By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Niskayuna High School alumna Anna Mattis is loving her college experience at the University of Vermont, but she still searches out every opportunity to head back to her hometown and help out her community.
Mattis, a junior studying Latin with a minor in critical race and ethnic studies, misses one thing more than anything else: community service.
Mattis began her career as a volunteer when she was just 10 years old, after discovering an opportunity through her church. She volunteered with the summer lunch program run by the Schenectady Inner City Ministry, and loved the feeling of helping others.
“It was just about helping people and doing what I could as a child,” she said. “It’s not like I could write a check for a donation.”
When she was 12, she started volunteering at SICM’s food pantry, and often brought friends along.
For her 13th birthday, she celebrated her first year as a teenager by bringing her friends along to serve breakfast at the Damien Center, which serves people affected with HIV/AIDS and their families.
Helping others, especially by providing food and other important care, has been with Mattis ever since.
“It just became part of my life,” she said. “I can’t remember it ever being a really conscious decision.”
Volunteering even morphed into her summer job. Mattis has spent the past five summers as an intern for the SICM program, and helped pilot a new, educational camp program at Steinmetz park in 2014.
Mattis lives right on the border of Niskayuna and Schenectady, and identifies with the character of each place. Moving to Burlington, Vermont, for college was a change of scenery that came with a lot less opportunity for the sort of service she’s used to.
“I don’t do as much in Vermont,” she said.
The food pantry there is stricter than SICM and requires people to sign up for time slots each week, like a part-time job.
“It’s not like SICM here where they encourage people to come and try it,” Mattis said. “You know, they let me come as a 12-year-old.”
Since she has so many academic responsibilities, she said, she’s not able to commit to a weekly time slot, but she misses the opportunity to serve others.
“I came home a couple weeks ago for Harvest at the pantry,” Mattis said. “I got to see everybody in the SICM family.”
Harvest has been a tradition for seven years, and Mattis has never missed one.
A community feel has always been part of what Mattis enjoys about community service. From her 13th birthday party to her post-college years, she’s always found friends to drop by the pantry with her to serve a meal. In that sense, she’s found some opportunities at school.
“Last year I helped a friend organize the first-ever national eating disorder awareness walk in Vermont,” she said. She also ran a contest inspired by the fundraisers she’s helped with at SICM since she was a kid.
Her focus on helping end hunger continues, too. At the end of each semester, when students have unused meal points that would otherwise go to waste, she encourages everyone she knows to use them for nonperishable items and donate them.
Social media role
It’s no surprise, based on Mattis’ love for community, that her dream job involves bringing people together — though perhaps in an unexpected way. She hopes to make a career in social media.
“I work for a student-run calendar of events up there, so I’ve been doing a lot with social media, and that’s kind of a big part of my unofficial study at UVM,” she said.
“One of the coolest jobs I’ve ever heard of is social media editors at Entertainment Weekly and other magazines,” she said. “I think it’s awesome, the stuff they get to do.”
After she completes her last year of undergraduate study, Mattis isn’t sure whether she’ll head for graduate school or the workforce. But she has, of course, already started sharing the skills she’s gathered with the SICM community.
A big part of that is accomplished by working with her mom, Janet, the community outreach and intern coordinator at the nonprofit. Her mother actually joined the organization after Anna started her volunteer work there, but they’ve collaborated often.
“This past summer, we started the SICM Instagram account,” Anna said. “It’s still kind of growing.”