• Alumni story
    Joanne Bates 1997 Idaho Falls

    I began my VISTA service in August 1997 for Eastern Idaho Technical College. The project was to establish a family literacy program at the Haven Temporary Shelter in Idaho Falls, Idaho. After two years as a VISTA, the Haven's parent organization, Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership (formerly Eastern Idaho Special Services Agency), hired me to continue at the Haven in a part-time position. 

    Over the years, the emphasis has changed a bit. I'm not able to spend so much time with the children because we are helping so many adults prepare to take their GED tests. When the building that is under construction is finished, we will have a classroom there for adults and the former classroom for other activities. 
    I love my job and often am rewarded with success in our clients. The AmeriCorps/VISTA trainings were great opportunities to learn how to recruit volunteers, how the organization runs, and how to do a good job. It was good to connect with other VISTAs.

  • Alumni story
    Martha A. Childers 1994 West Union

    I can remember when I was a child, about seven years old. My father had passed away. My mother was raising 10 children by herself and we lived on a big dairy farm. VISTA volunteers came in and helped us. This was in the 1960's, can't remember the year for sure, but do appreciate them being there to help. Thank GOD for volunteers!!!!! They made a big impact on my life.

    I wanted to make a difference in my own hometown and work with children, so I joined AmeriCorps VISTA in 1994. I worked through our community resource center in West Union, West Virginia and worked with local students with a drug free program at our local High School. 
    As a leader I planned activities to help them choose the activities over using drugs, alcohol, tobacco. We went on several trips and stayed so busy that the children didn't have time to be in trouble. It was fun and very rewarding not only to me but for them. 
    Today so many of these kids are adults with children of their own. When I see these kids out today, they will recall the difference it made in their lives to have someone to care and need them as much as their parents did. 
    Yes, we worked hard in parades and floats, swimming, ropes challenge and lots of community services.

  • Alumni story
    Shirley East 1992 1994 Nashville

    In 1992, I was 57 years old and recently widowed. When I lost my husband I was depressed and didn't know what to do. Being able to help others in need gave me a reason to go on. Becoming a VISTA gave me a purpose in life.

    I went to the Cohn Adult Learning Center to try to get myself ready to go to work. I was going to enroll in a program called Career Directions. I was told to go down the hall to talk to Sharon Hollaway, director of the Literacy program. After talking with Ms Hollaway, she let me become part of the literacy program. I was paired with another VISTA, Mary Fleming. We went together to churches, prisons, and businesses, all over Nashville. We tutored and did fundraising. 
    My second year I went to three different schools, helping the teachers, working with the children and parents. I read to the children. One class I visited the children were mentally challenged, but they loved for me to read to them and they were very attentive.
    Now I am 75 years old and as I look back eighteen years I thank God for the VISTA program, while helping others it also helped me. It is a wonderful program. 

  • Alumni story
    Barbara Gentry 1993 Bristol

    I served in Bristol, Tennessee, working with two separate high rises with more than 100 apartments. The majority of the residents were elderly. There were also more than 100 family units. It was the hardest years of my life, but absolutely a great period of my life. My service as a VISTA just put everything in this world in its place. 

    Some of my experiences included having a senior citizen tell you about how he or she has spent the past years along in the apartment on Christmas. And for a senior citizen to call and say thank you for remember their birthday. Know how to get a senior citizen to do something? Tell him or her that they can’t! 
    I’d go back tomorrow if I could. 

  • Alumni story
    Leon Howard III Muskegon

    AmeriCorps VISTA was a transformative experience that changed how I see the world and myself. After graduating high school, attending college wasn’t an option for me due to poor grades, lack of positive male role models, and my socioeconomic status. So I enlisted and served four years in the Navy as a cook. My military experience was unfulfilling and I decided there had to be more in this world for me. A few months after leaving the Navy, I lost my younger brother while we were swimming together in Lake Michigan. I sunk into depression, unsure of how to make sense of my role in society and my future. 

    I applied for an AmeriCorps position at the Muskegon Community Foundation. To be honest, I wasn’t the most qualified, but I was the person who needed this experience the most. My site supervisor became my first mentor in life. During my term of service, I worked with the Muskegon Family Coordinating Council, which provided community-based grants to community-based organizations doing grassroots programming. I also worked with service-learning projects in public schools. 
    It was through AmeriCorps VISTA and serving others that I found my mission in life. I developed self-esteem. I learned I had skills and aptitudes in areas of value. I learned that I could be of service to my community. 
    The pinnacle of my experience was developing and implementing my idea of an African-American Expo in Muskegon Mall. The Expo addressed health issues in the African-American community and included health screenings, a talent and fashion show, cultural performances, and local vendors and exhibitors. A decade later, I transformed the idea that had begun in my VISTA year into an annual non-profit event called Muskegon’s Multicultural Beach Festival. 
    After my term ended, I earned a community responsibility scholarship to attend Olivet College, because of my VISTA service. As a student, I served as President of the Black Student Union, as a student coordinator for the Upward Bound program, and developed service-learning activities for local public schoolchildren. I went on to earn a Masters degree in Student Affairs. 
    Today, I work at the University of Michigan where I continue to serve by helping students transform how they see themselves. What once seemed impossible became possible through the growth and transformation that I experienced as a VISTA volunteer.

  • Alumni story
    Alan Hunsaker 1997 2001 Boston

    I spent three years in VISTA and it was the perfect fit for me. I don't like working for someone else, but VISTA was an added-value proposition. You could only please the people you worked with, because someone else was paying your small allowance and insurance. I'm glad they took me, and I tried to do my best to help them. 

