Amanda McVann is a perfect example of the adage that no one comes to where they land by a straight path. Now living in Creston and serving as a RISE AmeriCorps communications coordinator and data impact specialist, she is a long way from her native New York, having made a substantial stop in Dallas along the way. But, although her geographic path wandered a bit, the trajectory of her life’s guiding passion looks as targeted as if it were fired from a gun.
It’s all about connections and finding home, you see. For Amanda, that started early. “We moved around a lot when I was a child,” she says, and she spent a lot of time “trying to build lasting friendships.” Then, after she graduated from college and moved to Dallas, away from everyone she knew, she learned a new level of feeling alone, of being cut off and disconnected. After only a short time there RISE AmeriCorps found her, and she moved again – this time to Iowa – and she had to start all over one more time.
In the process, however, Amanda found families that didn’t look anything like her, but brought her an understanding of what it meant to build a community among people you don’t know in a strange place. The first of these communities came in New York among second-generation Korean-Americans.
“They at times struggled to see the value in their own unique ethnic tradition, the empowerment in their own story, within the larger story of America.”
But Amanda did. And she formed friendships there with people from across the Hudson River, from deep within the heart of New York City, and from the other side of the world who had come to live on her college campus. She learned about East Asian culture and customs and although these people “did not reflect my own background, they taught me the value of vulnerability and authenticity, creating for me a cross-cultural home.”
She landed in Dallas just before the pandemic isolated everyone with shutdowns and restrictions. There, she learned the importance of self-care and grew within her a new therapeutic process of understanding our need for one another that prepared her for both marriage and her next move: Iowa. And this was where everything she’d learned came together.
“I’d always wanted to be part of something bigger than myself”, she says, and EMBARC gave her the chance. “Journeying alone can be very powerful. I want to find a way to elevate people here. Peoples’ lives and stories, their struggles, matter. Someone has to take the first step to help them not be alone.”
Amanda’s role within RISE AmeriCorps, she says, is to “humanize the data.” She not only supports operations for RISE AmeriCorps, but she brings people together who can make a difference in diversity and equity concerns, in easing food and housing instability, and in building relationships and trust. In the process, she builds leadership, works for education, and curates curricula to make what has been a very long trip for some people into a home that shares real community.
Outside of RISE AmeriCorps in small-town Creston, Amanda is hoping to forge a new relationship with the local food pantry to provide greater accessibility. She’s partnering with a dietitian and a master gardener to both expand and improve community garden plots in disrepair and to provide instruction on food preparation and storage for the produce they raise.
There is a passion in this for people in the margins. “We want to respect how much people have done to get here and help them develop a stronger voice.” In the end, they want to turn today’s immigrant into tomorrow’s leader. And it’s happening.