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February 26, 2024
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UMB VISTAs Promote Public Service

Amanda Mazzola and Molly Flavin are on an urban mission.
Kristen DeOliveria
Amanda Mazzola and Molly Flavin are on an urban mission.

Molly Flavin and Amanda Mazzola are volunteers helping to promote UMB’s urban mission through their service as Americorps MACC VISTAs. As Americorps VISTAs their mission is to help solve the problem of poverty. As MACC VISTAs their task is more specific: to help colleges and universities increase their public service initiatives and programs within the community. MACC, which stands for Massachusetts Campus Compact, funds the VISTAs.

At UMass, Flavin and Mazzola work to support particular departments and their community outreach efforts. According to Flavin, their year of service is project oriented and will not necessarily be filled by another VISTA after they have left.

“In terms of the sustainability and it all happening within a year, the faculty don’t necessarily have the time to put into the research work,” Flavin reveals.

“We help set up the foundation for a project and then the faculty and staff members that are going to be here [can continue working on the project],” Mazzola continues.

“We use a ‘train the trainers’ model where if we were going to work with student groups we would be helping student groups plan a service event, we wouldn’t be planning a service event,” Molly adds.

As a MACC VISTA, Flavin works with the Urban Mission Coordinating Committee, which advises the chancellor on how the university can organize its programs to better serve the community.

Flavin helps the committee organize the planning of events, such as the Urban Connections Forum held last fall, which joined university staff and administrators together with the purpose of sharing and learning from their community involvement. The Committee is also conducting the “Are You on the Map?” research initiative: an “inventory” of all campus community involvement.

Flavin is also working on the Community Outreach and Partnership Center (COPC) grant from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The purpose of this grant is to build the Urban Research and Outreach Center (UROC). The “Are You on the Map” project, the Urban Connection Forums, and other projects being conducted on Harbor Point will all become part of UROC with this grant.

According to Flavin it will be, “a one-stop place for faculty looking to work in the community, students looking to get involved, and community members looking to navigate the university’s resources.”

“It will be a good way for people to know what UMass is doing in the community, from state legislators to grassroots organizations,” she continues. “[It’s] a great way for people to collaborate on projects, and make them more efficient.”

Amanda Mazzola is working for the Curriculum Resource Center in the Healy Library. The center brings together resources from UMB’s Graduate School of Education, ReadBoston, The Institute for Community Inclusion, and the Dorchester Community Partnership Cluster, which all make up the Early Literacy Partnership. Through this partnership, the Curriculum and Resource Center provides educational resources for teachers, students, and community members from the Dorchester Community Partnership Cluster, an association of Dorchester preschools and centers.

These resources include an extensive selection of children’s books, and a production center containing a copy machine, laminator, and bookbinder.

“I do a lot of outreach to the community and getting these directors and teachers to come to UMass, come to the library, [and] figure out what the barriers are as to why people don’t come to the center,” explains Mazzola.

According to Mazzola, only 5-10 of the nearly 150 members of the Dorchester Community Partnership Cluster actually use the resources provided by the resource center. Mazzola cites one of the problems as the availability of parking passes.

“The Dorchester Cluster bought a bunch of one-day parking passes so that the teachers that come over to use the center don’t have to pay for parking, but you can only get the passes if either myself, a librarian, or my supervisor are at the center,” Mazzola added.

This means that the teachers must come in between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., while the center employees are there. Unfortunately, Mazzola reveals, “most of these directors and teachers have to be in their [own] centers from 9-5.”

Their solution was to keep the center open on Thursday nights until 7:00 p.m.and according to Mazzola, “I’ve actually seen a little more of a response since we have started to keep the center open.”

One of Mazzola’s other jobs is to plan community events relating to the Curriculum Resource Center. In November, for example, Mazzola organized an event around Children’s Book Week, a national celebration of children and reading. The event was held at Horizons for Homeless Children in Dorchester. Mazzola and Flavin visited classrooms, read stories and helped the class make classroom books consisting of all the children’s favorite things.

All VISTAs get paid $894 a month (the current poverty line) and receive emergency healthcare for their year of service. “The idea is that we are living with the people we are serving,” Flavin says.

There are 27 other VISTAs working in Massachusetts, including VISTAs working for the Community Technology Center in the College of Public and Community Service.

Both Mazzola and Flavin are sponsoring several upcoming events. April 22 is “Good Neighbor Day” and will feature several service projects at Harbor Point, including clean-up projects and work on the Community Garden. On April 4-17 Mazzola is holding “Literacy through Children’s Art:” an art exhibit on the fifth floor of Healy Library featuring work by pre-school children from Dorchester and surrounding areas.

Anyone interested in learning more about these projects can contact Flavin and Mazzola via email at [email protected] and [email protected].