When she was a student at Minnesota State College Southeast, Akilah Childs made a major impact, serving on Student Senate, working as a peer tutor, planning campus-wide events, and helping Student Services with recruiting and admissions. Now she is returning to the college as a basic needs outreach specialist through the AmeriCorps VISTA program.

“A lot of people at Southeast were very supportive of my success and helping me find my way. I made really strong connections with my teachers, my advisers, and people in student affairs,” Childs said. “I think I found myself here. It’s very fulfilling and it makes me feel good to know that I made an impact.”

She will provide service on both the Red Wing and Winona campuses, developing new relationships within the communities to help college students in need, focusing on expanding and organizing the college’s food pantries.

“We know that food insecurity is an issue that is impacting students not only nationally but also locally. A 2019 survey of Minnesota State two-year college students reported that 1 in 3 ran short on food, and 26% said they went hungry,” said Melissa Carrington-Irwin, MSC Southeast associate dean of students and director of student success.

By offering students access to fresh food and non-perishable staples, the college hopes to reduce the stress of wondering where their next meal will come from.

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“We want to normalize the idea of getting help, remove the stigma. Especially in a time like now with COVID-19, everybody could use a little bit of help,” said Child who graduated from the college’s Early Childhood Education program in 2016.

AmeriCorps VISTA -- Volunteers In Service To America -- member volunteers serve full time in nonprofit organizations and public agencies for one-year terms, gaining work experience and leadership skills.

MSC Southeast academic success coordinator Arielle Pompilius, who has served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer herself, was instrumental in applying for the college’s participation in the program.

“We have been awarded a five-year grant to participate,” said Polpilius. “In the first year, we are in Phase 1, which is needs assessment. Phase 2 runs for three years and is focused on building community partnerships. In the final year of the grant, we will survey the program’s efficacy.”