Rising third-year Vera Grace Menafee discovered a passion for community organizing, gardening, and environmental and racial justice through their ongoing work with Vel’s Purple Oasis, a community-based urban farm in Cleveland. Since January 2021, Menafee has worked on a variety of projects for Vel’s Purple Oasis, from creating curriculum and educational materials, writing grants, and conducting oral history interviews, to learning the inner workings of urban gardening under the mentorship of community activist Vel Scott.
Menafee has been recognized for their leadership and contributions to service learning as a recipient of the 2022 Charles J. Ping Award from Ohio Campus Compact.
“I have learned so much from Ms. Vel about being a leader in your community, what it takes to organize a garden, and what it means to eat healthy, nutritious food,” Menafee says. “I truly look up to her as a role model for how I want to carry myself in the world, and I am so thankful for her mentorship.”
The Charles J. Ping Student Service Award, sponsored by Ohio Campus Compact, is designed to recognize and honor undergraduate students for their outstanding leadership and contributions to community service or service-learning on their campus and within their community. This recognition is granted annually to undergraduates at Ohio Campus Compact member institutions.
Menafee is a Bonner Scholar, a four-year community service scholarship program offered by Oberlin College in collaboration with the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation. An Africana studies major with minors in environmental studies and dance, as well as a concentration in education studies, Menafee was connected to Vel Scott through the Bonner Center.
“Coming into college, I never imagined I’d be able to pursue something so important and valuable to me after my first year, but now I can truly see myself pursuing a career in gardening, community organizing, and research, especially projects that are community-based like the one I’ve created,” says Menafee, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and now resides in Columbus, Ohio. “My work with Vel's Purple Oasis has truly helped me realize just how committed I am to connecting both environmental and racial justice around the world, and how central these two frameworks will be in my future career path.”
Menafee has been selected by the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship to expand on their community-based research with Vel’s Purple Oasis, and they plan to continue that work through graduation.
In addition to doing community-based research with Vel Scott, Menafee has been working as an America Reads reading tutor for grades K-5 in Oberlin Elementary School, helping to empower young students in their literacy abilities. Menafee has also become a regular volunteer with the food pantry at Oberlin Community Services.
“I am also incredibly passionate about creative writing, and I volunteer as a workshop facilitator for Writers In Residence, an organization that leads creative writing workshops for incarcerated youth at juvenile detention centers throughout Ohio.”
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