Cornerstone Ranch, located in McKinney, TX, is a unique home and day program for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. In late November, Cornerstone Ranch began working with a development consultant to design and implement a strategic fundraising plan for the end of 2017 and 2018. The first step was to craft a year-end direct mail appeal targeting various segments of donors and prospects to consider an end-of-year gift. For the past two years, Cornerstone Ranch has maintained approximately 2000 names and address in their database, but not donation information. Donations have been stored in QuickBooks and various event-related spreadsheets. For this reason, it was a very difficult and time-consuming process to segment donors into major donors, mid-level donors, event donors, general donors, and lapsed donors, as was needed for the appeal. VISTA member Martha Tonn took the information that was compiled from various sources and sorted out the donors into the appropriate categories, taking the time to check and re-check for errors and duplications. While one large group of constituents was sent to a mailing house for processing, the smaller groups, totaling approximately 500 letters in six different segments were printed and processed in-house to save on costs. The appeal was successfully mailed in early December and resulted in donations of $37,275. These funds support the Day Program activities and operating costs for Cornerstone Ranch where the residents and day program participants learn new skills, and reach their highest level of independence, as active participants in grocery shopping, home care, meal preparation and personal grooming. They can also be found volunteering at local nonprofits and making contributions to their communities.
Stephanie Adams is the Grants VISTA at Christian Community Action (CCA) in Lewisville, TX. CCA’s mission is to minister to the poor by providing comprehensive services that alleviate suffering, bring hope and change lives. In December, CCA was notified that grants Stephanie submitted were awarded. The ADR Foundation awarded $10,000 and the Stallings Foundation granted $2,000 for CCA’s 2017 Christmas festivities. The carnival-themed celebration hosted approximately 1, 400 children and their families, providing them with several age-appropriate gifts. The Christmas festivities included a family dinner, musical performances and carols, personalized family holiday portraits, carnival-themed games and food, as well as a special visit from Santa Claus. Children and their families were able to participate in a holiday experience they couldn’t celebrate otherwise. Stephanie also submitted grants for $5,000 to the Hillcrest Foundation and $1,000 to the Whataburger Foundation. If granted, the funds will allow CCA to purchase fresh and nutritious food to be served in their pantry which provides a variety of food and household products to 4, 164 struggling individuals in North Texas. This food service has given many individuals the opportunity to redirect their household funds from groceries to other financial obligations and has allowed for many clients to transition back to self-sufficiency.
Christian Community Action, located in Lewisville, TX ministers to the poor by providing comprehensive services that alleviate suffering, bring hope and change lives. Through CCA’s Job Readiness program, unemployed and underemployed individuals are taught skills needed and assistance is given connect them with better job opportunities. VISTA member Steven Tillman submitted a grant to the Walmart Foundation in September for the amount of $1,750 to aid with the expenses of Hiring Fairs and Job Readiness Program-related expenses. As a result, the Walmart Foundation awarded CCA $1,500. Steven is very excited, and plans to begin searching for other grant resources which the program can utilize. Steven’s revamp of the Job Readiness Training program is nearly complete; he is taking time to fully assess the curriculum’s logic and theories in order to address many relevant questions which could be asked by both client and trainer, alike. Though the pilot-programs both went very well from a clientele-outlook, Steven wasn’t confident that volunteer trainers would have all that they would need in order to fully engage the program’s clientele, while keeping the amount of training hours for volunteers to a minimum. With his research reflecting the core of the program curriculum’s logic and theories, he is geared to relaunch the program very soon. He is confident that the program will be even more effective at training volunteers to work with Job Readiness clientele on becoming entrenched within socioeconomic increases and with maintaining successful employment.
Jennifer Annen, Volunteer Training VISTA serving at Woman to Woman Pregnancy Resource (W2W) in Denton, Texas, has launched the first stage of revamping the training program for the volunteers at W2W’s Twice as Nice Resale. Knowing that the monthly trainings were well-intentioned and full of useful information, but could not reach an optimal amount of volunteers, Jennifer set out to devise a plan to magnify their impact. Jennifer sat down with Twice as Nice’s weekly, permanent volunteers to gain feedback on their satisfaction with their current duties and if they feel appreciated for their hard work within the ministry. They discussed at length what method of training they thought could be most useful and what times match best with their schedules. After over 20 hours of conversation, Jennifer took this crucial information and teamed up with staff to begin planning a quarterly training which could reach more people and pack a more powerful punch with relaying vital information to their volunteers. Jennifer hopes that the trainings’ cohesiveness will encourage Twice as Nice’s volunteers to feel empowered, appreciated, and the desire to take greater ownership. The value of their contributions amounted to 1,724 hours served in just the last month but provided 80 class presentations through W2W’s Living Choices education program and allowed the Pregnancy Resource Center to hold 76 client visits. Without the volunteers’ efforts, it would be impossible to reach so many individuals within the Denton county community!
