Chapter 4: Training For AmeriCorps VISTA Members



Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] AmeriCorps VISTA training encompasses a range of activities and resources offered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and your sponsoring organization throughout your term of VISTA service, and includes professional development opportunities you seek out for yourself. During training, starting with Pre-Service Orientation (PSO), you will be challenged to take an active role in the process. The training experience is an opportunity for you to explore issues surrounding poverty, your community, and AmeriCorps VISTA programming; build community among your fellow VISTA members as well as with your sponsor; and to develop your professional and life skills.
Once at your site and in the community, you will need to continue to improve your skills, including your knowledge of national and local resources and your understanding of the attitudes that contribute to or inhibit effective working relationships. The training required may be as formal as workshop sessions organized by sponsoring organizations or webinars offered by the VISTA training team or as informal as self-initiated study at the local library. Training is a continuous process of capacity development and enhancement for an assignment in which you are required to provide much of the initiative and make many of the decisions.

Training Cycle Graphic

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Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) is the first formal stage in your learning process about the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Given the different needs of you, the learner, and deadlines set by the sponsors, VISTA offers two versions of PSO with two distinct curriculums to orient you to VISTA service.
The long-established method is an in-person model referred to as PSO or sometimes PSO "Classic". The alternative orientation is a virtual, distance learning model, referred to as Virtual Member Orientation (VMO). At PSO, VISTA members receive a three-and-a-half day orientation immediately before they begin service. The Virtual Member Orientation (VMO) incorporates self-directed online tutorials, facilitated webinars, onsite training (designed and implemented by the sponsor), and online tutorials to support your learning on site and in the community. 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] To successfully participate in and complete the VMO, you must have a high-school equivalence of English language proficiency, the ability to communicate verbally (speaking and hearing), access to a computer (laptop or desktop computer) with reliable internet connection, telephone service (VOIP, landline or cell phone service), and basic proficiency and comfort with computer-based, distance learning. 
To successfully participate in the PSO, you must be able to travel and dedicate three and a half days to intensive training.  Accommodation is made for dietary restrictions, physical demands, language translation (including ASL) and other circumstances.  
Both the PSO and VMO begin with a series of self-directed online tutorials that introduce you to the VISTA program, the benefits of serving, and the terms and conditions of VISTA service. This online learning is completed before you can attend PSO sessions or begin the VMO. 
All AmeriCorps VISTA candidates are required to participate in PSO or VMO before they begin service. The learning objectives of both orientation models include a basic knowledge and understanding of the following:
  • Mission and structure of the Corporation for National and Community Service
  • Philosophy and goals of the AmeriCorps VISTA program
  • AmeriCorps VISTA legal and administrative requirements
  • Terms, conditions, and benefits of your AmeriCorps VISTA service

The in-person model also addresses, in greater depth, the following:

  • Role of the CNCS State Office, the VISTA Member Support Unit, and the VISTA Training Unit
  • Role of the sponsoring organization, project work plan, and VISTA assignment description (VAD)
  • Your role in working with community organizations and low-income communities
  • Your role as an agent of sustainable development
  • Resource development and partnership building
At PSO, you are expected to attend all PSO sessions and act in a professional manner at all times. Failure to attend program sessions or successfully complete assignments and/or acting inappropriately, as determined by CNCS staff, may result in deselection from the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Family, friends, guests, and pets are not allowed in your hotel room or at the PSO site unless it has been approved in advance by VISTA. 
PSO is an opportunity for you and CNCS staff to make a final assessment of your qualifications and motivation for AmeriCorps VISTA service.  You take the oath of service on the last day of PSO and officially begin service if you and the CNCS staff members agree that it is appropriate.  In the VMO, however, you take the oath of service on the first day, during the first webinar session. Issues of suitability for service, therefore, are addressed over the initial weeks of service and throughout the service year.

