Sweet Potatoes, Alabama History, and Critical Reflections


Good afternoon from the Office of Public Service!  Last week was a busy time at the office!  With everything from the Alabama Stories Luncheon at the Hotel at Auburn University, finalizing the programing for our marketing strategy workshop, the Faculty Colloquia, AND bagging thousands of pounds of potatoes for the Wesley Foundation sweet potato drop! But before I go into that, I would like to thank you for reading, and officially introduce myself.

I am Christina Spence, and I am serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) with the Auburn University Office of Public Service.   For the next year, I will be working with local non-profits, working on grants, and organizing volunteer fairs, partner trainings, and lunch and learn activities (and sharing my experiences here!).  I also serve as an advisor for the student led group Campus Kitchens Project.

A little bit about how I got here.  I am originally from Wilmington, North Carolina.   I completed my bachelor’s degree in psychology at Appalachian State University in Boone North Carolina.   After college I moved to Greenville, NC where I completed my Masters of Social Work degree from East Carolina University.  As a graduate student, I worked with the local United Way on collective community impact initiatives and grant management systems.   The work I did with United Way sparked my passion for volunteerism and led to my belief in the importance and strength of true partnerships in a community.  I wanted to do something to give back to the world, and found myself as a VISTA!  (Not to be neglected is my love for dogs, adventures, and cooking)  So that is the short story. I am passionate about service, I love what I do, and I want to share it with you.  I hope you will stay tuned as I post each week and that you will learn just a little bit about the Auburn community and what we do at the Office of Public Service.

That leads me my week at the Office of Public Service!

On November 10th I attended the Alabama Stories Symposium at the Hotel at Auburn University.  The event was in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities.  It was a wonderful presentation of history and remembrance.  Dr. Mark Wilson, director of the center, welcomed the attendees and introduced the wonderful guest speakers. Dr. Birch Hitchcock, Dr. Kathryn Braund, and Dr. Wayne Flint told little known stories about Alabama history.  Stories of similarities in different times, recognition of Alabama writers, and lost Native American history.  The keynote address was given by Dr. William Ferris.  His presentation reflected contents of his book “The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists.”  The program was followed by the grand re-opening of Pebble Hill, a local historical landmark.  Pebble Hill and its history reflects the history of Auburn itself–its founding, its growth, and its development. It was a powerful series, and I am glad I got to be a part of the growing history of Auburn.

As if there wasn’t enough going on last week, we also hosted our Faculty Colloquia on Thursday November 12th.  We welcomed Dr. Mark Wilson, Rachel Naftel, and Cristin Foster and had conversations about service learning and critical reflection.   The conversations were meaningful, powerful, and exciting.  Dr. Mark Wilson, Director of Civic Learning Initiatives in the College of Liberal arts, spoke to us about his civic engagement course which utilizes in-service learning and critical reflections as vital aspects of the learning process.  The course requires students to spend time volunteering at the Lee County Youth Development Center and to reflect on their learning experiences through weekly journal entries.  Dr. Wilson challenges his students to think deeply about the “What,” “So what,” and “Now what” of their experiences at the center.  His questions are intentional, and encourage a deeper analysis of the learning experiences.  Rachel Naftel, a doctoral candidate in the Public Administration and Policy program at Auburn, who works as Dr. Wilson’s graduate assistant, also contributed to the conversation. She spoke to her experience in Dr. Wilson’s class and pointed out how the experiences she had felt like more than an assignment.  She ended her class with more than a grade; she had an experience that she will never forget.  Rachel will be leading a service learning course with Dr. Wilson in the spring.

Cristin Foster, executive director of the David Matthews Center for Civic life in Montevallo Alabama, spoke to the power of critical reflection in communities.  The Matthews Center works to provide civic engagement by hosting community conversations, or deliberations, across Alabama.  Cristin spends her days traveling and talking to people all over Alabama about topics in their communities. The Matthews Center believes, “changing the way people talk can change the way they relate to each other and their problems – and that can eventually change the community.”  It is a great undertaking, and one we hope to play a larger part of in the future.  For more information about the Matthews Center and what they are doing, Click here!

Next, we can’t forget about our upcoming interactive marketing strategies workshop on December 3rd.  The training will be held from 1-2:30pm at the Auburn Chamber of commerce.  The training will be led by our very own Janie Echols-Brown.  She will cover topics in mission statements, target markets, product/service positioning, and marketing methods. We will also cover strategies in internet marketing.  You will leave this workshop with an outline for your organizations’ marketing strategy, as well as the tools needed to build a marketing tool kit.  Keep an eye out for the flyer, I will post it later this week!

Last but not least, this week I participated in my first ever Sweet Potato Drop.  Dozens of volunteers came out to the Wesley foundation parking lot to help bag thousands of pounds of sweet potatoes that would have been buried in a landfill because they were too big, small, or oddly shaped to be distributed for sale.  Just in time for the holidays, the bags were distributed to the food bank and other organizations in the community.  So I ended the week fighting hunger, reducing food waste, and volunteering for a good cause.  What a great and exciting week!

Until Next time!

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