AmeriCorps VISTA Hugh Ford is a total introvert. That’s why his friend, fellow Ameri-Corps VISTA Ken Wallace, was pleasantly surprised when he came up with the idea to start a podcast.
Ford dreamed up the idea when his boss, Habitat for Humanity of Laramie County Executive Director Kate Wright, asked for a list of projects he could work on during his time serving with Habitat. As a huge podcast fan, he loved the idea, but wasn’t sure how to get started.
The project became simply an item on a to-do list until Dan Dorsch, special projects coordinator at Habitat, got the ball rolling. Once the pair brought on Wallace as a co-host, the creativity started flowing and they created “Building a Better Cheyenne,” a show they’ve since renamed and rebranded to “WY We Serve.”
“When these two guys came to me I was so excited, and originally we weren’t really completely sure the direction it would take,” Wallace said. “We wanted to talk about housing, legal aid-related things. But just in our first meeting, really from the onset, that flower started to blossom, and we took it in different directions.”
The first episode debuted in February, and ever since, the trio has developed a process of bringing in nonprofit directors from across the community to highlight what’s going on as far as organizing and charity work. They’ve talked to everyone from Jeremy Bay of Grace for 2 Brothers to Carla Thurin of Safehouse Services about awareness of suicide and domestic violence, as well as how locals can support the people utilizing these nonprofits’ services.
The group has also interviewed people outside the nonprofit world such as Wyoming Supreme Court Justice Lynne Boomgaarden to learn about her background and why she loves Wyoming.
“The purpose of the podcast is to highlight all the great work that the nonprofits and community leaders, and small business owners as well, do in giving back to the community,” Dorsch said. “It’s kind of expanded with the original focus being on Cheyenne, because there’s so many good things going on across our state that are really awesome too.”
“The goal in general is to be inspired by the work that these people are doing,” Ford added. “One of the reasons that it came about was a way of connecting with the community during the pandemic, because that is my job description ... community outreach, and the idea was to have a lot of community meetings. But the pandemic unfortunately threw a wrench into that.”
Even though he hasn’t been able to do as much in-person work as he’d hoped during his time with Habitat, Ford is grateful the podcast gives him and Wallace a chance to update listeners remotely on the work being done by AmeriCorps VISTAs around Cheyenne.
None of the now-podcasters had been part of a show before – Dorsch had never even listened to a podcast before getting involved with this one – so there was quite a learning curve, but they agreed it’s been fun to figure it out as they go.
Ford, who did some audio editing in college, plays the role of editor – or, as Dorsch and Wallace refer to him, “the wizard behind the curtain.”
“It’s a process I do kind of obsess over like, oh, God, I gotta take this breath out here because it will sound weird,” Ford said. “But I enjoy the editing because I get to listen back to the episodes to catch new things, and just for personal enjoyment.”
Wallace and Dorsch do the guest booking, and all three have a hand in writing the script, which details talking points for every episode and is given to the guest ahead of time so they know what to expect.
Wallace’s last job was in healthcare research, so he’s done his fair share of interviews with leaders in hospital systems. That position taught him how to formulate questions and keep a conversation going, and he’s thankful to have a modest, laid-back environment where he can utilize those skills for the podcast.
Dorsch went to radio broadcasting school in Oklahoma and played a stint as a radio DJ for several months, so he’s no stranger to the mic.
“Yeah, I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself as long as it’s for a good cause,” he said.
Recording during a pandemic has definitely been a challenge – they’ve recorded everything remotely over Zoom other than one in a studio, but they all had to keep their masks on, so the audio quality was poor – but the trio agrees that the rewarding moments far outweigh the frustrating ones.
Wallace’s service in Cheyenne ends July 3 and Ford’s ends later in the summer, but they plan to transition one or two new VISTAs with an interest in broadcast and/or podcasts into their roles to keep the show going.
In the meantime, they’re just thankful to get to hang out with one another every week in the name of good conversation, and to learn a thing or two along the way.
“Ken and Dan are much more outgoing than I am. I’m fairly reserved as a person,” Ford said. “And so bringing me along in that way has really kind of pushed me to expand my public speaking capabilities and gregariousness in general.”