VISTA Sponsor Handbook

This document addresses roles, responsibilities and expectations for VISTA supervisors. Many of these topics are covered in greater detail on the VISTA Campus. Throughout this resource, links to more information or best practice will be provided when available for each topic. Use the navigation on the left to explore this manual.

Letter from the Director of AmeriCorps VISTA

Dear VISTA Supervisor:

AmeriCorps VISTA is committed to providing ladders of economic opportunity for more Americans to escape the grip of poverty. I, and many before me, have been inspired by the sacrifice and spirit of service and idealism common to VISTAs and the organizations that sponsor them.

As a VISTA supervisor, your role is critical to the success of our program. This manual, combined with the initial VISTA supervisors’ training, aims to provide you with a solid understanding of your important role and of how you can help enhance the service of the VISTAs assigned to your project. My hope is that you will use the manual as a reference document and, as warranted, you will contact your local CNCS State Office to discuss issues and share successes.

On behalf of our VISTA family, thank you for the important role you play in bringing the vision of VISTA into reality.

Best wishes,

Eileen Conoboy
Acting Director, AmeriCorps VISTA

Types of Sponsors & Supervisors

Intermediary Sponsor

An Intermediary sponsor is often called “project supervisor.” They completed the application to host VISTAs and their agency is the lead agency. They have the primary responsibility for management of the project, including reporting requirements, but the day-to-day responsibility of supervising the VISTAs rests with sub-site supervisors. Intermediary sponsors inform sub-site supervisors of their responsibilities to both their organization and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

Single-Site Supervisor

A single-site supervisor is responsible for project management (including reporting) and day-to-day management of VISTAs. Single-sites have the same responsibilities as intermediaries except they don’t have sub-site responsibilities.

Sub-Site Supervisor

A sub-site supervisor is responsible for day-to-day supervision and coaching of their VISTAs. Sub-site supervisors must notify the intermediary project supervisor immediately of any change in a VISTA's service status, including a VISTA leaving service early, change of site address, etc. The sub- site supervisor also must immediately report any issues that develop regarding the VISTA's performance or conduct.

As the intermediary sponsor designated by your organization, you are responsible for managing VISTA resources and providing the support necessary to achieve project goals. You have both project management and member management and support responsibilities. Specifics will be provided for each area.

This diagram illustrates the different types of sponsoring organizations and supervisors.

cncs organizational chart

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Supervisor Orientation

The VISTA program provides Supervisor Orientation for all those who directly supervise VISTA members, including supervisors at single-site projects, sub-site supervisors, and those responsible for oversight of an intermediary or multi-site VISTA project. Supervisors are required to attend a pre-event webinar and a three day in-person Supervisor Orientation, ideally three months before their VISTAs attend Pre-Service Orientation (PSO). When a VISTA supervisor is replaced, the new supervisor must also attend Supervisor Orientation. You will receive information about enrolling in orientation from your CNCS State Office.

The orientation aims to provide essential information for successfully recruiting, supporting and managing your VISTA project and member(s).

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

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Project Management Responsibilities

As the project supervisor designated by your organization, you are responsible for managing VISTA resources and providing the support necessary to achieve project goals. You also play an important role in the success of the project and in linking your sponsoring organization with CNCS and VISTA.

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Progress Monitoring & Reporting

Intermediary supervisors and single-site supervisors should be engaged in continuous monitoring of progress. Monitoring and oversight include assessing how well the project is being implemented and whether or not the project is on track to achieve its goals.

VISTA Project Progress Report (PPRs)

VISTA Project Sponsors are required to submit a Progress Report to the CNCS State Office quarterly for first-year and semiannually thereafter, unless otherwise specified by the CNCS State Office.

The purpose of the report is to track the project's progress against the goals outlined in the VISTA Project Plan, and to update the CNCS State Office on the project's challenges and successes. The Progress Report also helps CNCS and the sponsor to be accountable to stakeholders, identify technical assistance needs, reassess the project and make any necessary adjustments, and build a cumulative project record for future reference.

The progress report is filled out and submitted in eGrants. A printable pdf version is available on the CNCS Website or from your CNCS State Office.

The “Narrative” section provides you the opportunity to describe your challenges, training needs, and other accomplishments not covered under the previous sections. This section also asks you to describe your partnerships and collaborations, as well as the efforts you have made to move your project toward sustainability.

Once the CNCS State Program Officer reviews the submitted report, they will provide feedback via eGrants. The feedback will include any guidance on administrative procedures, or revisions to project plans, necessary corrections or issues that need to be addressed, along with a timeframe for completion of outstanding items.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resource:

Federal Financial Report (FFR)

CNCS requires a federal financial report to be submitted annually for projects that receive a federal grant. Reporting takes place in eGrants.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

VISTA Progress Report Supplement (VPRS)

VISTA sponsors are required to submit the VPRS in eGrants on an annual basis. Reports are due on October 31st for the previous fiscal year (Oct 1 – Sept 30).

