April Comperda serves as the Community Marketing VISTA with Denton County Friends of the Family (DCFOF). In July, she worked towards promoting DCFOF’s campaigns and upcoming events. The Back to School Drive was featured on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and the bimonthly newsletters. April shared the link to their Amazon Wishlist in order to create an easily accessible form of contribution. DCFOF collected 300 backpacks filled with school supplies and recruited 20 volunteers who served 72 hours to help fill them. Promoting DCFOF through social media makes a substantial impact on community responsiveness. Incorporating current social media trends, such as the Boomerang App with four second videos, is something April will be working to improve in order to increase followers, donors and volunteers.
July was certainly a month of growth for Twice as Nice Resale, an entity of Woman to Woman Pregnancy Resource Center (W2W) in Denton, Texas and VISTA Jennifer helped to lay the groundwork for expanding their volunteer program! Alongside her project’s fellow VISTA, Hannah McNeill, Jennifer worked to open up a new opportunity for Twice as Nice Resale’s volunteers to take more ownership and lead volunteer groups. Over the last couple of years, W2W has received an increased amount of interest from many organizations and church groups looking to serve at their resale store. With the number of volunteer groups growing, the need for assistance in coordinating, planning, and running the groups has also grown. Keeping in mind that the VISTA project will not be at W2W forever, Jennifer co-constructed a group lead “to do” checklist to help train five volunteers Hannah recruited for the leadership roles. To ensure that the volunteers received a comprehensive learning experience, Jennifer created mock “groups” and provided the necessary information for the volunteers to then work with each other to plan and coordinate for the group, just as they would eventually have to do when they are planning on their own. The next step in their training process includes them shadowing at least 3 volunteer groups where they watch and help the VISTAs run them and then ultimately leading their own groups. Jennifer hopes that this training will not only help the current volunteer leaders to train new leaders after the VISTA project, but also that the organization’s capacity to host more volunteer groups will surge. Jennifer predicts that being able to better spread the word about the organization will only benefit them in donations and sales, thus allowing W2W to provide their services to the community for free!
AmeriCorps VISTA Member Victoria Jackson serves with the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA). MDHA leads the development of an effective homeless response system to make the experience of homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties rare, brief, and non-recurring. Victoria has finished her work on the Youth Services Directory (YSD) and has sent it to every public middle and high school in Dallas and Collin Counties. The YSD is also on the MDHA website, which is more directly accessible to homeless youth and more cost-effective than the print version. She is working on the web page version of the YSD, which will change with every update on service providers, youth needs, and Continuum of Care (CoC) members. Victoria has converted the Housing Resource Guide (HRG) to an editing software and updated with relevant information. The HRG will be given to every recently-housed person in the CoC, and contains tools to help them become successful in their housing situation and personal goals. In addition, Victoria has begun to map the system of care in faith-based communities by reaching out to churches, mosques, and synagogues to join our Faith-Based Collaboration Committee. By figuring out how these organizations interact with each other and with non-faith-based organizations, the CoC will be able to better serve our homeless friends and neighbors.
VISTA leader, Marcela Solia, spent the month of July focusing on recruitment for the November VISTA positions. She worked to market for the open positions by posting openings on college sites and social media and preparing for tabling events coming up in August. Many applications have already come in and Marcela has taken the time to screen the applicants. She also spent a week at leadership training along with several VISTA Leaders throughout the nation. During the conference, she learned techniques for communication and conflict resolution allowing her to be a better support system for her VISTAs.
Stephanie De Los Santos, a Camp Resource Development VISTA with the Epilepsy Foundation of Texas (EFTX), wrote and submitted 6 grants asking for a total of $72,600 in July. Two of those grants, totaling $13,600 from the CH Foundation and CNS Pantex were approved. These grants will fund programs to send children with epilepsy to summer camp, provide free medication and diagnostic testing to adults, and education programs for school nurses and personnel to ensure safe environments for children attending school with epilepsy.
