RISE at Apollo Middle School: My Perspective as an AmeriCorps Member

Posted by Ellen Larson to Uncategorized

Refugee and Immigrant Students Empowered (RISE) at Apollo Middle School

by Ashley Rice

My students at Apollo Middle School through the after school program are nothing less than remarkable. The first couple of weeks have opened up my mind to the possibilities of how far children can excel and achieve in their lives STARTING now. I have not worked with middle school kids in a while, but these children light my world up each and every day. My students are diverse ranging from nationality to personalities. They are very unique in their own ways. The students are very receptive and respectful to themselves and to the AmeriCorps members. I interact with the students by being down to earth and always attempting to relate to them. I am consistently trying to build a relationship with the students while building trust. We build trust by working together with enhancing projects, and the programming that is structured helps us to learn from each other. Apollo Middle School rocks, and I love my position as an AmeriCorps member!


RISE at Stonebrook: Sacrifices

Posted by Ellen Larson to Uncategorized

Refugee and Immigrant Students Empowered (RISE) at Stonebrook

by Brittany Long, RISE AmeriCorps Member

Last week a few of our Muslim students were absent from the RISE afterschool program because of their traditional holiday Eid- Al-Adha also known as The Feast of Sacrifice.  One of the things we really try to emphasize for RISE at Stonebrook is community and how important it is to work with each other and to understand each other’s stories.  So we decided to talk about the holiday, what it meant to them but decided to highlight the word sacrifice… what does it mean to sacrifice? We brainstormed different ways people we knew and loved had made sacrifices. One example since many of our students are refugees was coming to America. Their family left behind things they were familiar with, their job, their home; they left family and friends so their family could have a better future. We talked about how sometimes moms and dads have to work long hours, sacrificing time at home so that they can provide for the family. We talked about giving things to others who are in need can be a sacrifice.

That day we wrote in our journals a time when WE had to make a sacrifice. I love when things click and you see students start to grasp a concept!

One of my favorite journal entries was from a student who wrote about his little sister. He had a piece of candy, the last piece and was about to eat it when his sister decided she wanted it. Since it was the last piece he was reluctant to share and was determined to save it for himself. However he saw how much she wanted it and decided to make the sacrifice and give her the coveted piece.

This to us may not seem like much…. A piece of candy!?  But something small like this may mean much more to someone else. When you think about the circumstances, coming from a big family, having to share a lot and not having much of your own…. giving up a piece of candy can feel like a big sacrifice.

It was heartwarming, hearing the kids talk about how sometimes you have to give up things for the people you love or to show love to others.

Three Stonebrook students were selected to participate in the Nashville After Zone Alliance Leadership Retreat at Camp Widjiwagon during Fall Break. See photos below:

Sweet Summer & Bitter Gourds

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Agricultural Programs, Uncategorized

I’m Jessica and I’m the intern. I love cross-cultural agricultural development as a sustainable way to engage multiple cultures, needs, and skills for good. After two summers in East Africa I decided that I wanted to get some hands on experience with development in Nashville, my hometown. Thanks to a quick Google search I found CRIT, loved what they were doing, and asked if they would be interested in taking on an intern. I convinced them to say yes, so I’ve been learning and working alongside them ever since. Every day is an opportunity to learn how to use a new tool to grow a new plant in a new way for a new purpose. Beyond that I have developed a new appreciation for the value of food, the value of partnership, and the value of home.


The Value of Food

 Y’all – this gardening stuff is no joke. It is hard. As a college student I have spent many hours in the grocery store thinking, “Wowza, that’s an expensive apple!” Now I look at the greens that the CRIT gardeners are selling and think, “They shouldn’t charge a cent under $100 per leaf.” Growing healthy and sustainable food takes so much time, effort, sweat, dirt, and occasionally blood. And who knows when you could lose it all to a beetle! In a society that often feels separated from agrarian life it is easy to get a false sense of the worth of our food. Going to the garden to pull weeds, prepare soil, seed new plants, twine tomatoes, pull weeds, dig holes, squish bugs, mulch raised beds, pull weeds, and watch the other gardeners do the same and more has helped me to see food as a worthwhile investment in my health and community rather than an incessant expenditure.


