Sophie Kenny a 22-year-old University of New Hampshire (UNH) graduate from Stratham, NH, made huge strides in benefitting the lives of individuals and families in the Kennebunk, ME area, as she spent this past summer creating and improving programs and initiatives to serve low-income individuals and address food insecurity issues through the AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) position in coordination with the town of Kennebunk in the Social Services office and Community Development Department.
Some of Kenny’s achievements this summer included acclimating residents to the SNAP benefits that are accepted in the local farmer’s market, coordinating and enhancing the summer lunch program, working within the local food pantry, executing cooking demonstrations and creating affordable recipes using her bachelor’s degree in nutrition, and grant writing which would support the creation of garden beds at affordable housing property sites in town.
It was within Kenny’s personality to take on a VISTA position this past summer, according to Karen Winton, the general assistance administrator of the social services department in Kennebunk.
“The mission of the AmeriCorps VISTA program is to strengthen organizations that alleviate poverty,” Winton, who was once an AmeriCorps VISTA, herself, said. “As part of the Social Services office and Community Development Department for the Town of Kennebunk, she rose to that challenge and worked to carry out that mission. Her success is evident in the number of people she engaged and in her work to ensure that the programming available to individuals and families in need, especially with regard to food security, will continue.”
Winton worked closely with Kenny during her time in Kennebunk and helped to guide Kenny in her projects that were aimed toward capacity building and direct service.
“She had the ability to connect with people without judgement and with the internal drive to help and make everything around her better,” Winton said. “She had the internal drive to do that. She has a lot of great qualities like leadership, and interpersonal strengths in connecting with others.”
The pair shared a mutual respect for one another, as Winton served as a role model for the volunteer.
“People like [Winton] are people we need more of,” Kenny said. “She was [one of] the only females in the department… she knew what she was saying, she was always prepared, and she showed how passionate she was. We need more people like her in positions like she is in to help the community.”
During Kenny’s 10 weeks of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA summer associate, Winton said that she proved a “perfect match of skills and abilities and completed tasks above and beyond stated goals. She made connections in the community in an incredibly short amount of time, earning the trust and respect of fellow non-profit organizations, volunteers and community partners, as well as participants in social service programs. This allowed her to effectively provide education, information and resources in order to connect and provide people with assistance.”
Winton stressed that Kenny’s “efforts will continue long after she is gone.”
Kenny said that she grew up in a family where volunteering was a priority.
“Volunteering is important for simply being aware of things happening around you that you don’t always see,” Kenny said. After working on programs for those who are food insecure, Kenny said that she felt fortunate for things she took for granted in the past, like having dinner with her family and going to college.
Kenny, following her studies at UNH, has plans of becoming a registered dietician, telling The New Hampshire her experiences this past summer made her realize that she wants to pursue a career that will allow her to be involved in the community realm of the nutrition field.
Kenny said that her advice to those looking to make a difference or volunteer within the community would be to not be afraid to be put outside of one’s comfort zone.
“That’s when all the good stuff happens, when you are the most vulnerable,” she said. “Just having a smiling face and being a part of a community is a helpful thing.”