Martha Tonn is the Volunteer Recruitment and Development VISTA at Cornerstone Ranch, a unique home and day program for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities located in McKinney, TX. On Saturday, October 28, Cornerstone Ranch held their annual Gala & Art Auction, which accounts for approximately 80% of the organizations operating funds for the year, as well as building capital towards their site expansion plan. The event was a sellout, with over 350 people attending. Martha played a vital role in preparation for this year’s event, recruiting 17 new volunteers to assist with auction set up, decorating, and running the silent auction portion of the event. Martha scheduled three pre-auction work days prior to the event to accommodate volunteers who are only available on weekends. These volunteers did many projects early so that set up and decoration could proceed smoothly on the day of the event. Martha also used Signup Genius and social media to promote volunteer opportunities throughout the month, assuring that each stage of the preparation had adequate volunteer support. On the Saturday of the Gala, Martha managed 41 volunteers who served a total of 175 hours that day from set up in the morning through the wrap up of the event.
Rashika Smith is serving with the Epilepsy Foundation Texas as the Community Outreach VISTA. Education outreach for epilepsy is what Rashika primarily markets to potential funders and supporters. As part of her professional development, Rashika attended the Epilepsy Foundation’s seizure first aid training. As with any training like CPR and first aid you hope you never have to use it, but when 1 in 26 people develop epilepsy in their lifetime this type of education is important. The Epilepsy Foundation offers seizure first aid training so those in the community are aware and know what to do and not do when coming into contact with an individual experiencing a seizure. Rashika never imagined the training she attended and now assists with would ever be used. However, one Thursday afternoon, the sound of a loud scream prompted her into action when a co-worker was in the throngs of an active seizure. Rashika jumped into action, administered seizure first aid and stabilized her coworker until paramedics arrived. According to her supervisor, Rashika remained calm and administered the first aid flawlessly, even remembering to time the seizure. When paramedics arrived, they asked her how she knew to time the seizure. She was very proud to explain to them what Epilepsy Foundation does and the services offered.
Victoria Jackson is the Homeless Resource Development VISTA with Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA). MDHA serves as the lead agency for the local Continuum of Care and it administrates the local Homeless Management Information System, which tracks performance and drives improvement of service providers. The homeless assistance agencies that have programs for Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) have encountered a new challenge: what to do when a client no longer wants services. About 5% of the tenants of PSH feel that they can live independently and no longer need supportive services. AmeriCorps VISTA member, Victoria Jackson, has joined an endeavor spearheaded by the Dallas/Collin County Continuum of Care to create a path to independence from the PSH Program. Victoria has helped update the Independent Housing Readiness Assessment (IHRA), a tool that will be used to help a client decide if he or she is ready to live independently. Considering the fact that affordable housing is extremely limited in Dallas, creating more Permanent Supportive Housing for the homeless with disabilities is even more difficult. Therefore, finding room for more clients in the PSH programs will help alleviate the burden on the emergency shelter system. With the help of the IHRA, more clients might be willing and able to live independently and create more room for clients in Permanent Supportive Housing Programs.
Name: Jennifer Weatherford
Hometown: Seguin, Texas
Alma Mater: Arizona State University
Volunteer history: Let Girls Learn Fundraising and Awareness Project for Senegalese girls (2016); Votua Village Service Learning Project to maintain agricultural projects in Votua, Fiji (2015). I’ve also volunteered my time as a research assistant during my undergrad and spent a couple years as a foster for cats in the East Valley in Arizona.
Why did you choose VISTA: I recently relocated to Northeast Texas and was looking for a way to connect to my new community while putting my love for volunteering and community service to its best use. VISTA was the best option for me—not only does the VISTA program give me the resources I need to grow as a service-minded individual, but offers incentives for me to continue my education and pursue my graduate degree after my year of service has ended.
Tell us a little bit about what your organization does and your role in it: I’m serving as an Affordable Housing Advocate VISTA with the Aging and Disability Resource Center at the Texoma Council of Governments. Essentially, my role in the organization is to connect with housing developers, landlords, homeless coalitions, and other partner agencies in order to expand the capacity of my community to offer affordable housing to homeless, at-risk homeless, seniors, veterans, low income families, and disabled persons.
What is your biggest accomplishment as a VISTA so far? My role with VISTA has been a roller coaster of information, particularly because I’m the first VISTA in my community and the first to serve in this capacity. There was a lot to learn early on but the rewards from my time spent providing outreach to Northeast Texas have begun to show themselves; I’ve helped house a dozen individuals by connecting them to services throughout the region, and I’m excited to begin the next step of my service by providing much needed outreach to builders and developers to expand affordable housing.
