By Dan Bechtold, Editor
When Nick Ciaramitaro graduated from college he wanted to do some public service before heading to law school
Nick joined AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program.
He is working on the Pine Ridge Reservation and works out of the SDSU Regional Extension office in Winner. Nick will be spending a year with the VISTA program.
Nick is from St. Louis, Mo., and graduated in May from the University of Missouri with a degree in biology. He has a minor in environmental studies and a cultural studies certificate. He took a few classes focused on Native American culture while in college.
“I always wanted to serve with AmeriCorps and I was looking for an opportunity that was environment based,” he said.
Nick looked on line at the VISTA openings and thought the site on the Pine Ridge Reservation would be ideal for what he was seeking.
Nick filled out an application and within a week was accepted.
He started work June 25 and will be living in Winner for the year and commuting to Pine Ridge as needed.
Nick will be working with the Beginning Farmer and Rancher program. His supervisors are field specialists from SDSU Extension.
He estimates he will spend part of the time in the office in Winner and the rest doing field work to connect with the community on Pine Ridge.
One of his main jobs is looking for grants and developing a guide for small-acreage farmers that will give them resources they can use to be successful.
Nick noted on the reservation, a lot of people do not have access to large ag land so they have small plots. “They need some way to access resources that will help them improve their land,” said Nick.
The short term goal is to create a way to provide fresh food for families and the community and long term goal is to turn this production into a profit for increased income on the reservation.
The main focus is creating training spaces where tribal members can come to learn gardening, cooking, and other technical ag skills.
As a VISTA volunteer, Nick is learning the values of the Lakota people. “That interests me because environmental justice is my passion,” he said. Nick noted that minority groups are disproportionately affected by environmental issues.
“I want to learn what kind of problems they are struggling with policy-wise plus socially and use that knowledge to further serve them in the future.”
Nick added: “My goal is to understand more of the issues that Native Americans face when it comes to environmental problems.”
Nick likes the small town atmosphere of Winner and breakfast at Shirley’s Diner.
Nick’s long term goal is to go to law school and study environmental justice.
Some of the law schools he is looking at are the University of Colorado in Boulder and Tulane in New Orleans.
After this year is finished with VISTA, Nick might want to serve another year, it just depends on if it all fits into his long range goals for law school.
Now he is enjoying life in Winner and working side by side helping people make a living with sustainable agriculture.
The AmeriCorps VISTA mission is to strengthen organizations that alleviate poverty through volunteering and the mobilization of resources.
Since 1965, over 220,000 VISTA members have served in all 50 states and U.S. territories.
AmeriCorps VISTA members are in tribal, rural, suburban and urban communities. Poverty can take many forms, which is why VISTA’s model is driven directly by communities in need.
AmeriCorps VISTA members help others while gaining valuable skills for their career.
For Nick, he feels his work with VISTA will be invaluable to his career as a lawyer.