For a few months, Marsha Shonk has been working as a Vista from the Turn this Town Around project. She’s had a busy year working to build community, creating sustainable projects, and providing opportunities to Whitesville residents.
Q: Can you explain what a VISTA is?
A: VISTA stands for Volunteers In Service To America. We go into impoverished areas and deal with poverty hands on.
Q: How did you get the position?
A: I attended my first Turn This Town Around meeting in June or July. I asked a lot of questions and I must have impressed somebody because one lady in town came up to me in the parking lot after and told me that I should consider applying for the VISTA position. The need for a VISTA was mentioned in the meeting and after her recommendation I went ahead and applied and got the position, I later found out that I was the only one who applied but after that they flew me out to Orlando, FL for training.
Q: What are your goals as a VISTA?
A: To find grant money and sustainable projects for Whitesville. I hope to instill independence in people through teaching them how grow their own produce and save seeds to use for regrowth so they don’t have to be dependent on a grocery store! I’ve contacted 74 different companies for seeds because its like fishing, you have to keep throwing your hook out there before you catch a fish. So I’ve got about 9 or 10 companies that are sending me seeds.
Q: How many seeds have you gotten so far from those companies?
I’ve received about $12,000 dollars in seeds so far. Each bucket plants an acre and I have 24 buckets. Just last night 285 pounds of seeds were delivered to my house, I store them all at my office.
Q: Where are the seeds going?
A: So far the seeds have made their way to two USDA commodities, two soup kitchens, the Girl Scouts, veterans and the Whitesville community. I recently found out of a program that helps troubled youth by teaching them how to plant so I am looking into that as well. I want them to go to the needy, not just be given away. I have a lot of flower seeds that I intend to use to plant flowers around Whitesville. I’m flabbergasted by how many I have received so far. I didn’t expect it to become this big, it’s just awesome and I’m really excited about it.
Q: What has the biggest challenge of being a VISTA been?
A: I have never been one to ask for help, I think it’s just embarrassing but it’s teaching me to ask for help and through it I’ve met a lot of people and made a lot of connections.
Q: How long have you lived in the Whitesville area?
A: Since September of 2014
Q: What introduced you to Whitesville?
A: My husband, Wanna, grew up here. He has great stories of living here when he was a kid.
Q: What is your favorite thing about living here?
A: There is a sense of community and family that you don’t get in bigger towns. I’ve always said that if you get a flat tire; you want to get a flat tire in West Virginia because the people are just so friendly
Q: What are some of your hobbies?
A: In the mid 90’s I started making quilts out of old blue jeans. I have been begging for people’s old jeans for years now. I was green before it was cool for people to go green and didn’t even know it. I also make canes and walking sticks which I have sold a few of. They each come with a little tag from what they are made out of, like, “Made in West Virginia by an Oak Tree.” I sing in the church choir and I am a VISTA as well. I started the give a book, take a book and have earned a couple thousand dollars in donated books. I like to travel and I help out at community events as well.
Q: Have you ever sold one of your quilts?
A: I have not sold a single quilt. I give them away. It’s a fun thing. I like giving. Some people will sell their used clothes; I’m going to drive the extra mile to give them to a donation center.
Next time you see Marsha’s smiling face, be sure to stop her and see what she’s up to. You might even be able to help her improve the Whitesville community.