By Jack Sobel
This is AmeriCorps Week at New College—a time for the student body to get to know the great work the organization does. And no one is more attuned to that than New College’s own AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Coordinator Sarah Lapton.
Lapton started her work as a VISTA coordinator at New College in September 2019 but her position isn’t officially a New College one. Rather, she is associated with the government program, AmeriCorps.
“AmeriCorps is essentially the Peace Corps. However, instead of serving charitably abroad, they serve charitably within the United States,” said Lapton, who is part of the Student Activities and Campus Engagement (SAuCE) team at New College. “Sometimes, this service entails working at homeless shelters or food banks, while other times it can entail working with environmental groups.”
AmeriCorps VISTA is a national service program that has helped “lift communities and individuals out of poverty over the course of five decades,” according to the organization. It attracts more than 7,000 Americans annually to engage in anti-poverty activities in communities nationwide.
And it most certainly is service. Lapton’s work is technically part of what is called a “voluntary civil society program” and her main focus is on addressing food insecurity among the student body at New College. She lives on campus and is completing two terms with AmeriCorps (her second term ends in September).
Lapton also helps New College students engage in service-learning opportunities within the local community. For example, she organized an event in the fall called “Kayaking & Clean The Bay,” which inspired students to pick up trash along the Sarasota Bay shoreline. Some of the students who volunteered for the event have used the plastics they found to create a microplastic mural on the Caples Campus (a work in progress).
Lapton is no stranger to dedicating her time to volunteer work. She was involved in multiple service initiatives before joining New College.
“It’s essentially been instilled in me since birth, working numerous hours as a volunteer—both in high school and when I was at Florida Southern College,” said Lapton, who majored in business administration and minored in marketing. “I actually first dipped my toes into the world of AmeriCorps during my college years when I signed up for a three-month summer program in Colorado [run by the United Way].”
Even after she completed her education, Lapton worked at an animal shelter before ultimately deciding to come to New College (the campus is close to where she grew up in Port Charlotte).
At New College, Lapton has been wowed by the diversity of thought and background she has encountered among the student body.
She has been most proud of overseeing the New College Food Pantry, which just celebrated its fourth anniversary last weekend with food, music and smoothies.
“One of my proudest moments at New College involved a student coming up to me and thanking me for maintaining the food pantry, saying that they would be going hungry otherwise,” Lapton said.
Located in Room 3150 of the X Dorm, the food pantry provides free food to students, and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is thanks to not only Lapton, but also to the good people at the Food Bank of Manatee and All Faiths Food Bank (both local organizations).
The food pantry at New College doesn’t just have food; it is also expanding its repertoire to include free hygiene and menstrual products for students.
The opportunity for Lapton to work with community partners such as the Food Bank of Manatee and All Faiths, as well as Streets of Paradise (an organization dedicated to helping the homeless), is one of the most rewarding aspects of her work. But her favorite part is getting the opportunity to do service with New College students.
As such, she hopes that this year’s AmeriCorps Week will inspire students at New College to look into working with AmeriCorps.
“It’s not just beneficial to the community, but also for [building and expanding] your own skill set,” Lapton said. “AmeriCorps helps students engage with people they otherwise wouldn’t know—improving their problem-solving skills in the process (not to mention, it looks great on resumes).”
For interested students, Lapton can be found in HCL 4 at the SA[u]CE office, 941-487-4426, ncf.edu/campus-life/sauce-office.
For more information on AmeriCorps, visit americorps.gov/serve.
Jack Sobel is an intern in the Office of Communications & Marketing.