The Acclaimed Reclaimers

Article Authors: 
Marlee Jennings, Annalisa Tarizzo, Sarah Clark, Megan Finan, & Leah McCord


Most CAC AmeriCorps Members spend their service year in focused association with their sponsoring organization, perhaps developing their strongest relationships with the supervisor, staff, and clients. But several partnering entities have more than enough work to go around, the means of supporting that work, and, from this, the opportunity to develop well-functioning, tightly bounded crews.  These include the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Beardsley Farm, Knox County Storm Water, and University of Tennessee Recycling. It was in 2010 that Jay Price, the UT Recycling Manager, welcomed in the first AmeriCorps State/National Members, and the number has grown since, expanding to include a VISTA Member in the 2017-2018 service year, capping the current total at 5. Such is the comradery that forms in this group that requests for serving a second year with the same Members has become commonplace.

The 2018-2019 Team

Marlee Jennings: Operations and Information CoordinatorMarlee

A native of East Tennessee, Marlee graduated from UT in 2017 with a degree in Geology and Environmental Studies. She immediately headed out to hike the Appalachian Trail solo and along the way met several AmeriCorps alumni who spoke highly of their experiences. She was sold on the prospect, and when an opening at UT Recycling through CAC AmeriCorps appeared she jumped at the opportunity to join this amazing team and continue pursuing her passion for the environment.

Annalisa Tarizzo: Zero Waste CoordinatorAnnalissa

Originally from the Chicagoland area, Annalisa studied Italian and French with a minor in Global Sustainability at the University of Michigan. But near the end of her time at Michigan, she realized that environmental work and sustainability are her true passions. So, after graduating, she applied to AmeriCorps to gain real world experience in the field she’s planning to pursue in the future. She loves playing guitar, backpacking, and traveling whenever she can.

Sarah Clark: Outreach and Volunteer ManagementSarah Clark

Sarah hails from Springfield, Missouri and graduated from Missouri Southern with a degree in Ceramics and Art History. But after getting a little burned out, she decided to switch gears and looked towards her passion for the environment. While searching online for environment-oriented service organizations, she found AmeriCorps! As an avid and passionate recycler, she has loved learning about recycling through interesting, often gross, but rewarding first-hand experience. In her spare time, she enjoys biking around Knoxville and trying all the local dessert shops.

Megan Finan: Academic Engagement CoordinatorCarolyn & Megan

While Megan is originally from Nashville, Tennessee, she moved to Knoxville to attend the University of Tennessee where she majored in Economics and minored in Sustainability. In college, she was inspired to be a part of AmeriCorps after volunteering for a VISTA member at the Knoxville Market Square Farmers’ Market. Moreover, after learning about UT Recycling, she wanted to serve in order to experience how an environmental program works on a university level before she pursues law school and hopefully, one day, environmental law. Right now, she is excited that she was able to create and launch an official UT Recycling Student Internship Program for Spring 2019. When not working, she enjoys reading, long walks downtown, and cats.

Leah McCord: VISTA Food Systems Coordinator, Grow Lab & Free Store DirectorLeah

Leah grew up and still lives on a farm in Maryville, TN. She is currently finishing a degree in Anthropology & Religious Studies with a focus on socially sustainable communities. She loves books; quirky, dark comedies; tea; solo traveling; and her gaggle of nieces, nephews, and godchildren. Leah is very passionate about sustainable agriculture, food justice, issues surrounding women and children, and living a purposeful life. She hates unnecessary packaging, cilantro, and scented candles more than is probably good for anyone.

What They Do

It’s still a mystery to many around campus exactly what all UT Recycling does for the University, so part of their responsibility when interacting with students and staff is to celebrate all the hard work the fellow Corps members and their staff do every day. Each Member has individual foci within the department, but they also work very closely with one another. This is particularly important when Zero Waste Game Days roll around. Every home football game finds them and their whole team working long hours to reduce as much waste as possible from tailgating and the stadium. Annalisa and Marlee, as Zero Waste Coordinator and Operations Manager, have the biggest roles logistically, but Sarah and Megan recruit and manage volunteers and, with their staff, educate the public about recycling and waste reduction. The Zero Waste Game Day teams divert 25-50% of the total waste from these events! When you imagine 102,455 people at a game (plus more that just tailgate), that recovery rate is pretty impressive. And that rate is steadily increasing! Leah’s job starts after the game has ended. With her assistant and a dedicated student group, the Food Recovery Network, she coordinates and runs the recovery of thousands of pounds of food, diverting it from the waste stream to those in need in the community. Over this season, they provided 9,410 meals from this recovered food alone!Recycle 1

Annalisa and Marlee are the most directly involved with the waste streams on campus. Together they account for the bulk of the diversion work that happens here at UT. Zero Waste Game Days, recycling pick-ups all over campus, implementing new programs such as My Tiny Trash, managing recycling staff, expanding composting, increasing awareness and participation with recycling and composting programs- these are just a sample of the things these two busy women handle on a regular basis. They are what makes the RECYCLING happen at UT Recycling.

