Jarrod Feld has completed a year as a VISTA volunteer in Fort Dodge. The results are hard to measure but he hopes he made a difference in the community.
Feld learned online of an AmeriCorps opening in Fort Dodge and applied. His brother is in the AmericaCorps. A division of AmeriCorps, VISTA members live at the poverty level so they know what poverty is like. They get just enough of a stipend to live on, Feld said.
VISTA requires members to have a bachelor's degree; preferably experience in helping the impoverished or working with other cultures; "and the desire to live the VISTA life and make a difference for a year," he said. "The VISTA program's goal is to eliminate poverty and discrimination."
Jarrod Feld volunteers through VISTA, working with the city's Human Rights Commission and the Webster County Cultural Diversity Team.
Feld was accepted by VISTA as a volunteer for the Fort Dodge Human Rights Commission and the Webster County Cultural Diversity Team.
"The Human Rights Commission has been in Fort Dodge since 1979," he said. "They take complaints from people who feel they have been discriminated against." According to Feld the commission works to eliminate discrimination in: employment; housing; credit; public accommodation; and education. The protected bases include: race; color; sex; age; religion; national origin; physical disability; mental disability; familial status and marital status; gender identity; and sexual orientation.
The seven member commission is appointed by the mayor. Feld works for the commission but is not a member.
To attend a meeting of the Fort Dodge/Webster County Diversity Team or for more information about the team or about the Fort Dodge Human Rights Commission call 515-576-2201 or e-mail email@example.com
The commission is part of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Many of the 29 local commissions in the state have VISTA volunteers. "It is one of the largest VISTA projects in the U.S. as far as members and funding," Feld said.
The Webster County Cultural Diversity Team is an offshoot of the commission. It originally started with members of the commission in 1996: "to fight discrimination pro-actively through education and celebrations to celebrate cultural diversity so the commission ideally would not get as many complaints," he said.
The team gives programs in school and works with employers, landlords and others, and sponsors numerous events.
"When I came they decided they wanted to take the next step and incorporate which we did," Feld said. "I created articles of incorporation and bylaws." He then filed for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service. "We are now a 501 c3 nonprofit which allows us to seek grants."
He also designed a web site and a Facebook page for the team and the commission.
Feld has worked on community projects and events as well. "Through the summer we had two different events. We had an ice cream social at the library and that was in honor of Edna Griffin. She was a civil rights pioneer in Iowa."
The biggest event probably in terms of people and resources is the National Night Out. They teamed up with Upper Des Moines Opportunities' Back to School Bash. "This year was the biggest we've had. We had 1,100 people show up." There were a lot of things to give away; a lot of games and prizes, and information. "We had 35 tables for the local service providers to set up their booths."
The latest project is a community garden. "We got the land from the city, rent free," he said. "We received two grants and are waiting on a third to see what the scope of the garden will be."
Hopefully the garden will be a reality yet this year, he said. Organizers are considering a garden where individuals and families can have their own plots. "It's for people who live in apartments or who don't have a good yard for gardening," he said. "Ideally it is for people to feed their families nutritiously and almost free. We will also use it for educational purposes for schools and other youth groups to show this is where food comes from," he said.
Feld has done a lot of grant writing over the past year, and there has been much organizing, meetings, and e-mails, he said.
"I like the experience, and meeting the people," Feld said. "I've met so many interesting people."
What has been his greatest accomplishment over the past year? "It is hard to tell because there are so many intangibles. You don't know if you have affected anyone with these events because it is not measurable. You like to think that you have."
"To everyone I've met I'd like to say thanks. It's really been interesting and I've made some lifelong friends I'm sure."
From here Feld intends to attend graduate school.
"Our commission and the Webster County Cultural Diversity Team is so thankful we've had Jarrod here over the past year, graciously volunteering his time, energy, and talent in so many ways," said Jamie Anderson, president of the Webster County Cultural Diversity Team and Fort Dodge Human Rights director.
"She has been an incredible help," Feld said of Anderson.
"We are currently recruiting for another AmeriCorps VISTA to take his place and continue on with the work/projects he started. I really hope we can find someone to step in and help like he has," Anderson said.
"It will be difficult for both groups to operate as efficiently as we do without his assistance," said Marcy Harms, director of Student Services for the Fort Dodge Community Schools.
Another Fort Dodge Human Rights Commissioner Lisa Shimkat said of Feld:
"His positive approach motivates and draws in others who would not necessarily become involved to make our community a better place to live in work."
About Jarrod Feld
Originally from Lake City, Jarrod Feld graduated from Grandview University in Des Moines. He then taught English in Taiwan for a couple of years for people from age of three to adult. After returning to Iowa, he helped relatives farm for about three months, but he was looking for something different to do. "When I came back here I knew I wanted to do something that dealt with people of other cultures or the impoverished."
When he was younger Feld was familiar with the shopping district of Fort Dodge but not the downtown area. When he moved here he chose a place downtown to live, close to his job, and to get a feel for the area.
Feld is 32 and single, which allows him the freedom to volunteer. He likes to read, visits the library three or four times a week, and goes bicycling.