Each VISTA sponsor is expected to report only on the items that are applicable to their project. For those items that do not apply, enter a zero:

  • Number of community volunteers recruited and/or managed
  • Number of organizations implementing three or more effective volunteer management practices
  • Number of staff and community volunteers who received training
  • Number of organizations that completed community assessment
  • Number of service hours contributed by community volunteers
  • Number of organizations more effective, additional activities, new systems or processes
  • Dollar value of cash/in-kind resources leveraged

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

Informal Communication About Accomplishments and Activities

Your CNCS State Office wants to hear regularly about the accomplishments of your VISTAs and your project’s work in the community. The CNCS State Office is required to submit a monthly report to CNCS/VISTA Headquarters and will include accomplishment information you provide in these reports. VISTA may then use this information for congressional office updates and press releases to national media outlets.

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Site Visits

Site visits, conducted by the CNCS State Office staff to monitor and support the sponsoring organization, are designed to meet specific needs, enhance project effectiveness, deliver technical assistance, and support and recognize project successes. Site visits are a method of exchanging information; ensuring compliance with general administrative, financial, and program requirements; providing technical assistance and guidance as needed; and assisting with project promotion.

The CNCS State Office makes site visits to projects in accordance with annual program guidance and state plans. During the site visit, the CNCS State Office reviews the project for administrative effectiveness, compliance, and quality. CNCS headquarters staff may also make project site visits. Staff members monitor projects according to three categories:

  • Sponsors and supervisors and their roles
    • VISTA recruitment
    • VISTA assignment
    • On-site orientation
    • In-service training
    • Career development assistance for VISTAs
    • Administration, including provision of supervision, transportation, and other support
    • Assessment of need for CNCS support and training
  • Compliance
    • Programmatic
    • Fiscal
    • Legal and regulatory
  • Community impact and self-sufficiency
    • Accomplishments
    • Troubleshooting and mechanisms for overcoming challenges
    • Resources generated
    • Sustainability: how the community is going to take over when the VISTA is gone

CNCS may also conduct a fiscal review or audit if a project received a grant.

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Project Continuation

VISTA projects are generally eligible to apply for up to two continuation periods. Each continuation period is for one year. The process for a VISTA project to attain continuation begins four months (120 days) prior to the end of the current project year. At this time the sponsoring organization completes a continuation application in eGrants and must submit it no later than 90 days before the current project year ends.

The continuation process begins with a thorough review of the project's accomplishments to date, and concludes with a decision by the CNCS State Office to continue or close the project at the end of the current project year. If the project has been successful in meeting its goals and building sustainability, continuation is highly probable; however, a continuation is not guaranteed. The CNCS State Office reviews the application within 15 business days of receipt or at least 75 days prior to the end of the Memorandum of Agreement.

The process for reviewing a continuation proposal is similar to the review process for an initial project application, but with several important differences. The CNCS State Office reviews the application for adherence to VISTA project guidelines and the state's annual plan for project development.

In addition, the CNCS State Office reviews the following aspects of the project:

  • Previous year's accomplishments, which must be included in the continuation proposal.
  • Long-range plans, especially regarding project sustainability, which must be discussed in the continuation proposal
  • Project progress reports, monitoring reports, biweekly Sponsor Verification Forms, and feedback from VISTAs to ensure the project is making substantial progress in meeting goals and objectives.
  • Level of recruitment and retention of VISTAs.

The CNCS State Office bases the decision to continue a project on the following conditions:

  • VISTA resources are available.
  • The project’s progress toward achieving capacity-building and self-sufficiency goals.
  • The project’s performance  in meeting its goals and objectives.
  • The project’s compliance with provisions contained in the Memorandum of Agreement and other applicable guidelines and regulations.

Once the continuation application is approved, the sponsoring organization and the CNCS State Office sign a new Memorandum of Agreement for the new project period.

Criteria for Approval

The following criteria, as applicable, are considered in determining whether to continue VISTA projects after the third year, subject to the availability of funds:

  • The intermediary sponsor agrees to cost-share a significant portion of the VISTAs.
  • The sponsor acts as an intermediary organization and changes the sub-site organizations according to the three-year period.
  • The sponsor demonstrates an extenuating community need, such as being the only sponsor available in a high-poverty area for the VISTA project, and more time is needed to expand anti-poverty capacity.
  • The extension would not create or increase a dependancy on VISTA resources.

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eGrants Account Management

Sponsoring organizations are required to use the eGrants system from application to closeout. The following activities take place in eGrants:

  • Submitting and tracking grant concept papers and applications
  • Negotiating and awarding Memoranda of Agreement and grants Managing Memoranda of Agreement and grants including processing amendments and continuations
  • Creating, submitting and editing your recruitment listings
  • Selecting applicants and searching for applicants
  • Approve assignment-related transportation forms if your member is driving for service-related purposes and is involved in an accident (V-81)
  • Financial Status and Progress Reporting

There are many resources available to help you use the eGrants System, including an eGrants help desk through the National Service Hotline.

