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VISTA member, KCC seek to build new bonds

ROSCOMMON – In the upcoming weeks and months, a 22-year-old woman from a small town in Texas is hoping to build new and lasting bonds here in northern Michigan between Kirtland Community College and community agencies, such as River House Inc., a non-profit agency based in Grayling that serves victims of domestic abuse in Crawford, Oscoda, Ogemaw and Roscommon counties.

Monica Martinez, a native of Mineola, a town of about 5,000 residents located in east Texas, moved to Kirtland’s main campus in Roscommon this summer after graduating from Austin College earlier this year with dual bachelor’s degrees in political science and philosophy. Martinez is one of 50,000 Americans serving communities through AmeriCorps, which helps sponsor national and community service programs.

Monica Martinez, Americorps Vista VolunteerMartinez is one of 22 members of Michigan Campus Compact’s AmeriCorps VISTA, or the Volunteers in Service to America, effort to work on projects related to poverty across the state. And Martinez is commissioned to act as a transformative agent between Kirtland and the surrounding communities, specifically focusing on the relationship between Kirtland and River House.

“Kirtland is extremely fortunate to have a VISTA volunteer,” said Nick Holton, a math instructor at Kirtland and the college’s Service Learning coordinator. “Monica will be developing and nurturing sustainable service learning and civic engagement projects between Kirtland and River House. These projects will have a lasting effect on our students and our community for many years to come.”

As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, Martinez will work to build, support and develop the capacity for Kirtland and its students to be better stewards of the community and to gain richer and more valuable experiences outside the classroom.

“As a student, I remember sitting in classes thinking, ‘When am I ever going to need this anyway?’” Martinez said. “Thankfully, Service Learning exists as a concrete answer to such a question that textbooks could never provide.

“Service-learning allows students to utilize the practical skills and knowledge taught in the classroom in order to meet genuine community needs,” she added.

And Martinez has hit the ground running, already working to organize a local “Empty Bowls” project. Empty Bowls, which originated in Michigan, is a national program developed to increase awareness about hunger.

“Here, at Kirtland, we have taken the Empty Bowl Project and made it into an entire month-long art show as a means of poverty awareness,” Martinez said.

The local Empty Bowls program will combine Kirtland’s renowned Art Department, with fund-raising and awareness efforts designed to benefit River House and those it serves. Bowls made by Kirtland art students will be sold at a silent auction.

Students will be asked to attend and help host the final reception, which will be held in October as part of “Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” to represent themselves as the artists as their bowls are given to their buyers. Also at this final reception, the executive director of River House will speak about poverty in the agency’s four-county service area.

“This is a great opportunity for students to not only practice what they are learning in the classroom but also to apply what they learn to real world situations by meeting a genuine need in the community,” Martinez said. “There are bowls across the world, even right here in Michigan, that go empty each night due to poverty.

“By making these pinch pots, students are acting to help take a stand against world poverty,” she added. “Now, students will have something more than a beautiful final product to be proud of – students can be proud of themselves.”

The Empty Bowls is just one of several initiatives Martinez is hoped to complete during her year-long tenure at Kirtland.

“My work plan says I need to have six projects,” she said. “I’m researching Service Learning projects for all the different academic departments at Kirtland, working to see how they might fit in with the curriculum. I’m actually working on a lot at the same time.”

Holton said he’s very excited to see what can be accomplished in the next year.

“AmeriCorps is a tremendous program that helps areas that have demonstrated great needs,” he added. “We plan to get the most out of this program for our students, our community and our college.”

Persons interested in contacting Martinez may do so via e-mail by martinem@kirtland.edu or by calling 989-275-5000, extension 349. Or, for details on Kirtland’s Service Learning programs, individuals contact Holton via e-mail holtonn@kirtland.edu or by calling 275-5000, extension 412.

Currently, about 3,200 students attend a variety of certificate and two-year degree programs at Kirtland’s three locations – near Roscommon, and the Michigan Technical Education Center (M-TEC) in Gaylord and in West Branch – with the college’s service area including all or parts of Crawford, Oscoda, Ogemaw, Roscommon, Otsego, Kalkaska, Missaukee, Gladwin and Alcona counties, and the surrounding areas.