Like many of our VISTA members, Tori Carney comes from the east coast, and has undergone a transformational growth by moving down to the Southwest this past year. Originally from Pasadena Maryland, Tori grew up in a home that’s been in the family for 27 years. Although her hometown is rich with natural beauty, it lacked diversity during her upbringing. As it became more diverse, Tori watched how racial tension played a part in the city she knew as home. This sparked ideas within Tori about her privilege as a white, middle-class student, separated from the racial tension that was happening at the public schools in town. When she went to college at the St. Mary’s College of Maryland, her undergraduate experience exposed her to different kinds of people and ideas, and the compassion she fostered growing up in Catholic schools allowed her to see through a lens of intersectionality between racial and social justice. These ideas now play a huge role in how Tori navigates her local and global community.

Tori shared with me a memory of learning about homelessness as a child; being frustrated why it wasn’t a simple fix, after her mom explained that there wasn’t much she could do to help. Now, as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, she keeps her privilege on her sleeve and is aware of even how it’s allowed her to serve here in Arizona. This knowledge has assisted her in service at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, where she works with food bank clients and volunteers at the Gabrielle Gifford’s Resource Center. Many volunteers who work with clients have lived a long life of white, upper-class privilege, that’s allowed them to volunteer their time at the food bank. Tori is working on a “Dignity Training” that will educate these volunteers about marginalization, why client dignity is so important, and the small things they can do to ensure they’re putting their best self forward in their communities, and specifically when working with food bank clients and other volunteers who have had different walks of life.

When Tori is not dreaming about a world full of organized communities, strengthened by education and empowerment, you can find her cooking, reading, writing, or eyes fixated on tree branches or within the bodies of Saguaro cactus – looking for her feathered friends. Tori is an experienced birder and was previously able to identify a bird that kept me up all night while camping just by hearing my butchered impersonation. Her favorite place to bird in Arizona is Madera Canyon, and one of her favorite species is a Magnolia Warbler, a songbird with striking contrast of black and yellow that, “no fabric dye could ever recreate.” Tori says birding makes her come alive, as it gives the opportunity to watch the fierce and powerful movements of say, a Grey Hawk. Or the cute and ridiculous sight of an Eastern Phoebe running across the forest floor.