For more information on this topic, visiting the following campus resources:

Change of Project Address Notification

Sponsors/supervisors must immediately notify the CNCS State Office in eGrants of a change in the project address to ensure timely delivery of correspondence.

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CNCS and VISTA Sponsor Media

Intermediary sponsor responsibilities also include acknowledging VISTAs and CNCS. Legislators and community members want to know about the impact of their federal dollars.  We encourage you to recognize the good work of the VISTAs, and CNCS as a funder, on your website, in newspaper articles, during radio and television presentations and at events. In addition to acknowledging your relationship with VISTA and CNCS in writing, you can also include the AmeriCorps VISTA logo on your website.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

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Managing and Training Sub-site Supervisors

Managing Sub-site Supervisors

If you are an intermediary sponsor that has sub-sites housed in different organizations, you are responsible for informing them of their responsibilities to both CNCS and your organization. The Memorandum of Agreement between the primary sponsor and CNCS requires the primary sponsor and all sub-recipients to enter into a sub-recipient agreement often called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This sub-recipient agreement is often modeled after your organization’s Memorandum of Agreement with CNCS.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

Training Sub-sites and Intermediary Supervisors

Intermediary and sub-site supervisors should attend a VISTA Supervisor Orientation. Until sub-site supervisors attend a VISTA Supervisor Orientation, intermediary sponsors are responsible for making sure their sub-site supervisors are oriented to their VISTA project, roles, and responsibilities. Topics should include: the mission and purpose of VISTA; the terms, conditions & benefits of VISTA service; strategies for recruiting, orienting, coaching and supervising members; and guiding end of service transitions.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

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Recruiting VISTAs and VISTA Leaders

 

Single-site supervisors, and in some cases sub-site supervisors, are responsible for recruiting qualified and committed VISTA members and/or VISTA Leaders to fill the VISTA position(s) at their VISTA project. Sub-site supervisors should check with their intermediary sponsor for specifics about how recruitment of VISTA members and/or VISTA Leaders will be handled.

The CNCS State Office is responsible for final approval of all applicants. Supervisors must submit their recommendations in the national recruitment system in eGrants, but the applicant is not guaranteed to become a VISTA. The CNCS State Office must approve the application, and the applicant must successfully complete the Pre-Service Orientation (PSO). Final selection authority remains with the CNCS State Office.

Recruitment Roles and Responsibilities

The recruitment tasks are broken up into five steps:

  • Plan – Determine required skills, develop clear position description(s) and develop a strategy to find them
  • Market – Advertise and publicize the open position(s)
  • Screen – Manage applications and identify committed and qualified applicants    
  • Interview – Get to know top applicants and assess their fit for the position
  • Select – Make recommendation(s) to the State Office for approval
     

stages of recruitment

To access extensive resources on these stages of recruitment, visit the following Campus resources:

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Using eGrants in the Recruitment Process

In addition to submitting your recommendation to the State Office in eGrants, you are expected to use the system for the following:

  • Create Opportunity Listings and VADs for each approved project
  • View applications and references for VISTA applicants
  • Select or reject applicants (Note: to do this, you'll click the "Sponsor Recommendation / Rejection" tab on an applicant's application)
  • Approve assignment-related transportation forms if your member is driving for service-related purposes and is involved in an accident (V-81)

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

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Application and Selection Process

The following steps outline the general process of how an individual seeks out a VISTA position, and the supervisor’s role in the process:

  1. A potential member creates an application in My AmeriCorps and submits it to the project sponsor.
  2. The sponsor reviews the application. If the applicant seems qualified for the position, the sponsor interviews the candidate and checks references.
  3. The sponsor recommends selection of the applicant for the project via the online recruitment system in eGrants.  This is done by completing the “Sponsor Recommendation / Rejection” tab of the application, selecting the candidate, and linking to the approved VAD and service site location.
  4. The applicant accepts the position through MyAmeriCorps.  (Please note that all of the above steps should be completed at least 40 days prior to Pre-Service Orientation.)
  5. The CNCS State Office approves (or disapproves*) the applicant via eGrants.
  6. CNCS invites the candidate to Pre-Service Orientation (PSO). This invitation must occur a minimum of 35 days before the start of the PSO.
  7. Upon receiving the invitation, the candidate should quickly complete the Travel Request Profile (TRP) in My AmeriCorps.  This indicates how the candidate will travel to PSO or relocate, and any special dietary or medical needs.  Sponsors should help facilitate the rapid submission of this form.
  8. Prior to attending PSO, the candidate completes their required online training through the VISTA Campus (the Terms and Conditions Course and Civil Rights and Responsibilities), and fills out a number of required forms in My AmeriCorps.
  9. The candidate attends and successfully completes PSO and is sworn in as VISTA.
  10. VISTA arrives immediately on site and begins service.

