AmeriCorps Member of the Month – Frances Erlandson

June, 2021

Each month we recognize an AmeriCorps member serving in Utah for going above and beyond the pledge they took to “Get Things Done.” This month we are proud to recognize Frances Erlandson serving in Green River, Utah. Through a placement with WabiSabi Moab, Frances supports programming with Epicenter and Green River PACT.

Frances comes to Green River from the Green Mountains of Vermont, where she studied poetry and architecture at Bennington College. Originally from Santa Monica, California, Frances is intimately familiar with the Southwestern desert, traveling through Green River many times before calling it home. 

In her work at PACT, Frances is inspired by a love for reading and is often found taking field trips to our neighboring library. By encouraging library exploration, leading writing activities and facilitating paired reading, Frances hopes to generate excitement in literacy for the kids of Green River. She can also be found sorting donations at the thrift store, volunteering with the high school, and teaching art in our Afterschool program. Outside of her AmeriCorps service, Frances enjoys desert walks, writing postcards and collecting small things.

WabiSabi Moab is a nonprofit organization that manages a thrift store in the Moab community. They provide money and materials to support a huge range of local nonprofits and individuals in the community.

 Epicenter is an organization with deep ties to AmeriCorps. The founders were invited to work in Green River as AmeriCorps volunteers. They stayed because they fell in love with the place, the people, and the opportunities. The goals of Epicenter are to build local leadership, increase local housing options, increase town vibrancy and beautify the built environment, ensure organizational resiliency, and develop Epicenter as a model for other rural communities.

PACT is a community organization that works with residents to offer here-driven solutions to the needs of Green River. They currently respond to these needs through youth programming, food programming, a thrift store, and affordable apartments. PACT’s Pyramid Youth Programs offer programming throughout the school year as well as the summer. Programming supports academic enrichment, exploration of the local environment, and even sports leagues.

Justin Queen, Executive Director of Green River PACT, provided the following nomination to recognize Frances as the AmeriCorps Member of the Month:

Frances has continually exceeded expectations at Pyramid, implementing a variety of programming elements that have improved our work with literacy and social emotional learning.

She has taken the initiative on projects that are beyond her basic service. She joined our action plan team (and was the only AmeriCorps member to do so) that met weekly to implement improvements to our afterschool program. She designed and implemented an emotional temperature check that the kids use when they enter the program for the day. Kids place their name next to the word or emoji for how they are currently feeling. They are then able to identify their current emotional state and reference a chart next to the temperature check that describes ways to deal with their current emotions.

In addition to this project, Frances implemented a partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library that has signed up over a dozen kids in Green River. The Imagination Library provides free books to kids from ages 0-5. She has also contributed to the fundraising that is needed to operate this program.

Frances contributes a calm, quirky, and confident presence to her work with the kids. The kids and Frances bonded quickly, with many of them conflating her name with Princesa.

Maria Sykes, Executive Director of Epicenter, thanked Frances for stepping up to the plate during a tough year. “One of the main things that has made a difference this year, because it has been a rough one – whether it was having to stop programming or having an AmeriCorps [member] get injured and be unable to come back – whatever it is, we always have Frances. Frances is going to hold us together and it’s going to be okay.”

Frances has not only stepped up to the plate in her duties, she has also helped select the next team of AmeriCorps members, ensuring that her legacy of positive service will live on. Serving as an AmeriCorps member in such a small town can be a challenge for many, but Frances has thrived in Green River.

Q&A with Frances

Why did you choose to serve as an AmeriCorps member with WabiSabi/PACT?
I was really intrigued by living in Green River! I had followed Epicenter’s work for a couple years and was impressed by the quality of their projects — I was always curious about what it would be like to live and work there.

What is a typical day like for you in your role?
I’m usually bouncing between Epicenter and PACT all day. I work in the afterschool program leading art lessons and providing support for homework and reading. Right now, we’re finishing up summer camp! We’ve been getting over 30 kids a week, which is incredible exciting, based on our average afterschool program attendance of around 10. At Epicenter, I am managing a publication project, a future-thinking reflection on the past decade of their practice, coming out in 2022. I also work in the thrift store and help out with the food pantry.

What have you liked most about serving with WabiSabi/PACT?
I’ve loved meeting people in town and getting to know them through multiple venues. I love how much overlap there is in a small town! I really like being a representative of the community center around town, whether it be behind the counter at the thrift store, on the field at a little league game or just checking my P.O. box multiple times a day like everybody else. I’ve found working with the kids to be incredibly motivating and I’m really excited that I get to be a constant in their life for this time. It really helps me to see the value in the long term commitment and what can be achieved when you really dedicate yourself to becoming a part of the community.

What has serving as an AmeriCorps member taught you about yourself and/or your community?
I never knew I wanted to be a teacher until becoming an AmeriCorps — now that I know how much I enjoy working with kids, I want to learn more about literacy and the different approaches to teaching. I also didn’t know how much I loved riding around in the bed of a pickup truck!

Do you have any advice for prospective AmeriCorps members?
Be open to everything! Every opportunity to serve is an opportunity to meet new people! Go to the community events. Go to city council. Show up consistently.

We extend our congratulations to Frances for being recognized as the UServeUtah AmeriCorps Member of the Month and thank her for her dedicated service to communities in Utah.

What is AmeriCorps?

AmeriCorps is your moment to take the path less traveled, to break the status quo, to stop talking about the problem and be the solution. Join AmeriCorps and you can mentor and tutor kids, rebuild a community after disaster, help veterans, or work with local communities to alleviate poverty. There are thousands of opportunities to choose from, find the one that fits you.