The Value of Partnership

Partnership in the development sphere is often easier to talk about than it is to practice, but the CRIT gardens have shown me an incredible image of what partnership should look like. CRIT offers land and training to refugees who have recently moved to Nashville and in turn these people diligently work to grow food that strengthens their family, stimulates the local economy, and benefits Nashville restaurants with sustainable and healthy foods. Even people who can barely speak English are enabled to positively impact their new community with the resources that the community offers. From exotic foods sold to local restaurants to resourceful ideas on how to trellis tomatoes to sharing a laugh about how hot it is in the garden, everyone involved is empowered to learn, share, and grow.


The Value of Home

When I started looking for something to do this summer I had just one qualification: it had to be at home. After spending several summers away it has been so great to spend time with my friends and family. The saying still holds true: there’s no place like home. But finding home is not so simple for a refugee who has been forcibly removed from their home. That’s why these gardens exist. They’re pieces of Burma and Nepal. They’re places where refugees can go out and farm like they did at home, grow bitter gourds and noodle beans like they did at home, speak like they did at home, and build community like they did at home. The CRIT gardens aren’t mere income generators or a means of integrating cultures. The gardens are a place for people to come home.

Global Interests, Local Work: An AmeriCorps Experience

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to AmeriCorps, RISE

By Claire Cooper
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. – Theodore Roosevelt

When I decided to move back to the United States after living abroad for three years, I was skeptical that my passion for cultural exploration, foreign language, ESL teaching, and diverse empowerment work could be satisfied by employment I’d find in America. While abroad, I’d developed these passions into skills – developing communication, teaching, mentoring, and entrepreneurial skills for a cross-cultural environment – and I didn’t want to allow them to fade.
Thus, I was thrilled to have to opportunity to join the Refugee and Immigrant Student Empowerment afterschool program and the Center for Refugees and Immigrants Tennessee as a 2014-2015 AmeriCorps member. Through this position I’ve been able to continue to teach and mentor students, support empowerments activities, and learn about the vast cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic diversity of the student body in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Students in the RISE program range from second-generation immigrants from Mexico to newly resettled Somali and Karen refugees. The needs of the at-risk youth in our program are diverse and unique due to their international backgrounds. Thus, while our program has naturally sought to support them in English language acquisition and academic achievement, we’ve also striven to support development of their cross-cultural adaptability, personal resiliency and self-direction, and physical and emotional health.

Now, my service is coming to a close, and next year I will pursue my international and community development interests through continued studies in a Masters of Public Health in Global Health/Epidemiology at Vanderbilt University.

As I’ve reflect on how my year with AmeriCorps has changed my professional and personal aims, I’ve realized that my concept of what improving the health of the global community looks like has broadened and deepened. For one, I no longer feel that I must work internationally to be of service to high-need, culturally diverse communities. There is much work yet to be done at home. Secondly, I more deeply understand how complex public health concerns are - neither confined by national borders, nor constrained to medical concerns, extending instead to systematic justice issues like education inequality and violence.

Going forward, I will always keep in mind what I’ve learned from my students, AmeriCorps supervisor, and my co-members: that were are a wealth of ways one can meet global needs with what we have, where we are.






Reflections from the RAPP Conference

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Uncategorized

Written by Sarah Risely

CRIT agricultural programming staff had the great opportunity to host and attend the a national RAPP and ISED Solutions conference. This event brought together recipients of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), a federal grant program that provides funding to organizations that educate and mentor farmers-to-be, as well as organizations that pilot and report back on farmer training materials.