*You should maintain a reserve of additional applicants in the event your preferred candidate is not approved, or does not successfully complete Pre-Service Orientation. To limit such occurrences, recommend only those applicants that you regard as highly motivated and well-suited for VISTA service for approval by the CNCS State Office.

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Minimum Standards of Eligibility/Selection Criteria

Many factors help determine whether an applicant, recruited either nationally or locally, is suited to a specific VISTA position. Applicants must meet the following minimum standards of eligibility.

  • Be at least 18 years old upon entering VISTA training. There is no upper age limit.
  • Be U.S. citizens or have permanent resident status.
  • Not be listed in the National Sex Offender Registry database as having been convicted of sex-related crimes.
  • Be willing to submit fingerprints for a criminal history background check.
  • Be in a position to offer full-time service for one year without regard to regular working hours.
  • Be able to relate previous education, training, military, or work experience, and demonstrate other relevant skills or interests necessary to perform a specific VISTA assignment.
  • Be willing, to the maximum extent practicable, to live among and at the economic level of the low-income people served by VISTA projects.
  • Understand that VISTAs serve on a full-time basis. Therefore, there are special conditions that a VISTA must meet if they decide to hold a part-time job, enroll in school, or are subjects of legal proceedings (civil or criminal) that may consume time needed for VISTA assignments. VISTA service cannot be used to satisfy service requirements of parole or probation.

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Prohibition on Nepotism

To avoid actual or apparent favoritism in the operation of a VISTA project, the AmeriCorps VISTA program prohibits certain VISTA placement and assignment arrangements, as follows:

VISTA Members cannot be placed or assigned to a VISTA project site*, if the VISTA is:

  • In the immediate family (e.g., spouse, domestic partner, parent or guardian whether by blood or adoption, child whether by blood or adoption) of a project site staff member or a project site’s board of directors
  • A close relative, whether by blood or adoption, (e.g., grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, first cousin) of a project site staff member or a project site’s board of directors

A project site employee is prohibited from holding a VISTA project supervisory position, if she/he is:

  • In the immediate family (e.g., spouse, domestic partner, parent or guardian whether by blood or adoption, child whether by blood or adoption) of any CNCS program official responsible for the AmeriCorps VISTA project or any project site employee who holds supervisory authority over him/her
  • A close relative, whether by blood or adoption, (e.g., grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, first cousin) of any CNCS program official responsible for the AmeriCorps VISTA project or any project site employee who holds supervisory authority over him/her

* A VISTA sponsoring organization may operate a VISTA project out of a single project site, or multiple sites. When a “project site” is referenced, the prohibited arrangement is limited to that particular site, rather than a project as a whole.

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What to Communicate to Applicants

During the interview, you are expected to present an accurate picture of serving as a VISTA by sharing essential terms and conditions including:

  • This is a full-time service for one year without regard to regular working hours.
  • The specific amount of the living allowance for the area where they will serve, and benefit information including the VISTA healthcare benefit options, end-of-service benefits, etc.
  • VISTA members may have outside part-time employment as long as it does not conflict with their service nor conflict with any applicable law or AmeriCorps VISTA program requirements or policies. VISTA members cannot be an employee or contractor of the sponsor or project and they must receive supervisor approval for outside work.
  • Also, VISTAs can’t be enrolled full time in school (part time is ok with certain criteria met), or be subjects of legal proceedings (civil or criminal) that may consume time needed for VISTA assignments. VISTA service cannot be used to satisfy service requirements of parole or probation.
  • Reiteration of the VISTA Criminal History Check policy.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

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Relocating VISTA Candidates

VISTAs relocating more than 50 miles for service are eligible for a Relocation Travel Allowance and $550 for settling in. CNCS State offices need to be notified by the sponsor so this information can be relayed to the VISTA Member Support Unit. VISTAs will be notified of their travel routing and reimbursment up to 3 weeks prior to PSO, and should not make arrangements or relocate prior to their notification.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resource

VISTA Travel Fact Sheet

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Service-Related Transportation & Mileage Reimbursement

Sponsors are responsible for reimbursing VISTAs for on-site service-related travel as specified in the project application and Memorandum of Agreement, or for providing other means of transportation.  When interviewing applicants, make sure they are aware of an service-related travel required, and whether a vehicle is required and whether or not they must provide the vehicle.

The AmeriCorps VISTA Member Handbook chapter on Service-Related Transportation goes into greater detail about the topic.

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Health Care Benefits for VISTAs

At the start of the VISTA term, VISTA members complete a Member Enrollment Form online at americorpsvista.imglobal.com to enroll in one of these options.

VISTA sponsors should make applicants aware of this information during the interview process so they are prepared to purchase health insurance if they are required to under the ACA.

