Essential Service

By CAC AmeriCorps Staff

As the world contracts, keeps its distance, and holds – or at least masks – its breath, there is much that’s still in need of tending. The motto of AmeriCorps is, “Getting things done”, and CAC AmeriCorps, its partner organizations, and its members have creatively adapted, improvised, and remained resolute in providing service to the community. 

Our office has moved all consulting, meetings, and conversations to remote methods, such as Go-To-Meetings, phone calls, etc., and the office staff has begun working from home. Thus far, our operations have not been interrupted, and we remain in touch with all our members, responding to questions; working through collective and individual needs and circumstances; and notifying members of all revised policies, practices, and procedures. We continue with our recruitment for the next service year, and we remain hopeful that our numbers will remain high and that as August rolls around we will be welcoming 70+ individuals into a year of unprecedented service opportunity and into the CAC AmeriCorps family.  

Our partner organizations have continued with their missions, albeit in new fashion, and their members have adapted as settings have allowed. For sites where the service was already being done in relative solitude, the members have carried on to the extents possible. For example, Kelsey Jones, with the City of Knoxville Urban Forestry, continues inventorying the City’s canopy and developing a management plan, and Tristan Trew, with the Tennessee Valley Authority, maintains his route of lake shorelines and campsites to inspect and has done some controlled burns. Protocols for the use of organizational vehicles have changed, and only one person at a time may use one and they are cleaned before and after each use. 

For other members, where service had been more elbow to elbow, bigger adjustments have been made.  A common occurrence has been the cancellations and postponements in the face of COVID-19.  Classes, training, fundraisers, clean-ups, special events, education programs, the list goes on.  Members start in August and by early spring, they have a good sense of their role and are heavily involved in planning and implementing the aforementioned items at their sites, and so much more.  They likely were very much looking forward to their planning and strategizing coming to fruition, but we see again and again the adaptability of our members.  Without complaint, they put their original plans on hold so that they can focus on addressing the current needs.  They continue to support our partner organizations any way they can, and they step up, eagerly, to respond to critical community needs.


Connie Flachs, a VISTA member with Nourish Knoxville, reports that the Farmers Markets have adjusted, vendors are spaced out, the operating hours have been shortened, and volunteers are no longer utilized. And she has been researching and compiling information to keep the public aware, creating a guide to “help the public compare available options that deliver to Knox County and increase people’s capacity to get food delivered in a low contact way [and] allows … farmers to continue serving their customers throughout this pandemic.” 

Cheyenne Peters, a VISTA member with Centro Hispano, has created a bilingual resource guide for the entire community, which she continues updating as needed. “This took quite a while, as I dug through all of the available resources, translated them if necessary, and then created co-branded graphics to share on social media. Additionally, I worked with staff and community members to create videos for the community in Spanish, as well as two indigenous Mayan languages, Akateko and Q’anjob’al. This not only put our name with the faces of our community, but it also gave our clients with limited literacy the opportunity to hear our messaging and learn about the pandemic audibly.”

Mary Woody, a VISTA member with CAC Mobile Meals, has adjusted to the CAC COVID-19 response regulations, begun March 19th, directing more of her time to the distribution logistics of meal preparation, packaging, and delivery to the area’s seniors. Currently, Mobile Meals is “providing five meals, delivered once a week, to approximately 1,955 individuals. These individuals are existing [Mobile Meals] clients, and individuals targeted as high-risk by the City of Knoxville and Knox County. … [We have] been forced to adapt to an almost daily-changing landscape of how and who it serves. Despite this, they have succeeded in maintaining and even expanding their level of food distribution and client care.”

Those members serving at our public lands, with our natural resources, and at the university have suspended public events and gatherings but have continued with long-range projects by working from home and creating innovative means of delivering their service.  

Shannon Bodeau, with Ijams Nature center, has spent much of the past month figuring out how to manage Ijams operations during COVID-19. “All of our in-person programming was cancelled, including a spring break camp which ended halfway through the week it was expected to run for. However, we are still continuing to engage the public about nature through social media. Last week, we began a campaign of daily social media posts providing information, activities, and inspiration for people who are quarantined at home. I have been helping with this by providing arts and crafts media, at-home naturalist activities, and tech support. Additionally, we are using the downtime right now to streamline Ijams systems. For example, I have been creating an in-depth volunteer handbook for all new Ijams field trip volunteers.” 

Julie Elfin, with Discover Life in America, writes, “Since COVID-19 closed the park, I’ve been working on a team composed of NPS staff and partner organizations on a project called Smokies @ Home. We will share existing lesson plans and educational resources with the public, and create new videos with activities families can do at home. I have shared a first round of resources with my partner teachers, and will continue communicating with them about their efforts to engage students with the outdoors this spring. I have also increased DLiA’s social media presence, with 2-3 Instagram posts per week and Facebook posts almost every day, including a new #snailsaturday series to highlight the priority gastropod species for citizen science engagement.”

Just before the park-wide closure, Lishika Lange, with Cades Cove, was able to interact with visitors, hold informal bear programs with a bear pelt, and talk with visitors about things happening in the cove, such as why it was closed and the upcoming bike closure pilot program. “Due to the park-wide closure, program development and research has become about 90% of my focus. The other 10% has been dedicated to online training and more in-depth research into the history of Cades Cove.” 

Sierra Motiee-Moore, with Keep Knoxville Beautiful, spent the month of March communicating with volunteers, neighborhood organizations, and Adopt-A-Road in response to the Covid-19 health issues. She continues to blog for her site, and she has been working on establishing a business sustainability program that has primarily involved looking at existing programs and trying to frame a program specifically designed for Knoxville and the needs present in the community- what a business might actually be able to take on. “I’ve also spent a good chunk of time getting familiar with carbon offsetting. KKB is interested in creating a similar program to Adopt-A-Road but for carbon offsetting.

Prior to the Safer at Home order, Annalisa Tarizzo, with UT Sustainability, hosted 3 open office hour sessions and 4 workshops for students/faculty/staff to provide feedback on the Sustainability Master Plan, which she was able to finalize. “Since the Safer at Home order I have been designing the document layout in Canva and transferring information into it. I’ve also started making some companion materials to the Master Plan, including “playbooks” that offer ideas for how people occupying different campus roles can individually contribute to the Plan and a resource guide with learning materials for members of the campus community who don’t know a lot about sustainability/climate change. These will be nice resources to have for when our office does class presentations in the future. As an office we have been brainstorming ways we can still celebrate all of our Earth Month events and engage with students virtually.” 

Nora Jacobs (CAC AmeriCorps Alumni), Maddy Staff (Keep Knoxville Beautiful), and Jacqueline Eul (Great Schools Partnership) hand out food for Second Harvest’s drive through pick up.

These are but a few of the many members answering the call at their sites, but it’s not stopping there as members are also lending their time to various organizations in need, just two examples being assisting with the packaging of meals for distribution to seniors with Mobile Meals and handing out food packages for Second Harvest.

We are proud of this class of CAC AmeriCorps members; proud of the maturity and grace

essential service connal
Connal Boyd (Knox County Stormwater) assisting Mobile Meals

with which they are approaching the current crisis; proud of the support and community they continue to provide to each other; and proud of their selfless service to our community.

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.

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