Like some of the people we serve, I experienced poverty at a very early age due to the fact that I grew up in a single-parent home. However, even as a child, I knew I wanted to help others who experienced the same struggles I did. By the time I was 16, my family became homeless during the economic strife that hit the U.S. in 2007. Since recovering from this experience, I felt that I should be working on this issue and assisting in the eradication of homelessness. After hearing about how AmeriCorps members do so much for the organizations they serve with, I was eager to apply. AmeriCorps led me to HomeAgain, an organization that provides emergency shelter and rapid rehousing to those experiencing a housing crisis.
Over the span of two decades, AmeriCorps has provided an opportunity to more than one million people who have served as full-time members. In the state of Virginia, roughly 6,000 people have chosen to dedicate a year of service through AmeriCorps. Volunteers in Service to America, otherwise known as VISTA, began in 1965 as an idea by President John F. Kennedy, while AmeriCorps NCCC, Senior Corps, and State National joined the alliance in 1993.
As a national service program designed to help ease the burden and presence of poverty, AmeriCorps members have done much more than volunteer sporadically. For example, AmeriCorps members have served as full-time literacy tutors, cleaned up and reorganized areas in crisis after national disasters, and extended the capacity of existing programs in non-profit organizations. Not only do AmeriCorps NCCC and AmeriCorps State National require their members to do 1700 hours of community service, but they also offer comprehensive career development training. Each training helps members gain new and valuable skills that can be directly applied to their professional lives. In addition, AmeriCorps also equips its members with the necessary tools to become change agents in their communities by providing lessons on poverty and capacity building.
In the state of Virginia, AmeriCorps VISTA members have played a critical role in the fight against homelessness. Under the Virginia Housing Alliance, members have served in a variety of ways and at different levels. Some support the efforts of local planning groups, such as the New River Community Action Coalition, or the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care. While others serve in specific agencies like Homeward, HomeAgain, and St. Joseph’s Villa. Since being integrated into local organizations, AmeriCorps VHA Vistas have made a significant impact within these organizations. According to the VHA VISTA Project website, VISTAS have:
• Established a triage assessment tool/process to effectively target rapid re-housing resources
• Developed a comprehensive program guide of local homeless services and providers to assist in development of the coordinated assessment system
• Gathered information, assisted with CoC planning and composed narrative responses related to the state funding application
• And launched two 100 Day Challenges to house veterans experiencing homelessness
VISTAs not only contribute to the administrative side of community service but also help build valuable partnerships between their agencies and the community. As someone who is currently serving as a VISTA, I can truly say that this program has supplied me with an invaluable experience to make a lasting impact on my community. I’ve learned to organize and manage projects while simultaneously cultivating relationships within the community I serve. The professional and social development gained through this position has given me the knowledge I need to succeed in non-profit and in human services. I recommend the program to anyone looking to give back to their community while learning and growing professionally. In fact, the Virginia Housing Alliance is currently seeking two more VISTAs to join! We invited you to look on the VHA VISTA project site to find out about these new openings!
And if your looking into ways to get involved with HomeAgain, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by checking our page: http://homeagainrichmond.org/volunteers/
Blog post by Kenya Lee.