By: Nick Roosevelt, Cities of Service Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA in Phoenix, AZ
Resiliency work strongly resonates with me on a personal level. Growing up in Malibu Canyon in California, we faced wildfires, earthquakes, and flooding every few years. While my family was fortunate enough to have the means to limit the impact of these disasters on our lives, the devastating consequences of these types of events were not lost on me.
When my wife and I moved to Phoenix last year, we experienced a monsoon within our first week in the city. We lost power for hours and some of our food spoiled. To us it was an inconvenience, but for others these events can be debilitating. I wanted to do something that could help strengthen my community’s resiliency to these stressors, helping it better prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters and other risks associated with climate change.
This led me to apply to the Cities of Service Resilience AmeriCorps program. Answering a call from President Obama’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, this program recruits, trains, and deploys AmeriCorps VISTA members to strengthen climate-resilience planning and implementation in vulnerable communities. Developed in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and multiple federal partners, this Cities of Service program provides a $25,000 grant, two AmeriCorps VISTAs, and program consulting services to ten US cities for a two-year period. The AmeriCorps VISTAs are embedded in each city’s mayoral offices and serve as the city’s ambassadors in the community for resilience-related impact volunteering programs.
While a sense of responsibility to my community drove my initial application to this program, I have found the work to be very fulfilling overall. The field of resilience is always interesting because it is about creating systems change. Through my AmeriCorps VISTA position, I get to focus on a broad range of related topics while furthering my personal interest in public health. I can explore not only the physical health of a community, but also its mental and communal health—its overall wellbeing. The different ways people respond to the stressors of climate change are interconnected, and this is a huge challenge in resiliency work. Through this program, we focus on resilience as a population’s ability to not only weather the storm, but to bounce back faster and as strong as, or stronger than, before.
Phoenix is a city with resiliency challenges, especially when it comes to heat and flooding, but it is also one with an immense sense of community. People here go out of their way to help others. That sense of community is our greatest strength when it comes to resilience work. Especially in terms of preparedness, resilience is local. In Phoenix, enhancing human resilience really starts and ends with the City because it is the local level of government. I believe the City realizes the challenges it’s facing now and those it will face in the near future, and its investment in resiliency work reflects this awareness.
For me and my fellow Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA member, Olivia Hutchins, resilience work in Phoenix is really about getting out into the community and listening to the people’s desires, needs, and concerns, and then diving into the research. Finding best practices, designing programs to address citizen needs, and coming up with creative solutions—these are all core components of our process. We work to bring the community together with experts, donors, and nonprofits so they can collaborate, deliberate, and connect with each other to complete their projects. This process involves a great deal of community input, and application of design thinking.
In the six months since we began this work, Olivia and I have completed two community building and engagement activities: finishing a rain garden of native plants and creating a shaded gathering space, as well as developing a community garden. We have also completed an impact-volunteering project to raise awareness about cooling refuges and hydration stations to combat the Phoenix heat. This project involved outreach to over 1,000 people through face-to-face interactions, and to countless other individuals through targeted outreach on public transit.
Working within Phoenix’s City Hall gives us great access to decision-makers, an experience that is really unique. Resilience can be approached from many angles and is applicable to many different realms. While Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix certainly sets forth the vision and tone, each group needs to really define what resilience means to their communities or departments. There are many people, organizations, and departments working hard here to make Phoenix a sustainable and resilient city. I am really proud to be a part of that group and of this city’s efforts, and I would recommend this program to anyone that wants to immerse themselves in the resiliency field.
In the end, this work is all about building capacity for the community by working with the people to address their needs. It is very challenging and intellectually stimulating. It is never easy, but it is very rewarding.
Top image: Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix, Arizona joins Resilience AmeriCorps VISTAs Olivia Hutchins and Nick Roosevelt. All photos courtesy City of Phoenix.