AmeriCorps VISTA member, Victoria Jackson, serving with Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance has spent the past few months finalizing and perfecting the New Tenant Resource Guide (NTRG). In this guide, newly-housed clients will find a Birth Certificate application, a Voter Registration Card, and a resource directory that ranges from employment needs to medical needs that can be fulfilled in Dallas and Collin Counties. In January, she gathered the participants of December’s pilot program, in addition to representatives from several other agencies for training and distribution of the first official New Tenant Resource Guides. In this meeting, she trained the representatives on the 60 pages of the NTRG, from the instructions on how to access critical documents to the ten-page resource directory at the end of the guide. To prevent too many general funds and office hours being used on putting together each individual guide, Victoria uploaded each element of the guide to Basecamp, a website meant to organize cooperative projects. In this way, all agencies funded by the Continuum of Care or the Emergency Solutions Grant now have access to this guide and can print it with ease and at no cost.
AmeriCorps VISTA Stephanie Adams’ work at Christian Community Action (CCA) in Lewisville, TX has included submitting grants to the Hillcrest, Harry W. Bass, Celanese, and Kohl foundation as well as the Bank of the Ozarks. If granted funding from each of these foundations Stephanie’s work could provide Christian Community Action’s comprehensive programs and services with $32,500 to continue providing relief to its clients in crisis. CCA’s programs include food and financial assistance, life skills and job readiness training, as well as spiritual care and counseling to approximately 4,000 community members in need. The grants written to the Hillcrest and Harry W. Bass foundation could potentially provide funding for CCA’s Food Assistance program and help CCA purchase fresh fruits and vegetables as well as household and hygiene products.
VISTA Miranda Bonilla is hard at work recruiting volunteers for Youth and Family Counseling (YFC) in Lewisville, TX. Since YFC is a smaller agency, volunteers make a huge difference. By taking on some of the smaller but necessary tasks around the office, volunteers allow staff members to focus on capacity building, which leads to more funds raised to serve the community. Miranda has also been working on creating fresh content for YFC’s social media. She believes greater social media engagement is an important component of marketing. Getting the word out to the community in an accessible way leads to more awareness about the agency and more clients served. For the month of January, she created the series “31 Days of Mental Health”, in an effort to increase both mental health awareness and audience engagement. Each day, a new tip was posted along with a picture or video relevant to the post. Since the series started, the YFC Facebook page has reached 2,994 people, a 388% increase from December. YFC has also had 813 post engagements, a 359% increase. It is the Agency’s most successful series to date.
“Focusing on our foundation and building on it” is the theme that VISTA Jennifer Annen is using to create a new training for the volunteers at Woman to Woman’s Twice as Nice Resale in Denton, Texas. January was the second phase in the construction of the quarterly training, known as “BUILD,” for the resale store’s staff and 120+ active volunteers. After conducting over 20 hours of interviews with current volunteers, Jennifer and her volunteer management team took the feedback into consideration when planning how to most efficiently use the volunteers’ valuable time during trainings. Jennifer and her team began by replacing one of their old methods of training every first Thursday of the month and implemented BUILD, which would gather more volunteers at a time most convenient to them and jam-packed with the most pertinent information. By working closely with various presenters to compose their portion of the training, Jennifer made sure that the activities and lessons would be worthwhile, interactive, and even fun! To string together all sections of the training, Jennifer designed a PowerPoint presentation that remained on the screen to help the audience follow and to highlight the largest takeaways. She and the volunteer management team created a booklet for all of the audience members to fill in the blanks, take notes, and walk away with important upcoming dates and events. Ultimately, forty-five volunteers and staff participated in the training event and two of the founding board members even made an appearance. One of the highlights of the evening involved a long-term volunteer of thirteen years who spoke about why she has stayed with Woman to Woman for so long and how much of an impact you can within your volunteer service. Jennifer’s team received excellent feedback from all attendees and she cannot wait to see all of the hard work of the BUILD event transpire into more cohesiveness and ownership within the ministry. The value of these amazing volunteers’ service has helped to provide over 1,700 hours at the resale store in just the last month of 2017 alone. These hours enable Twice as Nice to serve Woman to Woman in providing many free services to the community. Jennifer hopes that these quarterly trainings will encourage volunteers to continue spreading the word to friends and the community how just serving a few hours a week can provide so much for the Denton County area!
Network of Community Ministries, Inc. located in Richardson, TX responds to human need by giving assistance with the goal of helping individuals achieve long-term independence. Its mission is “caring, coaching and empowering neighbors in need as they seek an improved quality of life.” Ben Chapman serves as the Marketing and Fundraising VISTA spent time shadowing Networks’ Handy-Men Program, a service provided to Network clients who are either seniors or disabled. He and the volunteers went to a senior woman’s home and he took photos of the volunteers fixing a woman’s fence for her. He also had the opportunity to interview her about her situation and how Network has been there for her. She is forced to be a working senior but still cannot afford to keep up with her home, despite already having a roommate. She told Ben that the fact that the Handy-Men Service can be there for her is truly a blessing. She stated “They keep you together. Because if your house is falling apart, it’s impossible to put your life back together”
April Comperda, serving as the Drug Education VISTA at Chisholm Trail RSVP in Denton, TX continues working on the agency’s Prescription Take Back Day campaign. Even though the Take Back Days occur just twice a year, Chisholm Trail RSVP continues to stand as mechanism for change and bridge the gap all year long. Recognizing that seniors do not fit the typical stereotype of a drug abuser, Chisholm Trail RSVP understands the necessity of bringing the Take Back Days to senior living communities and senior centers. In addition, April’s mission to increase public awareness, has led her to create a media kit containing resources promote the Take Back campaign to target seniors. In addition, she secured a generous donation of 1,000 Dettera at-home disposal pouches from a nationwide pharmaceutical corporation. The pouches reinforce the dangerous effects of leaving medication in places for anyone to find. April’s efforts build the capacity and necessary sustainability to carry-out Chisholm Trail RSVP’s initiative for years to come.
Name: Rashika Smith
Hometown: Orlando, Florida
Alma Mater: Florida A&M in Tallahassee
Volunteer history: I did AmeriCorps City Year and Pfeiffer Camp. I also volunteered with CASA, Red Cross, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
Why did you choose VISTA? I chose VISTA because of my experiences with the AmeriCorps in the past through City Year and Pfeiffer Camp. When I had the opportunity to move to a new city, I knew the skills that I would continue to gain while giving back to my new community would AmeriCorps would be exceptional. This was also an opportunity to develop skills for graduate school.
Tell us a little bit about what your organization does and your role in it: Epilepsy Foundation helps lead the fight to overcome the challenges of living with epilepsy. My role is fundraising and community outreach.
What is your biggest accomplishment as a VISTA so far? I was able to increase the fundraising efforts for the entire organization. I was able to help increase volunteerism.
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.