Because there are differences in how the states administer the ACA, as well as individual variables that determine which requirements apply, each individual needs to assess their personal circumstances, determine how the ACA applies to them, and determine if VISTA is the right fit for them at this time.

VISTA Sponsors may provide a healthcare subsidy to off-set healthcare costs. They must provide it in the form of a reimbursement (i.e., they must document that the member has incurred costs) and must use private funds (not federal). They may also include VISTAs on their organization’s health insurance plan, but cannot identify the VISTAs as an employee for any reason. Sponsors cannot reimburse VISTAs who do not maintain insurance and are required to make the individual responsibility payment. Talk to your CNCS State Office for more information on these policies.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

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Criminal History Checks

CNCS must take an applicant's criminal history into account when determining the suitability and fit of an applicant to a particular position/program. Making such a determination can be complex. Supervisors’ role in the process includes the following:

  1. Review an application for disclosure of a criminal history and discuss the history with the applicant during the interview.
  2. Ensure the applicant’s criminal history has been accurately reported on the application.
  3. Inform all applicants that they must submit to an FBI criminal history check and search on the National Sex Offender Registry database.  If the applicant is found in the NSOR database, they cannot serve as a VISTA.
  4. Make recommendations to the CNCS State Office.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

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VISTA Assignment Description (VAD)

The VISTA Assignment Description (VAD) is developed by the sponsoring organization during the project application process and submitted in eGrants.  Each VISTA must have his/her own VAD.
 
VADs are used during the recruitment process, to guide and support your members during the service year, and as an assessment tool to measure success. The VADs include activities that, taken together, make up the milestones identified in your Project Plan.  The VAD can be adapted as the project evolves and the strengths of your VISTA become apparent. Significant changes should be discussed with, and approved by, your contact at the CNCS State Office.

VAD flowchart illustration

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

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Member Management

Site supervisors, sub-site supervisors and, often, intermediary supervisors will oversee the VISTA's assignment and provide day-to-day supervision, coaching, and support.

Supervising a VISTA Versus a Regular Employee

Supervising a VISTA is different from supervising a local, paid employee. VISTAs are volunteers, and they commit themselves to serving for one year in the community and to the goals of the project. They have a community development and capacity-building focus to their project assignment. Other staff in your organization may not recognize the difference.

One of the challenges of having VISTAs is ensuring that everyone who interacts with them understands they are with your organization for a very specific purpose and not as “general help.” At the same time, VISTAs are subject to the same or similar working conditions as their colleagues and should not be exempted from following the rules of conduct that everyone else must follow. Your role as supervisor is to support the integration of VISTAs into your organization and the community, while at the same time giving appropriate feedback to them on their service performance and appropriate community involvement.

In planning for the support of a VISTA, you should consider all aspects of their assignment including:

  • The day-to-day tasks
  • The relationship of these tasks to the work of your organization's staff members
  • The staff's understanding of the VISTA's role
  • The target community's expectations for the project and the VISTA
  • The resources, facilities (e.g., reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities), and supplies needed for the VISTA to successfully complete his or her assignment
  • The VISTA Project Plan approved by the CNCS State Office

Managing VISTA Leaders

VISTA Leaders are assigned regionally or to larger projects to assist sponsoring organizations and VISTAs in achieving their project objectives. They are former VISTAs, AmeriCorps members, or Peace Corps volunteers who demonstrated exemplary skills and leadership in community service. They are not permitted to perform administrative or supervisory functions for their sponsoring organizations or CNCS State Offices.

Leaders do not supervise VISTAs. The Leader's role is to coordinate and assist VISTAs in communications and performing their service. The Leader is not an intermediary between the supervisor and the VISTA program. Moreover, he or she is not responsible for the oversight and guidance of VISTAs — that role rests with the supervisor and the CNCS State Office.
With a mutual understanding of the parameters of the Leader's role, the Leader may very effectively complement the role of the supervisor. The assignment description is a guide to the Leader's service goals and objectives, but determining how the Leader's assignment dovetails with your work as supervisor and how and when to best communicate requires discipline and focus between the two of you early on and then throughout the year.

VISTAs must also understand the distinctions between a site-supervisor and Leader, and know whom to turn to for what. Co-facilitating a discussion with the VISTAs, and perhaps providing a reference sheet about procedures and points of contact, are effective methods to pass this information to the VISTAs.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

VISTAs and VISTA Leader Status

Although your organization and you, as the supervisor, provide day-to-day direction and guidance to the VISTAs, they are not employees of the sponsoring organization. You should expect, however, VISTAs to act in a professional manner and conduct themselves in accordance with the workplace norms of your organization.

VISTAs are also not employees of CNCS, except for very specific purposes (see “Federal Employees' Compensation Act” section in Chapter 14 of the VISTA Member Handbook), but CNCS retains authority for their acceptance, replacement, and removal.

