A Reflection of Service from Trinity Cafe’s VISTA Communications Specialist, Chris Darken

When I reflect on my time at Trinity Cafe, it seems impossible that a year has gone by so fast.

It seems like just a month ago when I first entered the cafe for my interview with Mandy and Cindy. I have grown so much here, in terms of understanding why Trinity Cafe is so important to the community, and in daily productivity too. I’m proud to have served my country and my community by giving a year of my life to work at this amazing place.

Many guests, volunteers, and staff know that I’ve been working as “Communications Specialist” in a national service program called AmeriCorps VISTA. Most of my work has been focused on building a sustainable model for our social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. In addition to the daily meal posts, I’ve also created a model for a “social media calendar,” which highlights different aspects like food nutritional facts, poverty and food insecurity facts, and awesome quotes to inspire our network of volunteers and donors. This is my proudest achievement and I look forward to seeing what future VISTAs will do with it!

I’ve also learned a great deal about “building relationships,” which is very important at Trinity Cafe. My best days have always been when I was able to mine the treasure of friendly guests and share their stories with our extended audience. Sometimes I felt like I was a journalist or a reporter, or someone writing for Humans of New York. I believe the shiniest gems are only found through slow, patient digging; for some people, it might be just a simple “hey, good to see you!”

Some of our guests really do have such interesting tales to tell, and it’s been my honor to play my part in sharing them with the world. Although I only met them once, I enjoyed meeting an older married couple named Ronnie and Sharon at our Trinity Cafe 2 location. It was in December, very close to Christmas. I wasn’t able to learn their whole life story, but I was struck when Ronnie said “Christmas is almost here. It won’t be as bright as I wanted it to be, but we still have the best thing: the sun!” That spirit of relentless optimism in the face of daily hardship defines Trinity Cafe.

When I first found this position, I didn’t know anything about the VISTA program and I wasn’t certain how I felt about participating in a program like that rather than working as a regular staff member like everyone else. But I soon realized the importance of this initiative as an amazingly helpful tool for accomplishing necessary work without straining finite budgets of great nonprofits like Trinity Cafe. Along with the other VISTA members at Feeding Tampa Bay, I’m confident that I have made a real difference in making Tampa and Hillsborough County a better place. I really hope the CNCS, AmeriCorps, and the VISTA program are adequately supported by lawmakers as they have been for generations; and if you truly appreciate my work, I think you’ll be amazed by what follows!

Chris has been a valued member of the Trinity Cafe team this past year!

While his main duties have been to enhance our communication strategy through use of social media, he has done so much more! He became adept at pitching in wherever needed – serving guests at the cafe, doing inventory of supplies, helping facilitate events, orienting new volunteers, dishing up food, researching  hunger and  poverty and toting laundry baskets of dirty aprons from one place to the other! Most of all he has done a remarkable job communicating our work in this community through the telling of guest and volunteer stories. Chris has a great wit, an incredible work ethic and now the opportunity to pursue his next career opportunity.

We wish him well!