McKenzie Liegal is an AmeriCorps VISTA, working across the Plateau with the Grundy County Health Council. She has been here for one year, and loves both the people and Grundy County.
McKenzie grew up in Spring Green, Wisconsin, a small, rural community with a population under 1,700.
“My parents are Tim and Sally Liegel, and I have a younger brother, Payton.
“I attended a Catholic elementary school in my hometown. What stands out from my time at St. John’s Elementary was that my grandmother was my third grade teacher. Most kids learn invaluable lessons from their grandparents, but I actually got to learn math, science, reading, social studies, and history from my grandma. It was a very special experience.
“I attended River Valley High School, in Spring Green and was involved in many afterschool activities, including student council, SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), math club, cheerleading, softball, volleyball, and swim team. My senior year of high school, I was voted class president and my yearbook superlative was ‘most school spirit.’ I was also the valedictorian of my class.
“My high school chemistry and physics teacher, Mike Hill, was one of my favorite teachers. He was always challenging students, and is definitely one of the reasons I took the STEM path in college. He had a sign at the beginning of his classroom that said ‘Do Not Believe Anything I Say.’ It was, and still is, his way of making students think outside the box.”
After graduation, McKenzie went to the University of Wisconsin – Madison, receiving a degree in Biology. In addition, she has a certificate in Environmental Studies.
“In the future, I plan to get my Masters in Public Health, with a specific emphasis on Community Health Education.”
McKenzie has worked since high school.
“In high school, I held the perfect summer job—the lifeguard at the local swimming pool. In college, I was an undergraduate research assistant at a lab on campus.
“Before becoming a VISTA, I was an intern with WIC at a local health department.
“Currently, I am an AmeriCorps VISTA. VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America, and it is the domestic version of the Peace Corps. The South Cumberland Plateau VISTA Project started in 2014, thanks to a partnership between the University of the South, the South Cumberland Community Fund, and local partner agencies. I was a member of the inaugural cohort with the Chattanooga Area Food Bank. I held that position for one year, which is a typical VISTA term, and decided that I loved the Plateau so much that I should stay another year.
“August 2015 marked the beginning of my second year as a VISTA. This time, I am assigned to the Grundy County Health Council, as the School Health Activities Coordinator. I will be working on coordinating before and after-school physical activity programs, developing school garden curriculum for the gardens at Swiss Memorial and Pelham, implementing a tobacco cessation program in the school system, and much more!
“My favorite thing about my position of School Health Activities Coordinator is the variety. I get to have my hands in so many different projects, working with students and teachers at every level and at every school in the county.
“The Grundy County Rotary Club has extended a warm welcome to the VISTAs, and we are honorary Rotarians. This past summer I played in a co-ed softball league in Winchester. We were the Sewanee Fog, and even though we were not good (winning only two games), we had a lot of fun.”
McKenzie says her favorite thing about Grundy County is the warm welcome she has received.
“My favorite thing about Grundy County is how welcoming the community has been. Moving almost one thousand miles away from home was daunting, but this community has been great. There is always someone willing to talk to you, and fairly quickly, the small community of Grundy felt like the small community of Spring Green.”
Her job keeps her busy, but in her free time, she enjoys hiking and her friends.
“Hiking—you can’t move to this beautiful area and not enjoy a hike! I like to read and just finished ‘Lone Survivor’ by Marcus Luttrell and am looking for my next book.
“I must admit, one of my favorite ways to unwind after a long day is by watching an episode of the ‘Bachelor,’ the ‘Real Housewives’ series, or the ‘Real World.’ Sometimes you just need some trashy TV in your life to put yours into perspective.
“I have made lifelong friends since moving here over a year ago, and spending time with them occupies much of my free time. My friends have become my family, since my family is so far away. Any given night, we are hiking or watching a trashy television show, watching football, playing Settlers of Catan or Cards Against Humanity, or cooking a meal together.
“I also love sports. I’m no good at them, but I love watching them. I come from Big Ten country, and I love my Wisconsin Badgers. I also am involved in my first fantasy football league, which makes the NFL more enjoyable. Being a Chicago Bears fan, growing up in Green Bay Packer country wasn’t always the easiest thing.”
McKenzie says it might surprise people that she is a fan of country music.
“I don’t really listen to music on my iPod! But, I love podcasts and audiobooks. Currently, my favorite podcasts are ‘Switched on Pop,’ ‘Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me,’ ‘The Right Reasons,’ and ‘Pop Culture Happy Hour.’ I also have ‘Modern Romance’ by Aziz Ansari and ‘Not That Kind of Girl’ by Lena Dunham in my audiobook queue.
“If I did use my iPod, it would consist of Taylor Swift, Sam Hunt, Jon Pardi, and Dave Matthews Band!”