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At your service: AmeriCorps volunteer gives PCC a hand
Photos and Story by James Hill
Last December, PCC’s Service Learning Program hosted a holiday card- and placemat-making drive at each of the college’s main four campuses and Coffee Creek Correctional Facility for PCC’s 50th anniversary. The hand-made gifts were delivered to Loaves & Fishes, which were given to seniors and centers throughout the Portland metro area.
It was during that project that Nicole Herbert had her best moment at Portland Community College. She was at Coffee Creek helping the female inmates wrap up the project.
“That was really amazing,” Herbert said. “They were very excited and very enthusiastic about what they were doing. They were very focused on the project. They made the most beautiful, most professional quality cards and it was clear that they were very proud of the work they were doing.”
It is times like this that have made Herbert’s tenure at the college as the student services coordinator worthwhile. Throughout the 2011-2012 academic year until August, Herbert is working at PCC through the AmeriCorps VISTA Program to help fight poverty in the local community. In addition, she assisted with 50th anniversary to help the college reach the goal of 50,000 community service hours.
Herbert’s opportunity stems from a PCC partnership with Oregon Campus Compact. Her role has been to create community partnerships, coordinate co-curricular service programming, engage student leaders in service, and increase awareness of community needs in poverty alleviation.
“I really enjoy being at PCC,” Herbert said. “Especially being here with the college this year when it has made such an explicit commitment to service. As a national service member I’m happy to be here with the college and celebrating the college’s commitment to service and bettering the community.”
As a VISTA volunteer, Herbert’s focus is on poverty elimination. The U.S. Conference of Mayors “2011 Hunger and Homelessness Report” illustrated significant needs across the country and in Oregon. In Portland, homelessness among families increased by 29 percent and requests for food assistance have risen 15 percent. There are about 6,500 VISTAs nationwide.
“My work here is to mobilize volunteers and develop partnerships with our community partners whose focus is to alleviate poverty and serve the needs of families and individuals who are low income,” she said.
Herbert is a native of Fayetteville, N.C., and has a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in Women’s Studies from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She always wanted to move west and entered a graduate program at Portland State University a few years ago.
“I wanted to live in Portland because I felt the culture and geography were similar to North Carolina,” said Herbert, who bikes to work and takes classes at PCC. “And in some ways it is. I feel like I came out here for a lot of the same reasons that a lot people do when they relocate here.”
She left PSU, though, to join AmeriCorps, which led her to Eureka, Calif., to mentor at-risk teens. After one year of doing that she was chosen for the VISTA Program, which placed her at PCC through Oregon Campus Compact. After her work at PCC ends in August, she leaves for Chicago to continue service as a five-year resident at the Academy for Urban School Leadership to teach high school English in one of the city’s lowest performing high schools.
“Without the human resources from the AmeriCorps VISTA program, we would not be able to do what we’ve done in service-learning over the last few years,” said Sarah Tillery, Service-Learning Program coordinator. “In particular, though, having Nicole work with us has been a tremendous honor. Her experience in education and her commitment to national service has truly benefited Portland Community College.”