Starting VISTA Leader Service

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Hello AmeriCorps VISTA leaders!

As a VISTA leader you will be guiding and supporting groups of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) members as you all serve to develop and build capacity for sustainable solutions to poverty in your communities.

Welcome to your VISTA Leader Orientation (VLO). Through a variety of learning opportunities, this self-guided orientation will provide you with an introduction to the skills, resources, and tools you will need to get started on your year of VISTA leader service. Through the videos, activities, and linked resources below you will learn about your many roles as a VISTA leader, as well as best practices for success. 

VLO is divided into five topic areas that you will complete in the following order:

  • An Introduction for VISTA Leaders
  • The Basics
  • Supporting Your VISTA Project & Region
  • Supporting Your VISTA Members 
  • Continuing Leader Development 

Before arriving at your site for service or transitioning into your VISTA leader service year at your current project site, you should complete a review of the Introduction for VISTA Leaders.

You are expected to complete the remaining four topic areas of VLO during your first two weeks of leader service. Speak with your supervisor to ensure that you are given enough time to complete this required orientation while you participate in your service site’s planned On-Site Orientation and Training.

Thank you for choosing to dedicate another year to Getting Things Done through national service!

Before You Get Started

Whether you previously served with AmeriCorps VISTA, AmeriCorps State & National, AmeriCorps NCCC, or Peace Corps, you will want to make sure you have a solid understanding of how the AmeriCorps VISTA program works. As a leader, your project’s VISTA members will naturally turn to you with questions about things like living allowance, leave, benefits, and other policies.  

If you are coming from a program other than VISTA, or if you are returning to VISTA after a few years away, you will be enrolled in a Virtual Member Orientation (VMO) to begin your service year. We recommend that you view VMO through two lenses: learning for your own benefit, and learning so you will be able to support your VISTA members as they go through VMO and through their service years. When learning about VISTA benefits, be sure pay attention to everything VISTA offers, even the benefits that may not apply to you - as you may have VISTAs on your team who will need these in the future.

Even if you have recently served as a VISTA and are not enrolled in a VMO, you may want to go back to the “Starting VISTA” page of the VISTA Campus, and take time to review the VISTA Terms and Conditions, Benefits of AmeriCorps VISTA Service, and the VISTA Member Handbook.

An Introduction for VISTA Leaders (90 Minutes)

What is a VISTA Leader?

Just as AmeriCorps VISTA members serve to expand and build the capacity of community projects, VISTA leaders serve to expand and build the capacity of individual AmeriCorps VISTA members and their service sites or regions. Leaders build this capacity in different ways depending on the needs of their projects. Leaders serve as mentors, recruiters and coordinators, trainers, community liaisons and resource providers. VISTA leaders are former VISTAs, AmeriCorps (State, National, or NCCC) members, or Peace Corps volunteers who have demonstrated exemplary skills and leadership in community service. VISTA leaders support and coordinate larger VISTA projects in their efforts to address the needs of low-income communities. 

Now that you know the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) definition of a VISTA leader, complete the Leadership Definition Activity to start thinking about what being a VISTA leader will mean to you.

Leadership Definition Activity (5 minutes)

VISTA Leader Benefits

We strongly recommend that you review the following resources and courses in order to manage your VISTA leader benefits, find support, and focus your leader service goals. 

Member Handbook - Chapter 10: AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders (10 minutes): This Chapter of the VISTA Member Handbook provides an overview of AmeriCorps VISTA policies that are particular to VISTA leaders.  Benefits of AmeriCorps VISTA Service (45 minutes): This tutorial describes the wide range of benefits you are eligible to receive during and after your service, including the End of Service Benefit (Education Award or Cash Stipend), VISTA Healthcare Benefit, and Childcare Benefit. Note that some benefits are unique to VISTA leaders. 

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VISTA Campus Overview (5 minutes): The VISTA Campus offers a variety of online resources to help you during your year of leader service.  Living Allowance Rates for VISTA Members & Leaders (5 minutes): This resource provides the daily and bi-weekly Living Allowance for both VISTAs and leaders by County. 

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The Six Roles of VISTA Leaders

VISTA leaders can perform a wide variety of activities during their service year, but for the most part all of those activities fall into six main categories. We call those categories the “Six Roles of VISTA Leaders.”

