The citizens of Denton County, Texas have an interesting socioeconomic structure and somewhat of a unique need for workforce development. VISTA Steven Tillman, serving with Christian Community Action in Lewisville, TX, has spent months researching, gathering, and reviewing data, in efforts of finding a point of engagement which aligns with those needs. Programs department administrators at Christian Community Action approved Steven’s vision for holding Job Readiness courses on Saturdays. He recently launched the pilot for a group of hopeful and enthusiastic clients. The program still incorporates job market awareness, vision-scaping of future plans, and personal brand marketing, but also assist the client in conserving time by scheduling three classes in one day, rather than scheduling three classes over a period of three consecutive days. With this new addition, clients who have a busy schedule during regular business hours can participate in courses with less compromise.
Stephanie De Los Santos, Camp and Resource Development VISTA serving with the Epilepsy Foundation Texas, began her year of service in March and dove right in to grant writing. Stephanie has been able to submit 3 grants for a potential outcome of $33,600. If awarded the funds will be used to send children with epilepsy to summer camp. The Epilepsy Foundation Texas camping programs provide children and youth with epilepsy a safe, structured, FUN and encouraging home away from home. In order to learn more about how epilepsy effects individuals and families, Stephanie interviewed a father and son. The son has a seizure disorder and the father was away at work while most of the testing/diagnosis process was ongoing. They told her about the fear, worry, and anxiety of having to go through the medical testing. They also told her about the relief of becoming involved with the epilepsy foundation and how the agency has helped them. At that moment, Stephanie felt like she was a part of something important.
In April, VISTA Sean Enfield recruited 20 new volunteers and managed 52 volunteers to help organize a number of events for the North Texas Performing Arts (NTPA) organization. He connected with the Plano chapter of the National Charity League to operate a crafting booth at the Shops of Willow Bend, a mall located in Plano, TX. This booth was used to reach kids and advertise for Plano Children’s Theatre’s eventual move into that retail center. In addition, he connected with National Honor Society chapters in the McKinney region to recruit volunteers for the last of NTPA’s award ceremonies. Throughout April, Sean worked to improve his volunteer recruitment and management skills. He developed a survey to distribute among the office staff weekly so that he can better prepare a list of Volunteer Needs, Opportunities, and Activities. He has also been working to improve communications among the existing network of parent volunteers, particularly as it pertains to the production volunteers.
April was an excellent month for Interfaith Ministries of Denton, an emergency financial assistance agency in Denton, TX, to have an experienced VISTA. Community Outreach VISTA Rebecca Dake was able to take over a major back-to-school assistance project when a staff member moved on to another job opportunity. Rebecca took on the planning, coordination and execution of online registration and four in-person registrations for local families who met a financial hardship requirement—enrollment in the local school district’s Free & Reduced Meals Program. So far the registration process has secured spots for nearly 800 children to receive a backpack and school supplies, and as donations allow, a clothing gift card and book. When a new project lead was hired, Rebecca was able to train the new staff member on the registration process and next steps to continue coordinating and managing the project. As April is her last month of a one-year service term, Rebecca has updated the new staff member on outreach activities she led during the year. She trained the staff member in social media techniques, graphic design software, newsletter creation and email marketing campaigns. She also leaves behind a manual—with graphics of course—to make website updates, social media posts, tabling opportunities and other outreach activities easier to execute.
The mission of the North Texas Performing Arts – Plano Children’s Theatre is to develop the character of youth through quality performing arts education and family entertainment. Plano Children’s Theatre offers full-ride scholarships to talented and less privileged children, provides complimentary tickets to charitable organizations, teacher groups, and school fundraising events and offers free programming at local community centers. Melanie Cheney, Resource Development VISTA, prepared and consolidated documents for an annual board meeting at North Texas Performing Arts. During this process, Melanie edited the documents for clarity, sorted the documents into easily understandable categories, and created binders for each board member in attendance (45 total). Cheney delegated some work to volunteers, so she was not only able to practice her editing skills, but also her leadership skills. In addition, Melanie played an instrumental role in raising $20,000 in private donations from patrons she met with in previous months. Monies raised will add to the current capital campaign for the Willow Bend Theatre and benefit low-income and special needs children through the agency’s programs. Melanie helps to solidify relationships with new and existing donors through prompt thank you letters of which she created templates for use by staff and volunteers. Melanie attended a meeting with representatives from the Hudson Foundation and established a relationship that will hopefully lead to consideration for future grant-giving.
