedicated folks like you all who make the work feel (almost) easy. We appreciate you and wish you all the best in your future endeavors!