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On-Site Orientation and Training (OSOT) is an extension of PSO. It takes place immediately after you report to your project site whether you have attended a PSO or VMO. Your sponsoring organization conducts the orientation, building on concepts presented during PSO. OSOT may continue for an extended period because it involves introducing you to the sponsoring organization, the local community, and your role within the community. OSOT plans are developed by the sponsoring organization and reviewed and approved by the CNCS State Office.
The objectives of OSOT are to provide a basic knowledge and understanding of the following:
  • Background, purpose, and structure of the sponsoring organization
  • Roles and responsibilities for you and other members within the organization
  • Roles and responsibilities of your supervisor that are related to AmeriCorps VISTA
  • Job responsibilities of your supervisor other than those associated with AmeriCorps VISTA
  • Schedules in order to establish regular meeting between you and the supervisor as well as other staff members
  • Personnel and attendance policies of the sponsoring organization, including use of equipment such as computers and the Internet
  • Specific member assignments and skills needed to accomplish tasks
  • Professional development resources available to you
  • Evaluation of the project’s progress by the sponsoring organization
  • Background of the local community and identification of community leaders
  • Nature of the low-income population served by the project
  • Potential resources that can be applied to achieve project goals

Moreover, following VMO, any topics that need to be discussed in greater depth, are addressed in the OSOT.


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Ongoing Member Training and Development is a term to capture learning opportunities that occur after PSO and OSOT that develop knowledge and skills needed to perform your assignment. These opportunities take place throughout your service: early on, such experience develops the knowledge and skills identified by you and your supervisor; later in service, the training may relate to your VAD, or life as a VISTA, or poverty and national socio-economic issues. 
The principles of AmeriCorps VISTA member training and development are that the learning:
  1. Be timely and appropriate to your needs
  2. Develop skills required of you in your VAD or in your service as a VISTA
  3. Be an appropriate use of resources, including money and time
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Learning opportunities may be a course, conference, webinar, or professional development activity (such as shadowing a colleague) that meets your professional development needs. Topics may include but are not limited to fundraising, volunteer mobilization, grassroots leadership, group dynamics, media relations, project sustainability, and specific training in program issue areas. Training topics also include subjects like living on the living allowance and writing a resume based on your VISTA service, which are also important subjects.  
Mentoring or coaching provided by your supervisor, through weekly meetings during the service year, are also important components of your professional development.
Ongoing Member Training and Development is designed to improve program quality and support networking among the AmeriCorps VISTA members, sponsoring organization staff, and individuals that are engaged in similar activities. You and your supervisor should identify your professional development needs. The training may be conducted by the sponsoring organization, VISTA headquarters, the CNCS State Office, an intermediary organization, or a partnership among some or all of these entities. 

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Several websites provide information related to AmeriCorps VISTA and CNCS, including:
The VISTA Campus is a comprehensive online learning center for the VISTA community. For VISTA members, the Campus is the starting point for orientation and information about the service year, as well as a place for ongoing learning on a broad spectrum of information regarding aspects of living and serving as a VISTA member.
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] The Campus contains material to help members understand the VISTA program and the unique role VISTA members play in the organizations and communities where they serve; learn how to adapt successfully to life as a VISTA; understand how to carry out their service assignments; and successfully transition to “life after VISTA.”  Online courses for college credit are also available.
The Campus includes online forums that support VISTA members in exchanging ideas and information related to all aspects of VISTA life and service. VISTA members use the forums to raise issues, get answers, and offer support to each other.
The VISTA Campus also serves as an online resource for VISTA leaders, alumni, and supervisors in key aspects of VISTA service and project management. For alumni and members finishing service, a job board listing government and non-government jobs, along with guidance on the use of non-competitive eligibility, is available.  
This official website of the Corporation for National and Community Service provides information to help the public understand CNCS's mission. It includes information on all CNCS programs, legislative updates, program directories, forms, and press releases.
This website also includes information regarding “Employers of National Service” and educational institutions that actively recruit AmeriCorps alumni and offer incentives for attendance at their institutions. 
Employers of National Service connects AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alumni with employers from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. Through this initiative, employers have increased access to a dedicated, highly qualified, and mission-oriented pool of potential employees, and national service alumni have additional opportunities to apply their skills in the workplace.
This is the website for the National Service Knowledge Network, a library for national service participants and sponsors grouped by issue-area. It includes information on, and resources for, CNCS Focus Areas, Performance Measurement, and Criminal History Checks, among other topics. 

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