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MLK Day of Service: AmeriCorps VISTA Spotlight

Posted by | Catholic Charities of Oregon

Today, on the third Monday of January, we observe Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day not only as a federal holiday, but also as a national day of service where we make the commitment to improve our communities. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said in his The Drum Major Instinct sermon, “Everyone can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve…You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love” (1968). The MLK Day of Service brings together people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to honor the legacy of Dr. King by working together to build a better future.

Organizers call the MLK Day of Service “a day on, not a day off.” Today, and throughout the year, we challenge you to seek out opportunities to get involved and commit to engaging in volunteer service. Volunteering is one way to address the immediate needs in our community and amplify the voices of those in greatest need.

For the past 25 years, AmeriCorps has spearheaded the efforts of this national day of service. Because of this, today we would like to introduce you to AmeriCorps VISTAs, AmeriCorps members in the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program, who work at Catholic Charities of Oregon and have done a great deal to address poverty-related issues and advocate for community needs.

Meet Margot Flynn, Healthy Housing Coordinator!

In August 2020, Margot started with Catholic Charities of Oregon as a Healthy Housing Coordinator on our Housing Services team. Margot studied Environmental Science at Colorado College, and throughout her college experience she participated in work that centered around housing. After graduating in 2020 and entering a bleak job market heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, a friend connected her to the AmeriCorps program.

In the wake of all the volatility we witnessed in our country and around the world in 2020, instead of sitting back and feeling hopeless, Margot felt drawn to work that allowed her to make an impact. She acknowledged that our country needed to heal, so she set out to find a way she could make a difference and help address those injustices. As she explored opportunities with AmeriCorps, she stumbled across the Healthy Housing Coordinator VISTA position at Catholic Charities and immediately felt a connection to the role and the team. As the Healthy Housing Coordinator, a majority of Margot’s role involves coordinating community outreach for new housing developments. She’s conducting community outreach for four projects in the works at Catholic Charities, primarily working with community partners and soliciting their feedback on the designs of these housing projects. In her position, Margot practices being a good neighbor and a positive presence in the diverse communities the housing team works with, an essential skill over the last 12 months

Margot says her work as Healthy Housing Coordinator is rewarding because it feels effective, and she knows she’s making a positive impact on our local community.  She has been able to foster her passion for community outreach and discovered her desire to carry that aspect of her role with Catholic Charities with her wherever her career takes her. She is thankful for her team for providing such a positive and gratifying experience that has allowed her to broaden her understanding of housing instability and actively work to address the challenges our community faces.

Thank you, Margot, for your dedication and all the incredible work you do for those in greatest need in our community.

Meet Maria Pfeifer, Healthy Housing Coordinator II!

Maria started with Catholic Charities of Oregon in November 2020 as a Healthy Housing Coordinator II. In her position, Maria acts as an engagement bridge for the Healthy Housing Initiative team focused on the St. Francis Parish and Dining Hall presence in SE Portland. Catholic Charities is leading a neighborhood planning process to develop a master plan for the Buckman neighborhood to serve the unhoused community through a robust public private venture. Our goal here is to have a shared vision to submit for public Bond funding in Spring 2021.

Maria has worked in social services for over 30 years and received her graduate degree in Urban Studies at Portland State University so she could pursue anti-poverty and community development work. Over the last 10 years of her career, Maria worked in health management education and promotion, where she helped individuals and groups strengthen their sense of agency, support networks, and health outcomes. Maria, however, still felt drawn to her roots in community development, focusing more on the social determinants that inhibit access to healthcare and other resources for wellbeing.

Her first step in making the shift to the health field was with the Oregon Food Bank last year as an AmeriCorps volunteer where Maria learned about food systems and hunger relief.  The COVID-19 pandemic quickly pivoted her role there to coordinating emergency food box deliveries; she quickly understood that food isn’t helpful if people can’t access, store, and prepare it. In turn, those issues illustrate why providing permanent and safe places to call home is essential to solving Oregon’s hunger and homelessness crises.

After her year at Oregon Food Bank, Maria decided that her community service passion aligned best with housing justice and development work, leading to her current position here with Catholic Charities of Oregon. Returning to community development has been extremely rewarding for Maria. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, Oregon wildfires, political unrest, and economic downturn, she sees this as a time for reflection. This VISTA opportunity will help refresh her education and expand upon her service experiences. She is grateful to be here and contributing to the work of Catholic Charities of Oregon.

Thank you, Maria, for all your dedication to anti-poverty work and community development.

Make a commitment to serve your community throughout 2021. Click here to learn more about volunteer opportunities.

Source: King, Jr. M.L. (1968). The Drum Major Instinct [web]. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/drum-major-instinct-sermon-delivered-ebenezer-baptist-church