It isn’t news to most that Ohio Wesleyan University students are among the nation’s leaders in community service, as recognized by OWU’s 2009 Presidential Award. But some might be surprised to see recent graduates such as Mery Kanashiro ’10 making a career out of serving the Delaware County community.
Kanashiro is working as a first-year AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with two area organizations: the Women’s City Club of Delaware, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing housing for single, low-income working women; and Family Promise of Delaware County, an interfaith network of local congregations that provides food, shelter, and assistance with obtaining employment and housing to homeless families.
When Kanashiro isn’t researching poverty in Delaware County or building relationships with the women and families she serves, she works on increasing the capacity of havens such as the Women’s City Club, where she lives as a VISTA worker.
“Living at the poverty line and in community with one of the organizations that I am trying to establish a partnership with has allowed me to become immersed with my work and understand it on a more personal level,” Kanashiro says.
Some of the projects Kanashiro has undertaken with the Women’s City Club since beginning her VISTA assignment this fall include recruiting volunteers, increasing OWU campus publicity for fundraising events, and compiling a binder of community resources as a reference for residents of the Women’s City Club. She’s also worked extensively with Family Promise, recruiting OWU students to develop marketing materials, including a new website for the organization.
Kanashiro seeks to raise poverty awareness among OWU students—a difficult task because the campus can act as an insulating bubble in some cases, Kanashiro says.
“Being a student inherently places you in an environment where you are insulated from the surrounding community,” Kanashiro says. “It is easy to forget that just a short distance from campus there are pockets of deep relative poverty in our community, as well as absolute poverty.”
Poverty also stems from a lot of diverse, but interconnected issues, making it difficult to pinpoint and combat a single cause, Kanashiro says. Examples include decreases in entry-level jobs with advancement opportunities, a low minimum wage, and a lack of affordable housing. A shortage of life-skill education programs exacerbates the problem.
“It’s hard not to stress education as a primary way, and perhaps the only sustainable way, to prevent poverty and also break the cycles of generational poverty,” Kanashiro says.
Looking forward, Kanashiro wants to continue working with the social-justice issues she is so passionate about, possibly by completing a second year of VISTA service, using her VISTA education award to go to graduate school to study non-profit management, or joining the Peace Corps.
“The world’s wide open!” she says.