Compact AmeriCorps VISTA Fellow Anna Pendergast grew up in Galesburg and around Knox but now gets to see the communities from a different perspective as she connects students to volunteering opportunities.
VISTA is one of three levels of AmeriCorps positions. It focuses on the organizational level, connecting organizations with an anti-poverty focus. Pendergast is especially focusing on improving educational outcomes in Galesburg.
“Our two focuses are education and economic development, so kind of creating these opportunities for people to advance,” she said.
She has been working on programs to help both child and adult learners in the city, such as through after school tutoring programs and working with the Regional Office of Education, especially the RAES Adult Education Program.
RAES works well for students who may be uncertain about teaching children because they would be working with adults on subjects like learning English.
Pendergast worked at a school as a tutor and kindergarten aid all four years of college while she was at St. Olaf. She decided to do AmeriCorps during gap years before med school after originally considering the PeaceCorps.
Pendergast finds the Knox community familiar both from attending private school and her father, Director of Maintenance Patrick Pendergast, working here. One difference she noticed was how much more connected St. Olaf seems to Northfield.
“Growing up, I definitely had this sort of perception of the Knox Bubble; there’s the Knox community and there’s the Galesburg community,” Anna Pendergast said. “We’re working to make more interplay between them because Knox students are great resources for Galesburg.”
She feels like most people right out of college are trying to save the world, and her position gives her a chance to do that. When she saw that AmeriCorps had a position available in Galesburg, she decided to apply and help her hometown.
She hopes that volunteering can be a way for students to get more involved in Galesburg. She also works with Galesburg On Track, a group in town which focuses on community development.
Interacting with the Galesburg she knew as a kid as an adult has been an adjustment for Pendergast.
“It’s like I’m a new person,” Pendergast said. “People that have seen me grow up, they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s little Anna, but now it’s like, no this is adult Anna.”
A large project for the Kleine Center for Community Service each fall is the Day of Service, which will be Nov. 9. It provides a chance for students to get off campus and engage with local non-profits earlier in the year. It also has some special opportunities with non-profits which may not hold other volunteering events during the year.
“We have a lot of students that have previously volunteered that come back, so it’s just getting people to do it initially,” Pendergast said.