Chapter 4: Training & Technical Assistance



23.jpgAmeriCorps VISTA training is a shared responsibility among Corporation staff, the sponsoring organization, and the members. During training, 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, and to develop your skills and commitment to AmeriCorps VISTA and its goals.

Once 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 as informal as self-initiated evening study at the local library. Training is a continuous process of capability development and enhancement for an assignment in which you, as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, are required to provide much of the initiative and make many of the decisions.


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23b.jpgPre-Service Orientation is the first formal stage in your learning process about AmeriCorps VISTA. It is typically a four-day event in which you begin to assume your role as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in the community and on the project you are assigned.

Pre-Service Orientation is conducted by Corporation staff, assisted by the VISTA Member Support Unit, project sponsoring organizations and supervisors and professional training consultants. Current and former AmeriCorps VISTA members frequently attend. The orientation is generally conducted on a geographic basis, with candidates from several states participating.

All AmeriCorps VISTA candidates are required to attend Pre-Service Orientation before they begin service. On rare occasions, the Corporation State Office may defer attendance at Pre-Service Orientation for good cause. If a member is granted a deferment, the state office will provide the member with an overview of the terms of service and arrange for the member to attend the next available Pre-Service Orientation. The learning objectives of Pre-Service Orientation include a basic knowledge and understanding of the following:

  • Mission and structure of the Corporation for National and Community Service
  • Philosophy and goals of AmeriCorps and the AmeriCorps VISTA program
  • AmeriCorps VISTA legal and administrative requirements
  • Terms, conditions, and benefits of your AmeriCorps VISTA service
  • Role of the Corporation State Office, the Member Support Unit, and the Training Unit
  • Role of the sponsoring organization, project work plan, and member assignment description
  • Your role in working with community organizations and low-income persons
  • Your role as an agent of sustainable development
  • Resource development and partnership building

You are expected to attend all program sessions and to act in a professional manner at all times. Family, friends, guests, and pets are not allowed in your hotel room or at the training unless it has been approved in advance by VISTA. Failure to attend program sessions and/or acting inappropriately, as determined by Corporation staff, may result in deselection from the AmeriCorps VISTA program.

Corporation staff uses Pre-Service Orientation to make the final decision on a potential member's qualifications for AmeriCorps VISTA service. If you are deemed suitable for AmeriCorps VISTA service, you will take the oath of service and be enrolled in the AmeriCorps VISTA program. If you are not deemed suitable, you will leave Pre-Service Orientation, be deselected, and not be enrolled in the AmeriCorps VISTA program.

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On-Site Orientation and Training (OSOT) is an extension of Pre-Service Orientation. It takes place immediately after you report to your project site. The sponsoring organization conducts the orientation, building on concepts presented during Pre-Service Orientation. 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 Corporation 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
  • 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
  • Evaluation of member performance 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

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Ongoing Member Training and Development is follow-up training that provides you the opportunity to develop specific knowledge and skills needed to perform your assignment. This training may take place at key points in your service: early on, to develop the knowledge and skills identified by you and your supervisor; later in service, should an opportunity present itself; and even later as you transition out of service.

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 by the project
  3. Be cost-effective

Training opportunities may be a course, a conference, or a professional development activity (such as a temporary reassignment or shadowing a colleague) that meets your professional development needs. Training topics may include but are not limited to: fundraising, volunteer development and management, grassroots leadership development, community analysis, group dynamics, media relations, project sustainability, and specific training in program issue areas. Mentoring and coaching by your supervisor is also an important component of your development and training.

Ongoing Member Training and Development is designed to improve program quality and support networking among the 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, the Corporation State Office, an intermediary organization, or a partnership among all three. Prior approval by the Corporation is required for all Ongoing Member Training and Development.

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Several Web sites provide information related to AmeriCorps VISTA and the Corporation for National and Community Service, including:

This official Web site of the Corporation for National and Community Service provides information to help the public understand the Corporation's mission. It includes information on all the programs, legislative updates, program directories, forms, and press releases.

This is the Web site for the National Service Resource Center, a library for participants in national service. You can subscribe to the Center's 22 listservs or download service-oriented guides and other resources.

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 their 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.

The member section 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.”

The Campus also includes online member forums that allow VISTA members to exchange ideas and share information related to all aspects of VISTA life and service. Members can use the forums to engage in conversations, ask questions, and get help from each other.

The VISTA Campus also serves as an online resource for VISTA Leaders, alumni, supervisors, and CNCS state offices in key aspects of VISTA service and project management.

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