When thinking of helping the homeless, some people might think of social workers. However, we more likely tend to think of volunteering at a soup kitchen or food pantry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, faith-based communities report the most volunteerism, and the most frequently reported forms of volunteerism are meal services and food pantries. Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance has dedicated part of its Strategic Plan to engaging and coordinating with the faith-based communities of Dallas and Collin counties with the goal of serving more homeless neighbors in the Continuum of Care (CoC). AmeriCorps VISTA member, Victoria Jackson, has joined this Faith-Based Collaboration to map the system of services in religious communities. The purpose of this map is to discover where our homeless neighbors enter and exit the system, how they navigate it, and how organizations in the CoC can engage them. Additionally, if the faith based communities of the Continuum of Care collaborate through increased communication then more referrals with direct clients to housing programs will end their homelessness.
AmeriCorps VISTA member Steven Tillman has been more active within the Lewisville/Flower Mound area while continuing his outreach towards staffing Christian Community Action’s Job Readiness Training Program with volunteer trainers. His host site, Christian Community Action, in collaboration with a local branch of Old Navy, recently held a well-received “Back to School” event for citizens of Denton County. Steven assisted with the facilitation of the event, where families received free clothing and school supplies for students. He also recently attended two business events: The Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Conference, and The Lewisville Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Social. Both of these events hosted key members of Lewisville’s business and nonprofit sectors. Steven connected with attendees of both events and spread the word of his efforts towards developing a team of Job Readiness Trainers increasing the populous of gainfully employed citizens of Denton County. The Job Readiness Training program is anchored upon teaching people methods, belief systems, best practices, and techniques for maximizing one’s employment/earning potential and then strategically navigating an action plan of elevated employment, training, and/or education until one’s desired outcomes are achieved. Such outcomes range from a person obtaining a GED diploma through information provided about such resources, to a person securing employment which pays a functional wage suited for independent living, to a person earning a promotion at work, to a person identifying a career field which best suits his/her education and training, to a person earning an advanced degree through a well-executed plan of organization and achievement while simultaneously employed.
In August 2017, VISTA Sean Enfield worked to improve the communication and relationships between the North Texas Performing Arts organization/staff and its volunteers while also continuing to standardize its volunteer practices. With such wide array of theatres and programming, the organization’s volunteer network is widely dispersed and hard to manage efficiently. As a part of his role with the organization, Sean has been working to ensure that all volunteers are aware of the rules and procedures while making sure they have some creative input and feel valued. Throughout August, he coordinated with volunteers across the four theatres and trained them for a variety of volunteer positions. This enables more volunteers to do the work and helps make sure the work is done consistently even as different hands take it over.
Hurricane Harvey shifted the dynamic in fundraising efforts for Epilepsy Foundation’s Community Outreach VISTA, Rashika Smith. The Dallas office took over the calls for the Houston clinic August 25, 2017. The Epilepsy Foundation wanted ensure the crisis would not have a big impact on patients receiving much needed medication. The calls Rashika received helped her understand how important funding is to keep the clinic open. Epilepsy Foundation staff worked with the doctors and pharmacies to make sure patients received their medication wherever they were. Rashika took on a personal challenge to increase the in-kind donation for our upcoming fundraiser in November, Race for the Cure. In August, Rashika sent out over 343 inquiries for donations and has received over 43 items so far with a value of $10,000. She has also helped secure sponsorships worth $38,000. The secured donations increase the likelihood the fundraiser will bring in more money than before.
In August 2017, AmeriCorps VISTA Business Development Officer Melanie Cheney helped raise nearly $26,000 in matching funds to help motivate donors on North Texas Giving Day (September 14). By giving a presentation to the theatres’ Management Boards in July, Melanie secured donations from excited board members who are interested in raising as much money as possible on the day of the fundraiser. Her organization raised $28,000 total last year, so the fact that she was able to raise $26,000 in a matching fund alone, a month before the actual fundraiser, means that there is the potential to raise so much more this year.
