GardenShare Fights Hunger in Rural North Country, NY with Community Volunteers

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This June, we’ll be featuring stories of national service programs operating in the Healthy Futures focus area. National service programs like AmeriCorps and the Volunteer Generation Fund can play a key role in promoting health within a state, from coordinating community gardening, delivering summer meals, to promoting healthy lifestyles, outdoor activities, and fitness. Learn more at nationalservice.gov/focus-areas/healthy-futures. #HealthyFutures

NEW YORK.  GardenShare is a locally-led nonprofit seeking to end hunger and strengthen food security in northern New York State, and is a recipient of the New York State Commission on National and Community Service’s Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) grant. Gardenshare’s mission is to solve the problem of hunger in St. Lawrence County by strengthening the food system to benefit residents across the rural county.

At GardenShare-supported farmers markets, VGF-supported volunteers provide education and information to low-income consumers about the benefits of buying fresh fruits and vegetables.

In addition, GardenShare has announced its second year of offering “double dollars” at farmers markets to consumers who receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Last year, this program increased the SNAP benefit use at farmers markets by 70%, and GardenShare plans to expand this program this year to reach a larger population. This allows low-income individuals and families to purchase twice as much produce if using their SNAP benefits, and is an important step towards their mission of making fresh, healthy food available to everyone.

GardenShare’s mission and activities exemplify the Healthy Futures focus area of national service. Last year, more than 500 volunteers contributed to capacity building efforts, and provided 8,000 meals for individuals and families in rural, upstate New York.

Learn more about GardenShare and sign up to volunteer at www.gardenshare.org.

Learn more about the NY Commission on National and Community Service’s Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) program here.

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Mark Walter, New Yorkers Volunteer

2013 Innovation & Leadership Finalist

mjwpic2010“Mark is one of those people who, without fanfaree or personal agenda, collaborates and guides others to quietly and efficiently get the job done.” -Jill Iscol, author of Hearts on Fire and Commission member

Mark Walter serves as the Executive Director of the New York State Office Of National and Community Service for the past 6 years. Under his leadership New York has the second largest AmeriCorps program in the country . He has mentored other directors and is turned to for his leadership across the country. He oversaw leadership for the National Conference on Service when it was hosted in New York. Today he has been asked by the Governor’s office to create a plan to enable New York to better respond to Disasters in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. He had the vision and created 10 Regional Volunteer Centers in New York.

WIth a small professional staff, Mark leads the second largest AmeriCorps program in the country overseeing 42 programs and 10 Regional Volunteer Centers. He Is working with many branches of State Governmnet to engage them in Service especially the SUNY State Universtiy of NY which has service as one of its major tenants of its strategic plan. He is also currently working with Dept of Education, Parks and Recreation and the Department of State to further engage them in service.

I have had the honor of working with Mark for 5 years and am inspired everyday to his commiment to service and the citzens of New York. Mark almost single handedly created a massive AmeriCorps week program with no budget and yet engaged over 1200 people in service cleaning up the riverside, planting trees , tutoring children, repairing a playground. He organized it, put the program together, recruited the participants for a huge success. The State had no budget at the time even denied funding to provide porta potties but Mark made it happen and never complained. He leads a remarkable, dedicated team who are responsible for service in this state. – Susan Stern, Chair, New York State Commission on National and Community Service

It was Mark’s vision to create an infrastructure throughout the state of New York to facilitate and serve as a catatlyst for volunteerism. That vision turned into the ten Regional Volunteer Centers funded through the CNCS Volunteer Generation Fund and the State, serving as a model for the country. Governor Cuomo has asked these regions to work with the state”s economic development councils to incorprotate service to help with economic development in the State of New York.

Mark has worked with each AmeriCorps program helpiing them to be the best that they can be and and envisioned and created the Regional Volunteer centers which truly demonstrated thier worth during Hurricane Sandy.

Mark Walter is a person of great vision with the perseverance to achieve it. He believes in the power and impact of volunteerism so much so that he put himself on the line to ask for national support to build a network of regional volunteer centers throughout New York State and he made it happen. Mark inspires others to set great goals and encourages their accomplishment by coaching, mentoring, and cheering everyone on. He has been an amazing resource to get us established in our region and to become a focal point for all things volunteer on Long Island. This pre-positioned our center to effectively respond to Superstorm Sandy. He is also the quintessential professional who can juggle myriad demands calmly keeping everyone focused and operating as a team. Plus Mark is quick to praise others without expecting the spotlight on himself. He truly leads by example.” –Diana O’Neill, Executive Director, Long Island Volunteer Center (HandsOn Network affiliate):