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New VISTA to focus on ABLE efforts

Kerri Hame has taken a year off of life in academia to step into a volunteer support role and make a difference in Lafayette County.

Hame, 50, is the newest full-time VISTA serving with the Lafayette County Literacy Council’s ABLE program.

As a part of AmeriCorps’ Volunteers In Service To America program, Hame started Nov. 9 as the program administrator for the Adult Basic Literacy Education endeavor.

She’s one of 14 VISTAs throughout Oxford, and she will enjoy educational benefits and other incentives for service, but her main goals are to learn more about administration and ensure more adults get up to speed on literacy.

“My training is as an academic,” she said. “I am a classicist, Greek and Roman literature and language, but I’ve also always been interested in administration. So I was looking for an opportunity to get some experience in administration. I was also looking to do some work in the community.”

Hame, a San Diego native, said being a VISTA “sounded like an adventure” after being an assistant professor at the University of Mississippi. Her husband, Brad Cook, also is a professor at UM, and they have been in Oxford since 2011.

“My main goal is to gain experience in administration, to encourage and increase our recruitment of learners,” she said. “I would really like to open up the wonderful world of reading to others. I want to see if I can get these coaches that we have some learners. That’s my way of helping the community.”

As a VISTA, Hamm isn’t supposed to do a large amount of direct service, so she mainly trains coaches and connects them with learners and works closely with Barbara Wartham, who heads up the teaching.

“Our main goal is to build an organization’s capacity,” she said about the VISTA program and being a federal resource serving a local organization. “I can perform a supportive role with other things.”

And that she will do, given many organizations in town work closely together under the common literacy theme.

“Since books and reading are such an essential part of life and culture and this is Faulkner’s town, all of these programs have a different theme of reading,” she said. “We’re working very hard together, so there is a very palpable sense of communication. We’re working with other organizations, and other organizations are supporting our work, so it’s a very positive and uplifting kind of experience to have people working together. A lot of good people are interested in helping others.”

Hame is excited to serve for the next year in whatever way she can and offer to Lafayette Countians what she has learned in her lifetime.

“Reading has been very important to me and I think it opens a lot of doors,” she said. “I’d like to give people that choice to choose which door they can go through.”