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Welcome From a Leader Alum!


Dear VISTA Leader,

Congratulations on your new position! You are about to embark on what I hope will be a very rewarding experience for you.

Serving as a VISTA leader is a great opportunity to come full circle with your national service experiences, but it can come with its own unique challenges. On your journey through a VISTA leader year, you’ll likely be presented with a difficult situation that you may have no experience handling, or that takes you out of your comfort zone. I encourage you to cultivate and keep communication channels open with your Project Supervisor, State Office, and fellow VISTA leaders. Know that you are not alone, and that having an open mind, a sense of humor, and a willingness to learn and roll with the punches will serve you well. Don’t forget to prioritize your own health and well-being by not spreading yourself too thin!

Your experience as a VISTA leader will largely be defined by what you make of it - no two VISTA leaders have the same experiences. Take advantage of all of the learning and professional development opportunities that come your way!

Best wishes to you, and thank you for your service!

The Basics (90 Minutes)

Like the name implies, the video and resources in “The Basics” topic area will introduce you to your new role as a VISTA leader. After completing this section, you will know more about:

  • VISTA Leader Definition
  • Leader Roles & Your VLAD
  • Transformational Leadership
  • Division of Roles
  • VISTA/Leader/Project Director
  • VISTA Leader Living Allowance & Benefits
  • CNCS Communication

Recommended Pre-Work:

Before starting the training video below we recommend completing the following pre-work. This will help you participate fully in the training activities.

  • Have a copy of your VISTA Leader Assignment Description (VLAD) available for review. If you don’t have already have a copy, ask your VISTA Supervisor to provide one.

(25 minutes)

Resources

Supporting Your VISTA Project & Region (2 Hours and 44 Minutes)

The videos and resources under the “Supporting Your VISTA Project & Region” topic will introduce you to a variety of the project or regional support activities that may be assigned to you during your service year. After completing this section you will know more about:

  • Navigating eGrants
  • Supporting Project Recruitment Activities
  • Understanding Performance Measurement
  • Developing Project Resources
  • Effective Project Partner Communication
  • Creating a Productive Supervisor Partnership

Supporting Your VISTA Project & Region: eGrants & Recruitment

Recommended Pre-Work:

Before starting the training video below we recommend completing the following pre-work. This will help you participate fully in the training activities.

  • Ask your supervisor if you need access to the eGrants system.
  • Does your project have a written recruitment plan? If yes, review this document, and have a copy on hand during the video to reference as needed.
  • Have a copy of your VISTA Leader Assignment Description available for review.

(27 minutes)

Resources

Note: Many of the resources below were written or recorded for the VISTA Supervisor audience. They have been included in the VLO as they provide thorough introductions to recruitment best practices. Note that not all activities presented in these resources are appropriate for leaders. If you have any questions about allowable and unallowable leader activities, ask your supervisor or be in touch with your CNCS State Office.

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Supporting Your VISTA Project & Region: Project Performance Measurement

Recommended Pre-Work:

Before starting the training video below we recommend completing the following pre-work. This will help you participate fully in the training activities.

  • Ask your supervisor to review your project’s:
    • Approved project application
    • Data collection plan

Have copies on hand during this training.

  • Have a copy of your VISTA Leader Assignment Description (VLAD) ready for review.

(18 minutes)

Resources

Note: Many of the resources below were written or recorded for the VISTA Supervisor audience. They have been included in the VLO as they provide thorough introductions to data collection best practices. Note that not all activities presented in these resources are appropriate for leaders. If you have any questions about allowable and unallowable leader activities, ask your supervisor or be in touch with your CNCS State Office.

  • Performance Measurement & Data Collection Resources:
    • AmeriCorps VISTA Performance Measures Site (30 minutes): An overview of all AmeriCorps VISTA Performance Measures, and their related definition and data collection tools.
    • Fiscal Year 2019 VISTA Performance Measures (30 minutes): VISTA Performance Measurement is being updated to make the process easier & more streamlined! This process will begin during the 2019 Federal Fiscal Year, but will be reflected in all projects until a later date.
    • AmeriCorps VISTA Project Progress Report Instructions: Step-by-step instructions for the AmeriCorps VISTA Project Progress Report (PPR). Remember! VISTA leaders are not permitted to complete and submit the PPR or any other report for their project in eGrants. This resource should only be use by leaders to help inform their project or region’s data collection process.
  • Timesheet Examples:

Both of these resources are more complex spreadsheets. For smaller projects, simple paper timesheets may be equally effective. VISTA leaders should note that timesheets are not a requirement for AmeriCorps VISTA projects. Check-in with your supervisor to learn whether your project uses timesheets.

