There’s that old saying that, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
With that in mind, it’s safe to say that University of Georgia students Aliyah Williams and Devin Land didn’t do too much “work” this summer. Williams and Land spent their summer as AmeriCorps Summer Associates with Campus Kitchen at UGA, collecting food from local grocery stores, gardens and restaurants, planning and cooking meals, and delivering food to Campus Kitchen clients throughout the community. While they certainly stayed busy working 40 hours a week during their nine-week commitment, it was time well spent.
“I was not expecting it to be so fun,” Land said. “I didn’t expect all the engagement with community members—having the opportunity to interact with the community, see their faces week to week, and get that instant feedback with what we’re doing.”
“I thought doing 40 hours a week, I was going to burn out,” Williams added. “But interacting with the community members keeps me going and keeps giving me energy, especially learning all their names and faces and seeing them so excited.”
The UGA Office of Service-Learning supports and coordinates UGA’s AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) Network of nine partnership organizations that strive to improve health and educational services, reduce food insecurity, or foster economic development. These include the UGA organizations, Campus Kitchen and UGArden and the community organizations, Abundance Athens, the Athens Community Council on Aging, College Factory and Athens Regional Library. The AmeriCorps program places VISTAs in poverty-fighting and capacity-building roles, and these VISTAs gain valuable experience and skills through their service. Land and Williams were two of eight AmeriCorps Summer Associates who served over the summer.
This year’s summer associates focused on food security, and they helped develop 10 new partnerships, grew over 800 pounds of produce, delivered over 180 meals, and helped route nearly 20,000 pounds of groceries to community members and partnering organizations.
Land, who will be starting her second year in a dual master’s program in public health and social work, discovered the program through the UGA School of Social Work and said many of Campus Kitchen’s values aligned with hers. Williams, who is in her fifth year studying criminal justice and psychology with a minor in sociology, learned about the program from her friend, Kamari James, an intern with Campus Kitchen.
“I chose Campus Kitchen because I’m passionate about cooking,” Williams said. “I also grew up in a rural area, and I have experienced food insecurity. So, I wanted to give back to Athens.”
While cooking was certainly a large part of their summer, Land and Williams also assisted in administrative and outreach duties, including talking to incoming freshmen during orientation and meeting with organizations that visited Campus Kitchen at UGArden. Through their busy summer of service, Land and Williams learned many skills they will carry into their careers.
On top of learning how much she loved working with people, Land said being a summer associate taught her to be resourceful and make something out of very little, the importance of asking for help and how to work as a team.
“I’m from a small town, and I’m introverted,” Land said. “I was hesitant to be so people-forward, but I’ve loved it a lot. You find new skills, find something you’re passionate about, and meet new people who share your passions.”
Williams said she also gained a new perspective from working with the community.
“I’ve improved my public speaking skills,” Williams said. “I used to be very introverted. Now, I’m more likely to speak up and state my opinions and to speak up for others. I’ve also gained more empathy for others’ situations—to actually see and experience their situation.”
Williams said before this summer, she was considering pursuing a career in forensic psychology, but now she wants to branch out into the field of service. She is thinking about law school and is interested in starting a nonprofit to advocate for and represent the under-represented members of the community. Land is considering pursuing a doctoral program to continue this work in the field of public health and social work.
Because this experience has been so influential for them, both Williams and Land strongly recommend any UGA student to become involved. In addition to Campus Kitchen, the UGA Office of Service-Learning also coordinates other programs like Experience UGA that engage students with the community.
“When you get to interact with clients and see how grateful they are, it’s hard to step away,” Williams said. “I’m already wanting to keep going. It’s not just a job, but you’re working with friends. It’s fun, and it’s rewarding.”