Marketing and Fundraising VISTA Maegan Shafer is serving with Denton Christian Preschool, a non-profit day care serving at-risk 3-and 4-year olds in Denton, TX. In September, Maegan successfully coordinated with University of North Texas service groups to promote and participate in Denton Christian Preschool’s Tamale Fundraiser being held in October. Maegan helped Denton Christian Preschool raise $10,000 through North Texas Giving Day, an annual on-line fundraising event. These funds will be used to continue programing for the children in their care. In addition she organized a campaign to raise funds for the new Stop Poverty Educate At-risk Kids (or SPEAK) initiative that focuses on providing the best opportunity for at risk children in the Denton community regardless of their situation by writing a $25,000 grant to Wells Fargo. Maegan also wrote a grant to the Denton Benefit League to purchase new computers and projectors.
AmeriCorps VISTA member, April Comperda, worked alongside Denton County Friends of the Family (DCFOF) Marketing and Development team to prepare for Taste for a Cause, DCFOF’s largest fundraising event of the year. April assisted with garnering in-kind donations for the silent auction. These donations had a total value of $14,000 and contributed to DCFOF raising over $75,000. In addition, April helped her agency raise $11,000 through North Texas Giving Day, an annual online fundraising event. April spread the word about the event through social media and attended a tabling event held on the Square in Denton. These funds will allow DCFOF to serve more clients by providing lifesaving services and programs to victims of sexual and domestic violence across Denton County. It’s the dollars that make the difference as $1,500 provides one week of emergency shelter for a mother and her two children and $1,000 provides one month of groceries for the entire shelter. Since January, DCFOF has been able to serve 1,302 new clients and because of events like Taste for a Cause and North Texas Giving Day, DCFOF is able to increase their capacity to help more and more.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, at least one thousand refugees were sheltered at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Center in Dallas. FEMA, OEM, and the Red Cross served several hundred of these individuals, who were able to return home or were able to secure housing. However, about 300 people were able to return to their towns, but not their apartments or houses. Additionally, some refugees were homeless before the disaster and continued to be homeless afterwards. In light of these complications, AmeriCorps VISTA member Victoria Jackson serving with Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, drafted a list of homeless and housing-related services organized by county to assist case managers at the shelter in making referrals. Victoria also provided copies of a local directory of housing services in Dallas for refugees who had no choice but to stay in Dallas. As a result, refugees have access to housing stabilization services no matter where they are staying.
VISTA Steven Tillman has played several key roles in north-Texas nonprofit Christian Community Action’s (CCA) efforts to garner both a stronger online presence and program-based funding. While recently visiting the Aunt Bertha website, an online social services reference source which provides an information hub for nonprofits across the country, Steven noticed that the Job Readiness program was not listed as one of CCA’s services. In addition, some of the information associated with other service listings was out of date or incorrect. He decided to research the process for adding the Job Readiness program to CCA’s profile, as well as the steps needed to update any information regarding the other services. Within a period of three weeks, the task was complete. Not only had he corrected the information within CCA’s Aunt Bertha account, but he successfully added two new service listing to the profile: Job Readiness Training and Employment Assistance. Within days of completing the task, Steven met with a Programs and Training Representative from Workforce Solutions for North Central Texas. His efforts resulted in the Job Readiness Training program being placed on the program-referral list. He is now taking measures to have the Job Readiness program recognized by the Texas Workforce Commission as a customized-training location. In addition to this, he recently submitted a small grant request to the Walmart Foundation in support of the Hiring Fairs which CCA will host in partnership with Goodwill Job Connection of Lewisville. His Job Readiness “Train the Trainer” curriculum is near full completion, with volunteers poised to begin the mission of waging a war on poverty. Their mission is not likely to be in vain.
In September, Stephanie Adams, Grant Writing VISTA at Christian Community Action (CCA) has submitted grants to the Lupe Murchison and Wells Fargo Foundation, with the potential to receive $60,000. If awarded these funds will provide operational support to Christian Community Action as well as fund its family assistance services, which provides immediate financial assistance to families and individuals in crisis ensuring homelessness prevention. Additionally, Stephanie submitted a letter of inquiry to the United Supermarkets Foundation. If awarded, this foundation will grant $1,000 to CCA’s food bank which offers a diverse selection of nutritious items as well as hygiene and household products to low-income families and individuals of North Texas. Stephanie’s work will build community connections and partnerships between CCA and foundations, ensuring sustainability for the organization long after the completion of Stephanie’s VISTA service year.
September was quite a busy month for VISTA Sean Enfield. As his organization, the Plano Children’s Theatre, prepares for its big move, Sean has been tasked with recruiting volunteers for the move as well as volunteers to help with the build out of the new space. He has been utilizing the organization’s online presence and talking with community service volunteers in order to get them involved in the Raised Seating Project. While that project is underway, he is still managing the day-to-day operations of the various theatres, their productions, and events. This month, he has recruited 32 volunteers for October’s Halloween fundraiser and the agency’s move and managed 9 volunteers on the production teams for the 11 shows that began rehearsals and 6 shows that performed. These volunteers have served 365 hours cumulatively at Plano Children’s Theatre.