The smell of bug spray and the sound of children laughing indicated summer camp had begun. The Epilepsy Foundation of Texas hosts three camps with over 300 kids in attendances. Community Outreach VISTA, Rashika Smith was able to assist with Kamp Kaleidoscope located in Anna Texas. She had an amazing experience witnessing the results of her advocating, fundraising, and pushing for these past couple months. She learned from the children how they cope with their condition and the saw the bravery demonstrated as they continued to participate in the camp activities. Rashika used the information the campers shared with her when she attended a school nursing conference. She spoke to over 100 school nurses and educated them on how children with epilepsy felt during a seizure and what helped them cope better after having one.
Jennifer Weatherford serves with the Texoma Council of Government’s Adult and Disability Resource Center as the Affordable Housing Advocate VISTA. On Tuesday, July 11, Jennifer drove to Van Alstyne, TX to meet with Irma Eaves, owner and operator of Camelot Multifamily Investments, to discuss affordable housing. Mrs. Eaves expressed interest in acquiring nine furnished units, split into three buildings, to low income individuals but was having trouble with the logistics of financing. In the weeks leading up to the meeting, Jennifer had started a Housing Grants and Loans Master List and was able to offer Mrs. Eaves information regarding a Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) Multifamily Direct Loan that would offer her significantly reduced interest rates and give her the means to see her project through. During the course of the meeting, Jennifer was also able to counsel Mrs. Eaves on the types of low income tenants that would be best suited to the location and function of her units, taking full advantage of the communal spaces offered in each of the buildings. With the submission deadline for the loan document set at October 31, 2017, Jennifer intends to keep in close communication with Mrs. Eaves through the course of the paperwork and the development process, as well as introduce her to partner agencies and land surveyors that will work to expedite the process of both installing the units and introducing tenants.
AmeriCorps VISTA member Steven Tillman is placing his efforts towards fully staffing Christian Community Action’s Job Readiness Training Program with volunteer trainers. Theses volunteers will be needed in order to facilitate trainings not only at CCA, but also at two other nonprofit organizations; Goodwill Industries in Lewisville, and the Salvation Army of Denton County. These partnerships were secured after Steven met with representatives for both organizations and presented an overview of the Job Readiness Training and what the program offers to clients. Steven will be meeting with representatives from Texas Workforce Solutions in August. He has a goal of securing partnerships with five organizations. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in Denton County, TX 27,000 individuals are unemployed and 64,000 individuals are living in poverty. The Job Readiness Training program, with regard to this group of the population, 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.
Meghan Kajihara serves as the Community Outreach VISTA for NewDay Services in Denton TX. In July, Meghan established new relationships with 9 local businesses with the hope to establish the Fatherhood EFFECT program with business owners as a resources for employees as well as a place where they can seek service referrals. By working with employees and enacting a meaningful change in their lives, the agency can help employers see the value of our work not only to their community but to their business and begin the process of turning these community contacts into donors. Meghan also spearheaded the effort to get Fatherhood EFFECT a spot at the Denton Mobile Food Pantry’s quarterly resource fair which will gain visibility for the organization not only with the other organizations present but also with the 150+ clients in attendance. The contacts Meghan has made will lead to new opportunities to increase volunteers and resources. 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. She has seen the change begin in an HIV-positive father who came to the Fatherhood EFFECT program for resource referrals. Though he was previously long-term unemployed, he has found work and his son will be coming to stay with him. This will be the first time he has seen his son in many months and he is both nervous and excited to reunite with him. In fact, the kids’ activities database Meghan created was very helpful to him in planning activities for him and his son. As in the case with this father, Meghan and her NewDay Services colleagues continue to strive to connect people to resources, their community, and their children, no longer isolated by their challenges or anxieties.
VISTA Sean Enfield continued his efforts to train volunteers for the Plano Children’s Theatre (PCT). During the month of July, he helped organize, schedule, and run a workshop for the theatre’s high school interns, and he held another Training Workshop for the theatre’s production volunteer position. The production volunteer workshops covered the Set Build and Light/Sound coordinator volunteer positions. Since our volunteer roles are often combined with scholarships and tuition reimbursement, these volunteer roles help make theatre programs affordable to the patrons. Sean also continued management of PCT’s vast array of existing volunteers as the end of the summer ramps the theatre back into its busiest season. During the month of July, he recruited 15 new volunteers and managed 101 volunteers for a total of 389 service hours which saved Plano Children’s Theatre $9,768 in labor costs.