The conference gathered a large network of organizations running  agricultural programs across the country—both brand new and veterans  formed in the 80’s and 90’s. As a staff member of one of the ‘greener’  organizations, it was both affirming and inspiring to see such long-standing  and successful programs in cities reaching from Oakland, California to  Portland, Maine. The continued existence of these programs shows that t  they are not only sustainable, but programs that are useful for and desired  by refugee communities. Hearing their stories and seeing the work that they  have accomplished with their participants demonstrates how a trial-and-error, persistent, and humble approach to this work truly does pay off in the growth of gardens, programs, and participant success.

Perhaps the most helpful portion of the conference came in the form of program organizers presenting about their individual projects. Although coming from different contexts and using different approaches, each organization emphasized the importance of experiential student-driven learning. The Global Growers Network in Atlanta, Georgia spoke of their ‘scientific approach’ to learning: Identify a problem, develop solutions, test, and reflect. New American Sustainable Agricultural Project in Portland, Maine discussed comparing and contrasting farming practices in participants’ home countries and those in the U.S.—taking the time to discuss the “Why” behind these adaptations. These approaches put the farmers in charge of their education and emphasize self-reflection and farmer-to-farmer instruction—powerful tools for lasting educational experiences.

Although I left the conference thinking about the many challenges ahead, it was a comfort to know that there exists such a wide network of farmers, agencies, organizations, and experts all working towards a similar goal. Farming is a craft, honed over years and passed from generation to generation. Meeting such a driven and skilled group of individuals has shown me that this movement has created its own form of family in which knowledge is passed from one branch to the next. One that I hope will continue to grow and develop in the coming years.

Blackman Road Gardeners- part of Nashville’s refugee farming family .

The Old and New at McMurray Middle School RISE

Posted by Tiffany Hodge to RISE

by Ellen Larson, RISE Site Coordinator

Our RISE students at McMurray Middle School saw January bring students’ favorite enhancements from last semester and also new enhancements. Enhancement follows our academic period and involves members from the community or RISE staff teaching our students new skills, from photography to sports. As a site coordinator, I think what makes our program so great is that students have a genuinely good time and see the RISE afterschool program as a positive part of their day. One day, as I drove home some of our Iraqi students, they explained to me, in broken English, what school was like in Iraq: “There no good. Here, good,” the student said. Many of our students have already had traumatic life stories, and I consider RISE successful because students enjoy coming to RISE.


Reflection of Warmth

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Agricultural Programs, Uncategorized

by Sarah Risely, Assistant Program Director

Reflecting on last season as we prepare for this season!

It is 8 a.m. on a Saturday and you can already smell the sticky August heat—today is going to be another hot one. Like clockwork everyone drives up and parks or strolls in across the field, armed with sunhats to beat the heat and laundry baskets for harvesting. Morning greetings come in English and Burmese, and then everyone gets to work.

We start our day by walking among the rows of roselle, bitter gourd, mustard, and long beans—hunting for (and squishing) pests and making plans for daily projects. Lifting up a row cover, Lu Lu spots tiny green sprouts and shouts out “Look! Oh look they grew!” Ree Lay and Than Tin valiantly yank out Bermuda grass, while Mu Mu cuts mustards and discovers a softball-sized watermelon beneath the leaves—“We will wait until Wednesday to harvest,” she says. In the next plot Ma Ree Yar skillfully sharpens bamboo into trellises and then cuts a bunch of zinnias to bring home to her daughter.


This garden is a special place. The gardeners are a long way from home: refugees from Burma who have arrived at this piece of earth thanks to the Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee, but more importantly thanks to their own love for growing and a desire to begin again in a new place. The garden is a place for them to come and be with friends and to share with their families and children. Refugees can make a big impact on their own families and communities by bringing fresh produce to the table, while at the same time strengthening their own health and wellbeing. In the often tumultuous and challenging time of resettlement, the garden is a place of consistency and growth.

With the heat we all rest in the shade of the two willow trees on the property. Removing hats and wiping shining brows, the gardeners talk about their day and sort through the fruits from their garden plots. “I am going to make kimchi!” exclaims Ja Sam.  Saying goodbye, they help each other load up and then drive off with baskets of fresh vegetables to take home and share with family and friends.