Student Internship ProgramSarah, Megan, and Leah support the greater Recycling mission through education, engagement, and programming. Sarah and her Outreach team are constantly documenting the awesome work going on through our Social Media and Newsletter, spreading awareness and attracting the volunteers needed to get the job done. Megan works to make connections with professors and student organizations in order to create partnerships that help push Recycling’s mission forward. She gives class presentations and helps craft project ideas for students. She has just launched a new UT Recycling Student Internship Program to do just that! Her work and Leah’s often overlap, and they spend a lot of time together pursuing leads and finding ways to get in front of as many people as possible.

In addition to food recovery campus wide, Leah directs the programmatic elements of the Grow Lab garden. With Megan’s help, she is working to create a community of professors and students that are actively involved with addressing issues of food security, from growing food, researching the impact of urban agriculture, incorporating gardening into classes for education majors, and hosting events that bring people in contact with nature. She also runs the Free Store, a program through which they give away donated items to those who need them. Through new collaborations with other campus organizations, they are working to create a viable sharing economy through which we can reduce the number of items bought and disposed of.

What’s Unique About UT Recycling?

One of the most unique things about being an AmeriCorps member serving at UT Recycling is that there are so many working together! Not only are all the Members passionate and invested in the mission of waste reduction on campus, but they have the added benefit of a collective desire to serve and make a significant difference that comes from being Corps members. That two-fold sense of purpose has bonded them tightly in the short time that they have been serving.

Perhaps that is helped by the fact that it is an all women crew this year! While it is not uncommon to find many positions in the environmental field occupied by women, the world of Facilities Services, where UT Recycling is housed, remains primarily a man’s world. The girls have been warmly welcomed, but they are still met with surprise in some quarters when driving the big trucks or the forklifts or collecting hundreds of pallets to be recycled. While they may not have come into service with those skills, they’ve quickly became pros. There is a sense of camaraderie in defying others’ expectations!

As a VISTA, Leah’s position is slightly different than the others, and it’s another unique aspect of life at UT Recycling. It would be easy to overlook how recycling and poverty alleviation relate, but partnering the two has provided a never-ending series of opportunities that is really exciting. Waste on this campus is not viewed the same anymore, and instead it’s a matter of finding interesting ways to redirect items to help those in need. From the food recovery, to growing food for donation on reclaimed urban space, to giving away donated items in order to reduce the economic burden that college represents for many people, this partnership allows them to make a difference in the lives of students.

VISTA is about building capacity and creating a long-term plan that will be impactful after the member is gone. With the help of the State/National Corps members and the full support of Recycling & Sustainability, these programs and opportunities are being invested in such a way that they are becoming part of the culture of the University. The Recycling crew was lucky enough to be able to assist the Clarence Brown Theater divert almost 7,000 pounds of wood from the landfill after one of their shows completed its run. That’s an amazing amount of waste diverted, but the real impact was the fact that it came in the form of 60+ set pieces that were donated to local high school and community theater departments in underserved districts. The initial impact of this one donation was that 475 students now have access to professionally built scenery, but the impact will be compounded over the life of the items, eventually providing opportunities for thousands of students over the next years. This is the relationship between environmentalism and social investment.

Why AmeriCorps Is Important

The benefit to UT Recycling is invaluable, allowing them to magnify their impact to a degree they couldn’t otherwise. Since bringing the VISTA program to UT Recycling, the possibilities are growing even faster. Having the two programs working together is strengthening the mission of both. UT Recycling provides so many opportunities for members to gain valuable experience and be really empowered by their service.

“We all enjoy our positions and working with each other so much that it has made these couple of months a joy for us all. We all came to AmeriCorps to make a difference and to grow in our commitment to making the world a little better. UT Recycling is definitely providing that opportunity.”

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This blog post is a collection of personal reflections and expressions. All opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent the official opinion or views of the Knoxville – Knox County Community Action Committee, CAC AmeriCorps or any other party referenced.

Published by

Jason Scott

CAC AmeriCorps Program Director Since 2015.