Administrative Support

VISTAs should have access to all the materials that are needed to complete their projects. You are expected to provide VISTAs the use of a computer, printer, Internet access, e-mail access, consumable supplies, telephone, copier, and fax-just as you would for any staff member. CNCS does not provide the equipment or supplies required by VISTAs for their project assignment.

Settling comfortably into a new community may be one of the most difficult challenges that VISTAs face. Hence, one of your most important roles as a supervisor is to introduce the VISTAs to their new community and help them begin building their identity with your project. Plan to introduce VISTAs to the community using media and letters of introduction to local officials. For instance, provide them with business cards for your organization, and welcome and recognize members as VISTAs on your website and/or blog, in print and broadcast publicity, and at public meetings and conferences.

VISTAs often participate in special days of service or service events, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; Make a Difference Day; AmeriCorps Week; and National Volunteer Week. VISTA supervisors are expected to allow and support their VISTA’s participation in these events.

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Housing Assistance

As a sponsor, you are requested to assist VISTA members in locating housing within the community they are assigned; however, your organization is not responsible for securing housing for them.

Each VISTA member receives a bi-weekly Living Allowance to assist with covering housing, food, utilities, and other living costs. The CNCS State Office can provide additional information, but living allowances are connected to the poverty rate for the county in which the VISTA serves.

Some VISTAs may need to relocate to a new community to serve. VISTA members who are authorized by AmeriCorps VISTA to relocate receive a $550 settling-in allowance to help with any set up costs, e.g., utilities and deposits. The one-time $550 settling-in allowance is only given if the VISTA member is relocating to serve a 12-month term. You and/or the VISTA member should direct questions concerning the allowance to the CNCS State Office.

Housing Assistance: What You Can Do

Below is a list of suggestions related to assisting your VISTAs with housing:

  • Offer to house them until they find a place that is affordable and convenient to their project location.
  • Keep your ears open, before they arrive, for inexpensive rental opportunities.
  • Help them identify which neighborhoods are safe, affordable, and appropriate.
  • Let them know about community papers or bulletin boards that list apartment openings.
  • Drive them through affordable apartment complexes and neighborhoods that could be options for them.
  • See if other VISTAs on your project or on a project in town need a roommate.
  • Think creatively. Do you know someone who has a large house and is willing to rent out a room?
  • Suggest that VISTAs tell their landlord or property manager that they are VISTAs who receive only a small living allowance. Some landlords may discount their rent or reduce the amount of security deposits.

VISTAs may accept offers of free or low-cost housing from community members, local organizations, educational institutions, or sponsoring organizations. Some examples of housing that VISTAs may accept include:

  • Unused free housing space offered by a community member because he or she is proud to have a VISTA in the community
  • A vacant apartment over the shop area offered by a local business owner
  • Reduced-rate housing offered by a national housing company to volunteers who serve in a given community and VISTAs who meet the eligibility requirements
  • Free or low-cost housing provided by a local, state, or federal government agency in areas with limited housing opportunities
  • Housing rented by a sponsoring organization on the VISTA's behalf
  • A portion of existing space the sponsoring organization already owns or rents

Housing Assistance: What You Can’t Do

Sponsoring organizations, or others, may not offer money directly to a VISTA to supplement the VISTA's living allowance, or to pay rent, utilities, or other costs. Nor may VISTAs accept, via third-party, payments for utilities or housing costs other than for rent.

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Orientation and Training

Once in the community, VISTAs will need to continue to improve their skills, knowledge, and abilities to help them serve the community better. Trainings may be as formal as workshop sessions organized by sponsoring organizations or as informal as self-initiated evening study at the local library. Training for VISTA members is a shared responsibility among CNCS staff, the sponsoring organization, the supervisor, and the VISTA.

Chart of Blended Learning and Development for VISTAs

Member training and development is divided into three phases: Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) prior to the arrival of VISTAs at the project site; On-Site Orientation and Training, facilitated by the sponsor and supervisor; and In-Service Training, provided by various organizations and offered in various forms and venues.

VISTA Campus

Additional funds for in-service training are not available; however, the VISTA program develops and maintains the VISTA Campus, an online learning site that addresses a wide range of member needs.

Members can apply to participate in college-level courses offered through the VISTA Blend, pursue self-directed learning through the VISTA Campus, and attend local training opportunities they find.

Training needs beyond the VISTA Campus are the responsibility of the sponsor. All in-service training must be approved by CNCS.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

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Pre-Service Orientation (PSO)

All VISTA candidates must complete a Pre-Service Orientation (PSO). The intermediary supervisor will work with the CNCS State Office to get VISTA candidates enrolled in a PSO.

VISTA members attend PSO at the start of their service at your organization. New VISTAs are sworn-in during the PSO to begin their service year. 

