Viewfinder: You have quite the resume of national service. How did you become interested in serving?
Beth: When I was in high school, a teacher of mine always told such intriguing stories about serving in the Peace Corps. I always thought that was something I wanted to do. But then I realized I wanted to do something closer to home – to make my own community better in order to make the world better.
My aunt told me about AmeriCorps as she had an AmeriCorps State member working with her in Bardstown, KY at a community action agency.
VF: What was your first year of service like?
Beth: I started off as an AmeriCorps State member with Habitat for Humanity in Lexington, KY. I enjoyed what I was doing, but then KDVA announced a VISTA Leader position – this was prior to the rule change of having to be a VISTA first.
I was intrigued. I have always had very strong female mentors in my life. I liked the idea of women helping women - even though we have three men who work at KDVA! I also wanted to try indirect service to see if I could reach more people.
VF: What is the biggest difference doing indirect service?
Beth: At first, I was iffy about indirect service. But I'm so glad I made the switch because I feel I can reach more people in the time that I have.
We always need the front line/direct service impact, but I feel like what I'm doing now is making a bigger difference. When I was serving with Habitat, I was reaching out to maybe twenty people in a week. Now I'm organizing and facilitating workshops in multiple locations across the state, securing grants to grow the entire organization, and I established a pre-IDA program.
VF: Tell us more about IDAs– and your pre-IDA program – what is that?
Beth: IDAs are Individual Development Accounts – they are matched savings accounts that enable low-income Americans – in our case women who are domestic violence survivors - to save for home ownership, education, or to start a small business.
We wrote and received a grant of $300,000. KDVA then matches the funds through local support – we raised the funds through the Kentucky Housing Corporation and Assets for Independence. With the match, KDVA has a total of $600,000 to support women.
VF: Wow. That's amazing. How do the women get the money? How does the program work?
Beth: The women have case management and financial literacy requirements to fulfill. They also have to be employed and save $2,000. Once they have done this, they get it matched from KDVA and the federal government for a total of $6,000. And the best thing is that it's not a loan – they don't have to pay it back. They have three years to save their money.
VF: It sounds too good to be true. What's the catch?
Beth: That's exactly what the women thought. At first they weren't taking advantage of the program and we had to convince them to participate. But after the first year, they starting hearing success stories…a woman just got her own home, someone went back to school. Women become motivated when they know women who have benefited from the program.
We realized there was more interest, but because of the challenging circumstances of leaving an abusive relationship, the women needed more time to utilize their money.
That's why I started a "pre-IDA" program.
VF: Tell us about how you established this program.
Beth: I created pre-IDA to teach the women what to expect from the program.
Many of the women at the shelters don't have any income, so they learn job skills in order to participate. Some needed to get used to saving. We wanted to best prepare women for what IDAs demand so they have a better chance of succeeding and being able to purchase a home or whatever it is they want to do.
VF: Was your program well received?
Beth: Not at first. So I partnered with shelters and introduced it to IDA and case workers. And I started to see the enrollment going up. Now lots of shelters are requiring the pre-IDA program.
VF: How did that make you feel?
Beth: It was great. One of my proudest moments was when the program took off. And it didn't cost anything to KDVA because VISTAs were managing the program.
And the best part is helping a woman become self-sufficient. It greatly increases her chances of not going back to her abuser if she is financially independent.
VF: What did you get out of serving?
Beth: More self-confidence. I had always had entry level jobs before VISTA. Now I can problem solve and think on my own which has empowered me.
I learned about working with others in the community – when you're young you don't have the experience as to how organizations work and interact with each other.
Also how to live on an extremely tight budget! The experience teaches you how to save.
VF: How did serving as a VISTA impact your career and your life?
Beth: My VISTA supervisor encouraged me to get my Masters so now I'm going to Kentucky State University for a degree in Public Administration.
As a VISTA Leader, I felt like a "human advocate" – an advocate for all. I help provide others with resources – not just the women I work with. My friends joke about it but they come to me for credit counseling and other advice!
It really is 24/7 – it doesn't leave you because you always wear that AmeriCorps service cap.
VF: What advice do you have for VISTAs currently serving?
Beth: You're not going to change the world in a year, so don't get overwhelmed. I believe that it's a life changing experience. If you apply yourself, you can benefit greatly from serving.
If I can make a difference in one person's life, then I've done my task. And I still hope to do Peace Corps someday!