Each year during fall break, the VISTA office hosts an Alternative Fall Break for students who opt to stay at (a mostly empty) New College, providing a sense of community while many of our friends are away.
This year, New College students volunteered with local agencies who are working to alleviate hunger in our community. Orange Blossom Community Garden may have been the student favorite.
There is no better way to describe Orange Blossom than to call it a community hub. Located in the heart of Newtown, the garden sits adjacent to a playground where the laughter of young and old permeates the air. Featuring community and individual plots, a worm composting site, a children’s garden and picnic tables that sit shaded beneath giant trees, the garden is the perfect place to go for interacting with nature and putting in a hard day’s work.
Orange Blossom’s director, Barbara Powell-Harris, is all about community and, while she would say that community is the heart of the garden, it’s clear that her passion and dedication is the lifeblood that keeps everything going. We were thankful for the shade and for Barbara’s great conversation as we sat down to create grow boxes for Orange Blossom to give to children during Sarasota’s Eat Local Week. And Miss Barbara can cook too! After we finished drilling, sanding and assembling all of the grow buckets, Barbara treated us to a delicious home-cooked lasagna dinner. We left with our hearts and our stomachs full.
This opportunity at Orange Blossom accounts for just three of the many hours students have spent volunteering through the VISTA office this semester. The numbers are just breaking into the thousands and, more importantly, most of these hours are in direct service to our area youth. More than 60 children in our area benefit from a New College tutor or mentor and many local organizations addressing literacy and education actively seek out New College volunteers.
While the VISTA office, a branch of AmeriCorps Campus Compact, exists to provide students with a variety of volunteer opportunities, including working with local homeless shelters, food banks, and even the Florida Department of Health, records indicate that many students serve in the area of education. It is clear that New College students care deeply about equal access to education and many of them spend countless hours helping local children achieve.
The VISTA office is grateful to be able to connect our students with such opportunities and proud to play a small part in their endless service to the greater community.