Supporting Your VISTA Project & Region: Resources, Partnerships & Supervisors

Recommended Pre-Work:

Before starting the training video below we recommend completing the following pre-work. This will help you participate fully in the training activities.

  • Have a copy of your VISTA Leader Assignment Description available for review.

(17 minutes)

Resources

Note: Some of the resources below were written or recorded for the VISTA Supervisor audience. They have been included in the VLO as they provide thorough introductions to best practices when working with project partners. Note that not all activities presented in these resources are appropriate for leaders. If you have any questions about allowable and unallowable leader activities, ask your supervisor or be in touch with your CNCS State Office.

Supporting Your VISTA Members (95 Minutes)

The videos and resources under the “Supporting Your VISTA Members” topic will provide you with a foundation of knowledge and skills to help you better support your project’s VISTA members. After completing this section you will know more about:

  • Developing Communication Skills & Style
  • Addressing Conflict & Difficult Conversations
  • Setting the Tone for your VISTA Leader year
  • Coordinating Member Check-Ins
  • Responding to Member Questions
  • Facilitating Meetings & Trainings
  • Engaging in CNCS Special Initiatives

Supporting Your Members: Communication & Setting the Tone

Recommended Pre-Work:

Before starting the training video below we recommend completing the following pre-work. This will help you participate fully in the training activities.

  • Have a copy of your VISTA Leader Assignment Description available for review.

(34 minutes)

Resources

(29 minutes)

Resources
Continuing Leader Development (30 Minutes)

VISTA service is, at its core, about capacity building. It’s an opportunity for VISTA members to build capacity in the community while also building their own capacity in the form of professional skills. It’s no different for VISTA leaders. In fact, you may benefit from strengthening your skills in a wide range of areas, some relating to the VISTA project and some relating to leadership. This final section will introduce you to some of the ways that you can participate in continuing development as a leader.

Recommended Pre-Work:

Before starting the training video below we recommend completing the following pre-work. This will help you participate fully in the training activities.

  • Have a copy of the VISTA Individual Development Plan available.
  • The “Leader Definition Activity” that you started during the “Introduction for VISTA Leaders” section of VLO.

(12 minutes)

Resources
  • VISTA Individual Development Plan (45 minutes): As you serve, you will have opportunities to develop or sharpen knowledge and skills that will help you carry out your VAD more effectively. Use this document to plan for and record your search for and completion of activities that will help you grow personally and professionally during your year. This is also a great resource to use as a guide to helping your VISTA members plan their own professional development!
  • Working with VISTAs: As a VISTA leader you will fill many roles: Ambassador, Facilitator/Educator, Mentor, Liaison, Recruiter, and Resource Generator. Learn more about these roles, and find resources to help you succeed.
  • VISTA Leader Webinars: Leader webinars are designed to provide ongoing learning opportunities for further development of leadership skills.
  • “I’m a New Leader”: VISTA leader on-line forum. Introduce yourself. Make connections. Share tips. And ask questions. This is the place to start building your VISTA leader network and to find answers to your "getting started" questions.
  • “Can I Get a Copy of That?”: VISTA leader on-line forum for sharing tools and resources.
  • “Leader Open Space”: VISTA leader on-line forum for connecting with your leader peers to answer questions, and share experiences and best practices.
  • Continuing Leader Development: A PDF version of the video above.
Wrap-Up Activity

Go back to the Leadership Definition Activity you began at the start of the VLO in the Introduction for VISTA Leaders section.  Take a few minutes to craft your updated personal leadership definition now that you have completed VLO.

Attributions

Icons by  Oleksandr Panasovskyi, Prime Icons, Maxim Kulikov, b farias, ProSymbols, Sophia Bai, Rose Alice Design, Irene Hoffman, Vectors Market, I Putu Kharismayadi, Icons Ghost & Eucalyp from The Noun Project.