Piedmont Community College (PCC) added a new member to their Caswell County campus for the 2021-2022 school year to expand the outreach of PCC, not through academics, but through community activism and service.

Kevin Tolson is an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) member dedicated to help fight poverty through community projects throughout the next year. He is focused on increasing awareness to where groups can effectively work together to support the community and reduce barriers causing food insecurity.

Tolson said he has firsthand experience when it comes to food insecurity, which is one reason why he was compelled to help communities develop plans and systems for its local families. Raised in Berkeley, California in the 1960s and 70s, Tolson was the only son to a single mother who worked as a licensed beautician to support him and his younger sister. He said those years were tough for his family when it came to food security.

“Times were up and down,” Tolson said. “While we never starved, there were plenty of insecure, and sparingly fresh food, memories when we ate either fast foods, highly processed foods in bottles, old frozen food, or canned food. Sometimes we skipped meals.”

Professionally, Tolson worked in the mental health field as a burgeoning practicing therapist, mostly working with school-age kids with behavioral and emotional disabilities. Today, he works as a Field Faculty Liaison and Lecturer for North Carolina Central University, managing and supervising graduate students as they gain social work experience to earn their degrees.

Tolson has lived in North Carolina for more than 15 years, moving to Durham in 2005, and recently relocating to Mebane in 2020. He has continued living in the piedmont since then working in education as an administrator for Central Park School for Children in Durham, Community Empowerment Fund in Chapel Hill, Central Carolina Community College in Sanford, and North Carolina Central University as a social work professor in Durham.

Now, as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Piedmont Community College, Tolson is ready and excited to get to work to support Caswell County and help identify and diminish food insecurities in its nine townships.

“I have no magic bullet, so I’m not expecting to do something amazing or unprecedented within one year,” Tolson said. “I’m looking at realistic goals. I hope to get people and groups talking and collaborating about ways to stay connected with each other and how to provide better food security for local families.”

With the support of Tolson, PCC set three overall goals for the next year:

  • FIRST: Develop and implement a data collection system that measures the need for healthy food options, education, and information in the Caswell County community.
  • SECOND: Set up outreach systems and build partnerships with Caswell County community organizations and develop marketing materials to spread the word about initiatives that lessen food insecurities.
  • THIRD: Develop and implement a communication plan with PCC faculty and leadership team on systems for integrating service-learning projects focused on food security and access to benefit local communities.

As part of the NC Campus Compact, PCC was offered the opportunity to hire an AmeriCorps VISTA to help with civic engagement on campus and in the community. Through its community work in Caswell County and with the CEAD initiative, the College understands that food insecurity is a barrier for some families, and became inflamed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Emily Buchanan, PCC’s Director of Caswell County Operations, said the College knew that hiring a VISTA was a way that they could help support the community and take steps toward ending hunger in Caswell County.

“Kevin will only be serving for one year, but he is already off to a great start,” Buchanan said. “Rather than engage in direct service, VISTAs focus on capacity building. It is my hope that Kevin will help us build capacity at PCC and in our community to develop sustainable systems for combatting hunger.”

PCC is the first North Carolina Community College with NC Campus Compact to take advantage and hire an AmeriCorps VISTA.

For questions or to discuss partnering with AmeriCorps and PCC within Caswell County, contact Tolson at (336) 694-8078.

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