Five Americorps Members Satisfy Strong Passion for Public Service in City Roles

Communications Director

Kristin Farley
(865) 215-2589

400 Main St., Room 691
Knoxville, TN 37902

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Five Americorps Members Satisfy Strong Passion for Public Service in City Roles

Posted: 09/29/2014
September 29, 2014 - Five committed AmeriCorps members passionate about providing public service will be piloting programs and conducting research with four City of Knoxville departments into the summer of 2015.

Their contributions will range from maintaining greenways, to helping neighborhood advocates fight blight, to promoting nutrition education and urban agriculture.

The quintet of recent college graduates hail from across the United States, but they share a passion for community service.

"I decided to do AmeriCorps because I have always had a strong passion for public service, specifically in the environmental sector," says Rachael Bramblett, who will be promoting recycling with the City's Office of Solid Waste. "I was attracted to Knoxville because it seems to strive for environmental sustainability."

Griffith P. Ashooh, who's working with the City's Office of Neighborhoods, also was drawn by the opportunity to help others.

"My family has a history of public service," he says. "My mother is a librarian, my father has been an FBI agent for over 30 years, and my brother is currently serving in Afghanistan with the Army's 82nd Airborne.

"I considered a lot of different avenues for service - the Peace Corps, non-profits, government work - but AmeriCorps provided me with the best opportunity to serve my country domestically. I respect the work that national service organizations, like AmeriCorps, do; I wanted to be a part of it and do something that helps build a community."

Four of the City's members are with the Knoxville-Knox County CAC AmeriCorps program, and one is an AmeriCorps VISTA member.

The five AmeriCorps members working through four City departments aren't alone. About 35 other AmeriCorps members are deployed throughout Knox County, sponsored by the CAC, with support from its partner agencies.

"We're delighted to have these energetic young people working with the City of Knoxville and tackling some big issues," said Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero. "Citizen service is essential in producing solutions to many of the challenges facing communities, and these AmeriCorps members will contribute their ideas and talents as they develop civic and leadership skills that can last a lifetime."

AmeriCorps, created in 1993, is a national program that places committed volunteers in service-oriented positions at schools, nonprofits, government agencies and faith-based organizations. Each year, more than 80,000 volunteers serve around the country.

The Knoxville-Knox County CAC organized the local program in 1994 - making it one of the longest-running and largest AmeriCorps programs in the state. It is financed through a combination of federal grants, CAC funds and payments from partner agencies including the City of Knoxville. AmeriCorps members are selected from a nationwide pool of applicants and matched to local programs around the country, based on their interests and skills. After completing a year of service, AmeriCorps members receive an education award of $5,550 that they can use to pay for college or to pay off student loans.

Left to right, Travis Nissen, Caley Hyatt, Griffith P. Ashooh (back), Rachael Bramblett and Becky Gronewold

Here are some details on the five AmeriCorps members working with City offices and the projects they're tackling:

Travis Nissen

An architecture graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Nissen will be working with the City's Office of Neighborhoods. Specifically, he'll be coordinating the Neighborhood Working Group, where city staff and neighborhood organizations discuss specific blighted properties and strategies for combating the impacts of blight.

Participants must first take the "Fight the Blight" workshop, which will be offered again next spring.

Nissen has participated in a number of design studios, helped design a Jazz & Hip Hop Center in Milwaukee, and worked with award-winning Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto on a pavilion for an abandoned lot in post-industrial Milwaukee.

"I really wanted to engage a larger community outside of the one I was familiar with," he says. "Knoxville presented a unique opportunity due to the way the city of Knoxville engages with its topography and location near the mountains, both culturally and ecologically.

"Though it took me a minute to get accustomed to biking the hills, Knoxville is great. I'm particularly excited about exploring all of the unique neighborhoods, made more distinct by the topography."

Caley Hyatt

A graduate of King University in Bristol, Tenn., with a bachelor's degree in nursing, Hyatt is working with the City's Office of Sustainability.

Hyatt is immersed with the "Good Food For All!" program, a Pellissippi State Community College-sponsored AmeriCorps VISTA project assisting five Pellissippi State community partners with their goals related to local food policy and access/food security, urban agriculture, nutrition education and public health issues, in addition to the local community school movement.

Hyatt will combine community education goals of the Office of Sustainability, the Knox County Health Department and City of Knoxville Parks and Recreation Department to increase public awareness of food issues and good nutrition and support improvement of the local food supply and its distribution network.

Hyatt was a nurse at East Tennessee Children's Hospital and a camp nurse in Maine before accepting this service position.

"Through my academic and professional experiences, food access and nutrition education have become two important topics to me," she says. "Food is such an integral and essential part of our community here in Knoxville, and I want to work toward make our food system better!"

Rachael Bramblett

She graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in appropriate technology. She's promoting recycling, helping to troubleshoot snags and better manage the curbside collection program. And she'll be working on a curbside recycling study, in addition to helping to coordinate a number of events, including EarthFest.

"It's eye-opening," she says of elaborate private-sector recycling operations she's toured while in Knoxville. "Recycling a mountain of cans - that takes some amazing technology that people really don't see or think about."

This is Bramblett's second year with AmeriCorps. In her first stint, she worked with Energy Corps in Butte, Mont., educating residents there on renewable energy options and weatherizing homes.

Becky Gronewold

Her title is "greenways ranger." It's a fun title, and it entails several things that Gronewold enjoys - using her degree from the University of Northern Iowa in GIS/environmental geography, and being on the City's 86-plus miles of greenways, talking with Knoxvillians.

"I majored in Geographic Information Science with an emphasis in environmental systems, and I plan to attend graduate school for urban and environmental planning in the fall of 2015," she says. "I love applying my GIS skills to new, unfamiliar challenges, and I know working with the City Parks and Recreation Department will help me build on my planning platform for the future. I'm absolutely loving Knoxville thus far."

Look for Gronewold on the trails: She'll usually be wearing a red AmeriCorps shirt. And she'll be the one asking you about your greenway experience.

"I'm enjoying the interactions with people," she says. "I want to know if greenway walkers or bicyclists spot any maintenance or repair needs. Later, on the data side, I look forward to helping the City with any mapping needs."

Griffith P. Ashooh

A graduate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., with a degree in government, Ashooh has volunteered at a juvenile detention center (where he taught a class on hip hop history), and he spent a summer in Kenya (where he organized residents to address water shortages). He is certified in both CPR and pediatric first aid.

In his AmeriCorps role with the City's Office of Neighborhoods, Ashooh will be promoting emergency preparedness at the neighborhood level.

Working with the Knoxville-Knox County Emergency Management Agency as well as the Police and Fire departments and other area agencies, he will put the finishing touches on a Neighborhood Disaster Preparedness Plan that will be marketed to neighborhoods beginning this fall.

"I particularly like community organizing, and I'm learning a lot, working with a lot of agencies," he says.