NewDay Services’ Community Outreach VISTA, Meghan Kajihara spearheaded the effort to secure Fatherhood EFFECT a spot at the Back to School Fairs for Northwest ISD and Lewisville ISD. The agency gained visibility with the other participating organizations as well as the 600+ clients in attendance and distributed 362 flyers. She also developed relationships with 8 new businesses and set up a successful meeting with the Denton County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. The work Meghan does with NewDay Services uplifts and educates parents so they can provide stable home environments for children, curtailing child abuse before it can ever begin and putting a stop to destructive, comorbid factors that hurt a child’s probability of escaping poverty. This month, while working on her organization’s data management pipeline, she discovered some interesting statistics that she thinks are a perfect indicator of how the Fatherhood EFFECT program changes the lives of fathers and their children. No single participant with a criminal record or who entered the program as part of their reentry from incarceration ever returned to prison after going through the class. That’s a recidivism rate of 0%. Not a single father who has ever been through the program has ever had another CPS case opened against them. Sixty percent (60%) of fathers see an improvement in their work lives. The lessons they take away from EFFECT stick and change their lives and the lives of their children.
During the month of August, AmeriCorps VISTA North Texas welcomed three new VISTA Members. VISTA leader, Marcela Solia, assisted in welcoming these new VISTAs by facilitating their onsite training and creating social media posts introducing them to the community. After helping the new VISTAs settle in, she continued to recruit for the open November positions. The last week of August was spent at various universities’ career fairs speaking with students about AmeriCorps VISTA and the many opportunities available. Many students showed interest in the program and even left their contact information requesting more information.
Denton Christian Preschool opened its doors during the month of August to welcome new 3 and 4 year olds. As the weeks progressed the children transitioned from anxious into excited and motivated learners. Since the 1970’s the organization has served thousands of at-risk children in the Denton area. AmeriCorps VISTA, Maegan Shafer, contributed to their continued success by making their online presence more viable by increasing their social media activity and updating their website. In addition to updating the information Maegan created several graphics that would advertise the Denton Christian Preschools services to be shared across all media platforms. With over 500 viewers reached we hope to increase our revenue and strategize to increase funding.
During the first week of August 2017, Affordable Housing Advocate VISTA Jennifer Weatherford attended a two day housing seminar in Longview, TX to participate with regional councils of government, homeless coalitions, health care representatives, housing developers, and other non-profit and for-profit agencies in training and discussion pertaining to engaging community partners to expand supportive housing. The seminar was organized by Community Housing Partners and provided invaluable information about the process of identifying and subsequently developing working relationships with each of the important participating agencies which are crucial for the development of permanent supportive housing. Consequently, Jennifer was able to establish a broader network of individuals interested in advocating for affordable housing, including a housing developer interested in obtaining land and developing supportive, affordable housing for low income and disabled seniors in Lamar County. With the help of the Affordable Housing Loans and Grants information supplied during their meeting, this developer is intending to build 18 supportive, affordable rental units to disabled and senior tenants in the coming year.
Jennifer, a VISTA serving at Woman to Woman Pregnancy Resource Center in Denton, TX has found the importance in maximizing potential for volunteers from every walk of life. Working closely with the volunteer coordinator at Twice as Nice Resale, (a branch of Woman to Woman PRC) Jennifer determined areas where she could improve the process for new volunteer intake and training. She decided to begin where it all starts: the initial contact the volunteer makes with someone at Twice as Nice Resale. Responding to all volunteer inquiries, including those from individuals who are looking to complete their community service hours, is imperative in ensuring that you are utilizing all of the help that is offered. In the month of August, Twice as Nice Resale received dozens of community service inquiries and Jennifer played a large part in the correspondence, keeping the individual’s information and status updated, and preparing them for their first day of service or volunteering. In order to be able to provide free medical services, education, and needed goods like diapers and formula to the Denton County area, Woman to Woman PRC relies heavily on their volunteers to help in all areas of the organization. Jennifer has also supported the organization’s efforts in a more efficient volunteer introduction process by facilitating new volunteers and community service members in their application, interview, and orientation. Maintaining accurate records daily using a spreadsheet to keep track of each person’s status as they move through the acclimation period has been an essential method in immersing them quicker, more efficiently, and more thoroughly. Jennifer plans to continue refining this process as she moves into evaluating how she can improve the overall training procedures so that Woman to Woman PRC can engage more community members as well as help even more people who are uninsured, economically disadvantaged, or facing a hard time in their lives.