NewDay Services for Children and Families’ Community Outreach VISTA, Meghan Kajihara, continues her work on the agency’s organizational archive and has made meaningful progress. She is nearly done transcribing the testimonies of fathers who have participated in the FOCUS and EFFECT programs. Having these materials transcribed and organized will help NewDay perform qualitative analyses of their programs and see how they have developed over time, as well as acting as a resource for creating outreach materials. She has also started assembling templates for class materials that may be stored in the OneDrive and easily adapted after she is gone. The word for the month of April in the Fatherhood EFFECT program was “data”. Meghan found herself inundated with it this month, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. From survey results to survey writing to newsletter analytics, she had many different streams of data to learn from. The whole North Texas Fatherhood EFFECT team has been carefully considering their survey methodology as well as the information they survey for, and Meghan feels proud and excited to be able to be a part of this discussion. During the last EFFECT class cycle, she kept track of the people sending them referrals and wrote a special newsletter just for them, announcing the summer session of the Fatherhood EFFECT class. 84% of the recipients opened the email and they have since received a flurry of referrals. At the very end of the month, she pitched her idea for an analysis of class attendance data to get a better understanding of when and why participants may start to drop off, and what they can change to improve retention. Her supervisor was very receptive to the idea and she can’t wait to get started on it.
AmeriCorps VISTA Jennifer Weatherford has been busy making important organizational connections throughout the 12-county North Texas region Texoma Council of Governments’ (TCOG) Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) serves. Jennifer was invited to attend four Career and Community Resource Expos in the Texoma area. On Tuesday, April 18, Jennifer traveled to Texarkana, TX to represent her agency at the first of many expos. At this function she spoke to dozens of local individuals, many of whom expressed their interest in the services that the ADRC offers. She managed to refer more than 40 veterans and family members of veterans to the ADRC toll-free informational number, and dozens more seniors and primary caregivers received vital information regarding benefits counseling and referral services. Through community connections with housing authorities and community resource expos Jennifer has located several landlords in the Texoma and Texarkana area which are invaluable to the capacity building process. One landlord in particular has expressed generous interest in working closely with TCOG and the ADRC to house low income and disabled individuals in Grayson County. Jennifer intends to work with the landlord and inquire about the availability of 9 additional vacant units in the following months. Jennifer also took the initiative to research and compile a Local Support Services Directory for Grayson, Cooke, and Fannin counties, the major counties which the TCOG serves. This Support Services Directory will not only aid TCOG employees in their referral services, but also serve as a convenient, concise, sustainable directory for locals to take advantage of when searching for local community resources.
This month was one of thankfulness and festivity as volunteers were appreciated at Woman to Woman Pregnancy Resource Center in Denton, TX. Volunteer Recruitment and Development VISTA Hannah played an integral role in developing the ways that Woman to Woman encourages and honors their volunteers. Hannah used social media to shed light on how thankful Woman to Woman is for their faithful volunteers. She did this by making one Volunteer Spotlight post each day. Hannah interviewed the volunteers and posted a little about them. Her goal in this was not only to honor each highlighted volunteer but also help people outside of the organization to better understand the joy, community, and integrity within Woman to Woman and encourage them to choose to volunteer with the non-profit. The organization hosted theme days with a candy or food item each day to give away to the volunteers to show appreciation. Hannah assisted Woman to Woman’s Volunteer Coordinator in assembling the needed decorations for the week. They set up a “Compliment Corner” to provide everyone with the opportunity to encourage others and create a more life-affirming atmosphere. Hannah anticipates that the volunteer environment at Woman to Woman will grow more and more like family and that this will draw in potential volunteers for the organization.
Forget testing the water, VISTA Rashika Smith serving with the Epilepsy Foundation Texas, had to jump in fully clothed to make Sharon’s Ride a success. Sharon’s Ride is an educational and fundraising event to increase the community’s awareness of and support for individuals afflicted with epilepsy. Rashika began VISTA service at the end of March and thought she would be learning more about the foundation and plan for the even months ahead. That was not the case as the event was less than five weeks out and there was a lot to do. Rashika was tasked with contacting donors, recruiting volunteers and developing donor letters and volunteer job descriptions. She hit many dead-end walls but after receiving the first donation she gained the confidence she needed to keep moving forward. As a result, the event was a success we had over 20 volunteers, 100 participants, a variety of snacks, and the best part, Epilepsy Foundation Texas raised $53,000 to support children with epilepsy go to summer camp.
VISTA member Nicole Owens completed her year of service in April at Denton County Friends of the Family, an agency dedicated to providing compassionate, comprehensive services to those impacted by rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence, while partnering with the community to promote safety, healing, and prevention. To raise awareness for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Nicole created educational social media content to share on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Sexual Assault Awareness posts on Facebook had about 15,000 views and almost 400 reactions, comments and shares. Twitter had over 7,000 views and about 170 engagements (clicks, likes, and re-tweets). The hope is that these facts about sexual assault will raise awareness and combat some common misconceptions people may have heard about sexual assault. Awareness is the first step in prevention and creating a community where fewer people experience sexual assault and those that do feel safe and secure in coming forward and getting help. Nicole will continue to serve the clients at DCFOF as she was hired as the Community Education Coordinator. Her primary duties will be to schedule and lead presentations at schools, assist with planning for awareness months, schedule and lead trainings in the community, and to train and supervise interns and volunteers for Speakers Bureau.