Many of you, you are thinking, a what? I don’t get it, don’t you work for Habitat? What do you mean you volunteer?
Confusion is the response I often get when I tell people that I work/volunteer at Habitat. I want to shed the light on what the VISTA program is and my thoughts on how it is changing the face of service.
Technical Definition: VISTA is a program of the AmeriCorps which is a program of Corporation of National and Community Service (CNCS). CNCS is government program that encourages and supports community service. That is where AmeriCorps VISTA comes in – VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America. This is a one year program, where the VISTA member (me!) serves at a particular not for profit organization for one year. We are paid a small living stipend that is equivalent to 110% of the poverty level in the area we serve. During that year our aim is to Fight Poverty through indirect service and capacity building!
VISTAs are doing some amazing stuff- in March of 2010, the 45th anniversary of the program, a resolution was passed:
The resolution honors VISTAs’s work on diverse poverty-related issues such as health care, technology, crime/recidivism, housing, and literacy. The resolution also highlights these numbers:
- 6,500 VISTAs serve each year
- Annually, VISTAs bring in $100 million in cash and in-kind donations to their organizations
- Also each year, VISTAs recruit 1 million volunteers who engage in 10 million hours of volunteer service.”
What does VISTA mean to me?
The Bad: It is hard living at the poverty line, and getting used to how a non-profit works – as a full time volunteer. Not to say this is bad – but with the amount of debt Americans are facing, better paying positions should be a priority. Most of the 7,000 VISTAs qualify for food stamps, which many use. I think this is taking money and food away from families and people who really do need them – and don’t have means to get food otherwise (often these are the same people we serve). Most VISTAs have bachelor’s degrees (if not a graduate degree) who should be able to get jobs and not live off the government.
The Good: It encourages me to see people forgoing the “American Dream” of big jobs and big money and trying their hand at service. I love that people of all ages are taking a year off and exploring a world of non-profits. I also love the amount of VISTAs that stay involved in nonprofits as employees, volunteers, and board members even after their VISTA year. Plus the experience and training we receive make us better citizens and employees in our communities.
My hope is that VISTA continues to encourage service at home – which is needed. And that we continue to fight poverty with a passion.
**If you are about to graduate, want to take a year off, or looking for experience (no matter what your age), check out www.americorps.gov for opportunities to serve all over the United States (including Chattanooga).
- Mindy B, AmeriCorps VISTA