In December, Drug Education VISTA, April Comperda, continued mobilizing the Chisholm Trail RSVP, Inc., Prescription Drug Take Back project in Denton County, TX in response to the CNCS call to action. Chisholm Trail RSVP’s Take Back campaign, includes events providing services such as medication review and providing mail-back envelopes to assist residents with a safe, convenient way disposal method for any unwanted and expired medications in order to prevent drug diversion with addicts, curious teens, innocent children, and pets. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has definitively concluded that the majority of people who misuse prescription drugs obtain them from family or friends first. Consequently, as the prescription opioids start to become harder and harder to get off the streets, many addicts turn to heroin for the cheaper and faster high. Four out of five (80%) new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers (NIDA, SAMHSA, 2016). Not only is the Denton community home of two universities and several retirement communities, its metropolis location, which resides so close to DFW area, creates an opportune channel of drug trafficking and diversion. April and Chisholm Trail RSVP organized (DEA) National Prescription Take Back events as part of the Disposal Campaign, targeting senior living communities and senior centers across Denton County. The overarching goals of the Take Back Program are 1) reduce the amount of prescription medications circulating the streets; 2) to prevent the diversion of prescription medicine; 3) gain community support; and 4) increase education and awareness of the opioid epidemic and prevention measures; 4) conduct medication reviews to identify any medicine errors, especially for seniors. The event will be on April 28th at five senior community locations in Denton County.
Name: Jennifer Annen
Hometown: Crystal Lake, IL
Alma Mater: Iowa State University
Volunteer history: Pet-sitting, dog-walking, animal care and community outreach at an animal shelter
Why did you choose VISTA? I had earned my bachelor’s degree in Animal Science, but towards the end of my schooling I found a deep interest in human and societal issues. I had a gut-feeling that becoming a VISTA would allow me to sharpen skills in new areas while also contributing towards the elimination of poverty in Denton County. Almost seven months into my program, I couldn’t have imagined ever not making the jump!
Tell us a little bit about what your organization does and your role in it:I am currently serving as the Volunteer Training VISTA through the Woman to Woman Pregnancy Resource Center in Denton, TX. Woman to Woman provides a multitude of free services to women and men in the community, including pregnancy testing and sonograms, STI testing, counseling, and other vital resources to new mothers. Woman to Woman also operates Twice as Nice Resale store and the Living Choices program, where they educate middle and high schoolers on sexual health and healthy relationships. I am lucky to serve in volunteer training with the amazing folks at Twice as Nice Resale! My role is to strengthen their volunteer program by increasing retention and setting in place policies and procedures so that current volunteers feel confident in their hard work.
What is your biggest accomplishment as a VISTA so far? I feel like my biggest accomplishment is a combination of small accomplishments that all amount to being able to equip our staff and volunteers with training guides for multiple volunteer departments. Upon arrival at Twice as Nice Resale, I learned how many different ways their volunteers are contributing but noticed a lack in updated, clear project and task instructions. Going from department to department and working with fellow staff and volunteers, I have been able to craft four completed books so far. After debuting each guide, we hosted a training of at least 20+ volunteers to demonstrate the policies and procedures, as well as answer any questions. I love knowing that after I leave, staff will be able to train new volunteers confidently and easily. Our current volunteers will also be able to lead other volunteers and train them as well!
The New Volunteer Training VISTA will increase the agency’s capacity by improving current volunteer trainings and procedures thus increasing retention of volunteers. The New Volunteer Training VISTA will develop a curriculum to thoroughly orient and train new volunteers and will refine volunteer education and training in order to move volunteers from program participation to ownership. The VISTA member will expand and enhance the volunteer program through the evaluation and revising of existing policies and procedures. The VISTA will create a new volunteer training program that is consistent with new policies and procedures as well as follow-up trainings and evaluations to allow volunteers to provide feedback and retrain in areas where they need help. The VISTA member will develop a volunteer management system to track volunteer activities and hours of service. The system created will need to have measures in place that will maintain confidentiality and security of volunteer records.
The Volunteer Coordination VISTA will help break down the barriers poverty creates for low-income children seeking an arts education through the development of a new comprehensive volunteer recruitment and training program. Major functions will include evaluation and updating the volunteer handbook, policies and procedures, evaluating the agency’s volunteer needs and recruiting 50 new volunteers to fill those needs, and the development of training materials to educate and enable volunteers to serve the needs of the agency. Applicants should possess good oral and written communications skills, volunteer recruitment experience and computer skills.
Name: Victoria Jackson
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Alma Mater: Loyola University Chicago
Volunteer history: I was on the executive board of the Habitat for Humanity chapter of my university, and after college I was a typing and TEFL tutor at local community centers for about a year. I came across AmeriCorps while working at a mortgage company, and decided to leave the industry to work for DuPage Habitat for Humanity as an AmeriCorps National on the construction team. After my first AmeriCorps year ended, I came back home to Dallas and found a VISTA position at Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance.
Why did you choose VISTA? I knew that I wanted to work in the nonprofit world but had very little experience and didn’t know on which cause I wanted to focus. VISTA provides me with the opportunity to learn in a working environment and has helped me focus my interest in one area.
Tell us a little bit about what your organization does and your role in it: MDHA facilitates collaboration between homeless service providers and is the lead agency for the Continuum of Care, whose end goal is to make any experience of homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring. MDHA also coordinates HUD Continuum of Care grant funding for homelessness in Dallas and Collin county. What I do, specifically, is help facilitate collaboration between youth service providers, faith-based organizations, and create tools that help people recovering from homelessness to achieve and maintain stability.
What is your biggest accomplishment as a VISTA so far? The Youth Services Directory, which is an array of services and housing options for homeless youth in Dallas and Collin counties.
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.