Rachel Freedman, our AmeriCorps/Vista volunteer, describes her work and Wayside experience.

What was your path to AmeriCorps and Wayside?

I was born and raised in the coastal Maine town of Brooksville. My path toward wanting to create positive change always seemed clear. Both of my parents and their active involvement within my small community helped shape my passion for service learning and social justice as well as a love for this State.

I graduated from Emerson College in 2011 with a BA in social sciences. At Emerson, I integrated my education with my experiences, pairing theory with practical community organizing and social justice work. After a brief stint waiting tables in Florida, I returned to Maine, this time to Portland, and began my professional career journey.

AmeriCorps had been on my radar since college when I participated in a collegiate service program. AmeriCorps has been a great way for me to get professional experience locally and has proved to be a great steppingstone into the non-profit workforce here in Portland.

AmeriCorps is such a valuable program for this country. Just within the VISTA program, about 8,000 members are placed annually throughout the country in capacity-building positions at nonprofits, grassroots organizations and local government agencies. The program, which is aimed at eliminating poverty, is successful because it provides a dedicated work force on a level that is locally focused and within organizations that already effectively work for their communities.

 

What have you been working on at Wayside?

I have focused on building organizational, administrative and financial capacity. I have been wearing many hats – as does everyone else here. Some big projects I have been working on include implementing systems for a new constituent relationship management database, creating and administering a survey for volunteers and community meals guests, and managing the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, a USDA-funded food program for seniors.

 

What has surprised you about Wayside?

One of the amazing things about this organization, and something really exciting about joining the team, is how much gets accomplished on a daily basis – especially with such a small staff! It really is a team effort, and every new day brings a new “all hands on deck” occasion. You just never know what kind of peculiar occurrences and challenges the day will bring. For me, this creates seemingly limitless opportunities for participation and the flexibility to pursue passion projects that will help Wayside’s efficiency and growth goals.

 

What should people know about hunger in Maine?

That many folks need our services because of reasons beyond their control. So many people are one car repair bill, one unexpected health bill, one overpriced rent payment, away from finding themselves in an impossible situation. This is when folks hopefully feel comfortable enough to turn to their community for support, and that is when Wayside comes in!

 

What should people know about Wayside?

Everything Wayside does is a collaboration. The network of community partners and volunteer groups is essential to what makes Wayside a successful organization.

From our partners in food rescue – the small businesses, large companies, farmers and gardeners, where so much of our product is sourced; to all of the agency partners who pick up food, run the pantries and distribute the product throughout the community; to all the volunteers who cook, or deliver or serve the meals at community centers, Wayside is situated in the middle of it all as the resource and connector. But it is the rest of the community that enables us to get things done and helps us achieve our goals.

 

Everyone who walks through the door at Wayside is welcomed warmly and given complete respect. I’ve been introduced to so many people in a short period of time, and no matter what your role everyone is treated the same. This is one of Wayside’s goals – blending the lines between the traditional “giver” and “recipient.” We are all community members, making sure everyone is supported, appreciated and has what he or she needs. This approach is at the core of all of Wayside’s programming – as well as in the office, the kitchen and warehouse.