Pre-Service Orientation is offered in two forms: a 3½-day face-to-face training and a bended format that combines online learning with the On-Site Orientation and Training. For those who attend a face-to-face PSO, CNCS pays for the VISTA's travel to PSO and to the project site. If the VISTA is approved to travel by air, train, or bus, the CNCS will purchase the ticket for the VISTA.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

Travel to PSO and Site: Relocation Policy

Once an applicant has been approved to travel to Pre-Service Orientation, you will need to discuss with the applicant his/her preferred method of transportation. If you require the VISTA to have a vehicle available during the VISTA's year of service, then CNCS can reimburse the VISTA for mileage to the PSO and then to the project site. The reimbursement rate is available at the CNCS State Office.

If a personal vehicle is not required for the VISTA's year of service and the VISTA chooses to drive instead of fly, the VISTA will receive a reimbursement at the government rate for a one-way airline ticket. Once the VISTA candidate communicates the preferred mode of travel to CNCS, a representative of the VISTA Member Support Unit will contact the candidate to make travel arrangements to the next PSO.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resource:

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On-Site Orientation and Training

Immediately following the PSO, sponsoring organizations are responsible for planning and providing each VISTA with an on-site orientation and training. The orientation, which should take place at the project site during the initial weeks of a VISTA's arrival, provides the opportunity for VISTAs to learn more about their sponsor organization, become acquainted with the community, and gain the knowledge and skill they need to be successful on the project.

The On-Site Orientation and Training (OSOT) is a supervisory facet that ensures the VISTA(s) understand and are prepared to carry out their assignments, and helps identify areas where training or coaching is required.

There are a number of resources on designing and delivering member orientations in the Orienting Your VISTA section of the VISTA Campus.

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Monitor Attendance and Use of Leave Days

You are responsible for monitoring your VISTA’s attendance at their service site as well as approving or declining use of leave. You must track the number of leave days used by each VISTA, making sure leave use does not exceed the maximum number of days for each type of leave.

VISTA members are eligible for Personal leave (10 days), Medical leave (10 days),  Emergency Leave (5 days), Family Medical Leave, Parental leave (10 days), as well as some leave extensions.  The VISTA Member Handbook has an extensive chapter on Leave Benefits to consult for specifics.

Sponsor Verification Form

The Sponsor Verification Form is a document that lists the active VISTAs assigned to a project and their end-of-service dates. To comply with audit requirements, the sponsor or site supervisor must certify the Sponsor Verification Form. Seven days before each payroll run, sponsors will receive an email notification alerting them that a Sponsor Verification Form is ready for them to certify. The project supervisor must login to eGrants, navigate to the Portal, and complete and certify the Sponsor Verification Form.

Regular submission of this form by supervisors is critical to avoid overpayments to VISTAs who have terminated service early or have already completed their term of service.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

Emergency Leave Fund

If an immediate family member (spouse, parent, sibling, child, grandparent, or guardian) of a VISTA becomes critically ill or dies, and if in the rare event that CNCS cannot provide a prepaid ticket in advance of up to five approved emergency leave days, the sponsoring organization furnishes the needed travel assistance. The assistance includes advancing up to $500 from the sponsor’s own funds to the VISTA. Such advances, however, should be authorized (via telephone) by the CNCS State Office.

Both the sponsor and the VISTA must complete and sign the VISTA Payment Voucher form in the My AmeriCorps portal to record receipt of any emergency travel advance. The sponsor forwards the form to the CNCS State Office for processing so that the sponsor is reimbursed for the advance.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resource:

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Supervisor-VISTA Member Relationship

Day-to-day supervision, coaching, and support are responsibilities of the supervisor who works directly with the VISTA(s). Supervisors are advised to have weekly check-in meetings with their members. If conflict arises, the first approach is to address issues between you and your VISTA at the project level. The supervisor should support the VISTA to the best of their abilities to meet their project and development goals. If there is a performance issue, measures taken to improve performance should be documented.

The CNCS State Office is available to provide assistance with conflict between you and your VISTA member. Contact them directly with questions or for assistance.

VISTA members have the right to file a grievance. For more information consult the AmeriCorps VISTA Member Handbook.

member-supervisor relationship

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

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Prohibited Activities

VISTA members and Leaders are not allowed to participate in certain activities during their year of service, such as political and religious activities. Additionally, there are some restrictions on the use of social media, educational activities, and employment.

If you learn about your VISTA(s) participating in any of these activities, you are expected to let the VISTA know that their particular actions are prohibited and that continuing to participate in these activities can result in the VISTA’s removal from the service position. If the activity/behavior persists, you should contact your CNCS State Office.

Both VISTA supervisors and VISTA members are prohibited from discriminating against others on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, political affiliation, marital or parental status, or military service.

Additionally, sexual harassment is also prohibited. The CNCS State Office should be contacted immediately after reasonable steps have been taken to address the situation.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

Safety of the VISTA

Supervisors and their organizations are responsible for structuring assignments so that the VISTA's health and safety are not jeopardized.  Supervisors must not require VISTA to perform duties that would cause them to sustain injuries.