    One year I was in Los Angeles, setting up a mentoring program for at-risk youth in Highland Park. Highland Park is not as dangerous as other parts of Los Angeles, but there was plenty of gang activity, pregnant teens, drug abuse, and so on. Each of the three years I was somewhere else. 
    I was with a low-income credit union in Roxbury, Boston, the first year, writing grants and setting up a nonprofit corporation to go along with the credit union. During my second year, I served with a low-income credit union targeting people from El Salvador, in Los Angeles. Then on to Highland Park. 
    I was ready to make my (second) career as a VISTA volunteer. I was about 50 when I started VISTA. I had been around the block, mostly in the nonprofit world and in the field of public school teaching. Yet I seemed to have personal ideas that conflicted with those of the employer when it came to following rules, obeying higher-ups, and being a company person. I applied later to Peace Corps but at the time I didn't have insurance and could not pay for the dental work they insisted I have. I offered to sign liability waivers. No go. 
    Anyway, in my opinion, VISTA should offer more than three years. If people can afford it, and want to do it, they should open it up on an as-needed basis, to take care of work around the country that profit-making entities won't do. I believe there's enough money for that. If the U.S. can bail out the auto companies, the investment banks, the insurers like AIG, I would think the federal government can take care of some infrastructure and community service work with low-paid peons who like being peons. That's me. I did my three years and that's it. I wanted more but the rules don't permit it. 

  • Alumni story
    Radha Pillai 1997 1999 New York

    I served two years (1997-1999) as a "Team Tech" VISTA in New York City. I served about twenty non-profit organizations by interviewing the staff and helping them prepare their technology needs reports, installing some of the IBM donated computers, and connecting them to their pre-existing systems. I enjoyed serving, however, since I was already retired from my regular job the service did not impacted my career in any way. I would like to serve again as a Senior Corps member.

  • Alumni story
    Alex Rodriguez 1995 1997 Dallas

    I joined VISTA because I have a long standing commitment to service. After working at Brown University's Howard R. Swearer Center for Public Service, I chose to return back to my organizing roots. I knew the work and experience I would gain from my service would be invaluable to the community and I also knew how the education stipend would further my interest in earning my masters; which happened in 2002 - MFA.

    I worked for a Texas Commission on Arts program placing VISTA Volunteers in Arts in Education Programs. I was placed at the Dallas Children's Theatre working on their Curtains Up on Reading program which integrated the arts into the core curriculum at a DISD elementary school. The program worked in partnership with William B. Travis Elementary and the Dallas Public Housing Authority. My main focus was to recruit volunteers, write grants and reports, develop community events, and generate PR. 
    My work made sure the resources were available to the program so students knew the importance of an education. Furthermore, the volunteers from the community gained invaluable work experience which encouraged them to pursue jobs in other non-profits in the area. All the work done happened because of the community's commitment to the program. Regardless if it were donations, grants, or volunteers, the program grew because efforts were made to welcome the community to be a part of the work and the vision. 
    As the program grew, so did the support from the community, the funders, and the school district. When my term ended, the program was on a path where it was receiving interest from state and private funders that would ensure its existence long after VISTA's involvement. 
    The opportunities that came from my VISTA experience were priceless. Without VISTA, I would have never realized my interest in the Arts and Education. If it wasn't for the education award, I would not have the funds necessary to attend graduate school. VISTA solidified my commitment to public service and made it possible for me to become the professional I am today. Every opportunity I have to encourage an individual to give a year or two to public service, I make sure I seize it with passion. 

  • Alumni story
    Se'Brina Roy Houston

    I served with the AmeriCorps in Houston, Texas.  My best friend Craig Lewis encouraged me to join in 1995 when I was laid off for the fifth time in the corporate world.  I began my service working with some awesome people at the Houston Read Commission on Griggs Road. We had the best AmeriCorps VISTA team in S.E. Texas.

     I served as an ESL tutor working with women looking for new career, or starting their careers.  We worked with them, trained them with the Women Moving up Program, and mentors worked very closely with us to train them on traditional and non-traditional jobs.  Toward the end of my service, I was chosen to do so many great things for the people in my community. Even though I had been laid off of a job where I was making $2,500 a month, I did not miss that job at all. As a VISTA, I could see the difference in what I had done with my community and with myself.  I became a person whom I knew people believed in and could make a change in their lives. I got more involved in the program I got a scholarship and grants later I use them for college. I later join VISTA for a 2 year service and implemented programs for parents and kids in the elementary school to help parents learn more about the homework that the children were bringing home through the Read Write Now Program. I volunteered in other school districts in the community and I began school myself - I enrolled in University of Phoenix online. I began to work with Pasadena ISD where I have been for 9 years working as an instructor. I still tutor sometimes and I love to volunteer my service anywhere. This is what I learned in AmeriCorps VISTA: to serve the community with a smile and positive motivation. I loved my VISTA service and would do it again. Thanks AmeriCorps Vista for all of your help! 

  • Alumni story
    Paul Sentner New York

    Sargent Shriver spoke at our graduation from VISTA training in the Fall of 1966. He said our VISTA experience would affect us the rest of our lives. For me, it has, and continues to do so. Two and a half years as a VISTA cooperatively developing youth-operated projects, plus three more years as a self-committed ‘civilian’ adult coordinator of one of the projects, on the Lower East Side was my full-time life. It was not a cake-walk, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.


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