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Service Extension or Change of Status

If your VISTA needs an extension of his/her service term to complete the VAD or if you want your VISTA to re-enroll for another term of service, contact your State Office to discuss the process. Similarly, if your VISTA extends a term of service and then wants to complete a full, one-year term, you need to go through your State Office.

Change of Status

Site Supervisors must report any change in the status of VISTAs immediately (within 24 hours) to the CNCS State Office, such as leaving the project early, arrest, absence without leave, hospitalization, and other extended absences. Sponsors should make sure to reflect a member’s absence/termination from the project on the Sponsor Verification Form to avoid continuance of living allowance payments.

VISTA’s Resignation/Early Termination

Within 24 hours, the supervisor/site-supervisor must report a VISTA's resignation from the project to the CNCS State Office. This action is critical to avoid overpayment of living allowance and other benefits. Ensure that the VISTA completes Part A of the Future Plans or Early Termination Request Form and indicates “resignation” in Part A, 7D of the form in the My AmeriCorps Portal.

The supervisor/site supervisor must complete Part B of the Future Plans or Early Termination Form and submit it to the CNCS State Office via the My AmeriCorps Portal.

Terminating a VISTA

VISTA Sponsors can request the removal of a member from their project, but not removal from the VISTA program.
If a supervisor wants to have a VISTA leave the project before his/her term of service is scheduled to end, the supervisor should contact the CNCS State Office prior to taking any action. The request for removal must be in writing and include a description of the corrective actions taken. You should be prepared to provide documentation and the reasoning behind the action. Only CNCS staff can terminate a VISTA.

There are times when, for a variety of reasons, the match between the member and project does not work out. Removal from a project allows the member to remain a VISTA, and serve in a new project.

For more information on this topic, visit the following Campus resources:

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Close of Service

Supervisor End of Service Checklist

Due DateWhoWhereItem or Activity
90 days before the member’s end-of-service dateMemberMy AmeriCorps WebsiteComplete Part A of the Future Plans Form.
90 days before the member’s end-of-service dateMemberMember contacts the VMSU via the National Service Hotline Website or 1-800-942-2677Submit any request to change their home of record (changes submitted less than 60 days prior to their end-of-service date may not be considered). All requests must be approved by the Director of the VISTA Member Support Unit (VMSU) .
90 days before the member’s end-of-service dateSupervisoreGrants Website

Complete Part B of Future Plans Form - VISTA Performance Evaluation

Conducts exit interview and evaluation of performance with the member. Make sure you and the member have certified your respective sections of the Future Plans Form. The CNCS State Office will complete Part C of Future Plans Form - Extension and Enrollment information.

Last three weeks of service termSupervisoreGrants WebsiteComplete Part B of the member's Future Plans Form in eGrants if you haven't already.
Last three weeks of service termMemberMy AmeriCorps WebsiteMember updates their forwarding mailing address in My AmeriCorps.
Last three weeks of service termMemberVISTA Member Support Unit via the National Service Hotline Website or 1-800-942-2677Member must submit their Volunteer Payment Voucher for their Close of Service Travel Reimbursement (if they initially relocated and their home of record is at least 50 miles from the project site). Payment of all travel reimbursements takes up to 8 weeks from the time the voucher is received at the VISTA Member Support Unit.
Last three weeks of service termSupervisoreGrants WebsiteCertify the member's status on the Sponsor Verification Form for their last pay period.

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Resources and Communication

VISTA sponsors have a wide range of individual and online resources, including support and technical assistance, available to help with project success and member support.

CNCS State Office

Each state has a designated CNCS State Office to help develop, manage and monitor VISTA programs in their state and often in other states for large and national projects. State Office staff also support supervision of your VISTA(s) and intervene in emergencies or difficult situations. Finally, CNCS State Office staff is also responsible for connecting you to the resources most appropriate to meet your needs.

Some states also have a page on the VISTA Campus for communicating with sponsors. Once logged in, click on “My State Office” from the dropdown menu and locate your State Office.

You can also contact your CNCS for National and Community Service State Office by phone.

VISTA Member Support Unit (VMSU) and National Service Hotline

The VISTA Member Support Unit (VMSU), contacted through the National Service Hotline, manages VISTA members’ service benefits.  A sponsor may contact the VMSU in support of a VISTA, but mainly VISTA members should contact them directly.  

The National Service Hotline is a place to find general CNCS and AmeriCorps program information, eGrants and the My AmeriCorps portal help, and some program specific inquiries.

VISTA Campus

The following resources will help provide you with a comprehensive view of your roles and responsibilities, as well as an overview of the VISTA program itself, and help you dive deeper into many of the topics covered in the supervisor manual.

Foundational Resources

These resources provide you with extensive information about the VISTA program, application process to get VISTA members, and policy and guidance for working with CNCS.

Resources About The Supervisor Role

In addition to resources listed in the various sections of this manual, these Campus resources provide an overview of a VISTA supervisor’s role.