YoLanda Sanders, Volunteer Training AmeriCorps VISTA, currently serves in Denton, Texas at the Woman to Woman Pregnancy Resource Center. Woman to Woman (W2W) provides low-income women with free medical services, such as pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, prenatal care including medical follow ups, along with educational resources, and counseling services. Throughout the month of July, YoLanda generated a volunteer management system, Better Impact. This cohesive, all inclusive system provides W2W the ability to better manage, measure, and interpret volunteer data leading to more effective client interactions and service offerings. YoLanda has proven herself to be an invaluable asset to W2M in their mission to serve low income woman with the best services they can offer.
In addition, she conducted a concise, accurate reporting procedure so that volunteers and staff members can log their activities fully and independently. Understanding the inner workings of W2W, YoLanda continues to emphasize the importance of sustaining an engaged relationship with the volunteers. By reaching out to previous volunteers, YoLanda was able re-establish that connection. As a result, twelve volunteers re-activated and have committed to serving at the thrift store.
The Collin County History Museum, located in McKinney, TX, is an archival museum with historical artifacts, photographs, documents, diaries, manuscripts, and historical maps that provide valuable research and information for teachers, students, historians, authors and genealogists. The museum provides educational programming for students across Collin County. Keith Uselton, the Curriculum and Development VISTA for the Collin County History Museum, developed and launched an educational based summer program for 10 areas underserved 3rd and 4th grade students from low income families attending Title 1 elementary schools. Along with a volunteer, he procured a donation of a catered breakfast from an area restaurant for the students for all 6 sessions of the summer camp. Keith also acquired a donation of $100 for camp supplies. With donations from local merchants the students have been provided with daily snacks from high end restaurants and shops from around downtown McKinney. We have covered in our curriculum the first 2 topics of the TEK educational requirements for Texas 4th graders, Native Indians of Texas and Texas Pioneers. The goal of the summer camp is to promote students’ educational success by providing a preview of curriculum for 3rd graders going into 3rd grade and a review for 4th graders going into 5th.
VISTA Meghan serves with NewDay Services Fatherhood: EFFECT program in Denton, TX. They have successfully settled into their new facilities. Meghan was thrilled to have a stable launch pad from which to coordinate her outreach efforts and made sure to take advantage of it this month. She used the new opportunities presented by the excitement of new facilities to engage old contacts by encouraging them to come by and see what has changed in the program. Meghan has also been working on steadily building the relationship she has developed with two other community organizations, Our Daily Bread and the Salvation Army. This approach resulted in three very successful meetings with, producing a plethora of good ideas for collaboration as well as interagency goodwill. The first meeting was with the Community Liaison for Salvation Army. Meghan and the Fatherhood: EFFECT mentor-navigators were taken on a tour of the facility and given a detailed breakdown of the services they provide. On inclement weather days, they also provide presentations from the community and Fatherhood: EFFECT is being considered for participation. The second meeting was the team’s first outreach day at Our Daily Bread. Meghan and the mentor-navigators came away with a few referrals and were pleased to have kicked off the process of building recognition and trust with the ODB clientele. The third meeting was with the Denton County AgriLife office. They provide nutrition and SNAP benefit orientations free of charge and Meghan was interested in seeing how EFFECT could work with them. What came out of the meeting was the prospect of guest speakers during class as well as the idea for a charming dad and children bonding event–a family cooking class! Meghan can’t wait to see where this idea goes and hopes that it proves as fun and meaningful as past family events she has helped organize for the EFFECT team.
Cailli Perry, Drug Awareness and Prevention VISTA, began her first month of service at STOMP (Standing Together on Meth Prevention) in rural Jacksboro Texas. STOMP’s mission is to educate the communities of Jack County and raise awareness of the dangers of methamphetamine use, crime awareness, and promote prevention. STOMP kicked off the month of April with their “Spring into Action” Campaign, which provides opportunities for Jack County to come together and spread awareness while educating the dangers of drug use/abuse with various events and activities. Cailli and 53 others participated in STOMP’s “Paint the Town” event and their Community Cleanup Day, equating to over 70 hours of community service. They de-cluttered the community of trash and other larger items such as furniture and decorated the Courthouse and schools with turquoise ribbons and STOMP signs. Two additional elements of the campaign involved Senior Scholarships and a Middle School Poster Contest. The overall goal of the annual “Spring into Action” Campaign is to bring the Jack County community together in thinking about how they as individuals, and a community can “Spring Into Action Against Drugs.”
AmeriCorps VISTA member, Victoria Jackson, Victoria played an instrumental role in MDHA’s overall mission to make the experience of homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties rare, brief, and non-recurring with the creation of a comprehensive Youth Services Directory for young people seeking services. The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA) brings together more than 85 shelters, housing and supportive services programs through their Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), a community-wide database serving 10,126 persons. Understanding that youth experiencing homelessness are far more likely to utilize community Wi-Fi hotpots on smartphones when choosing to seek services, Victoria transformed her directory into an online database on the MDHA resource page. Users will see a paragraph explaining the webpage, followed by links to different service areas such as housing, educational help, employment services, and LGBTQ-affirming services. The Youth Services Directory webpage incorporates user friendly features, including direct links to each program website, gender identity symbols indicating whether or not programs house transgender individuals. And, as a precautionary effort to provide clients with an added sense of security while seeking services, the webpage displays an escape button that immediately exits out completely.
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!
Raven Carr is a VISTA member serving at Interfaith Ministries of Denton, Inc. (IFM) as the Volunteer Coordinator. Interfaith’s mission is to provide emergency basic needs assistance to the people of Northern Denton County with the goal of helping those people become self-sufficient. Before each school year begins, IFM provides a program to the Denton community called Apple Tree. Apple Tree provides school supplies, a backpack, and a shoe gift card to families with Denton ISD students that are on free or reduced lunch. Raven was in charge of recruiting volunteers to work the distribution day. She used Volunteer Match and personal contact with past volunteers as a way to recruit volunteers for the program. Raven recruited more than enough people to volunteer and had to cut the list to about 20 volunteers to help distribute the supplies, backpacks, and gift cards to 1,500 Denton ISD students.
The VISTA North Texas project would like to welcome Daisy Martinez! Daisy is dedicating a year of service to Giving HOPE, Inc. in Denton, TX as their Resource Development VISTA. Daisy will help end poverty by increasing Giving HOPE’s financial capacity to give a hand up to those experiencing or at-risk of homelessness in Denton County, Texas. She will be enhancing fundraising capabilities and opportunities within the local community, cultivating relationships with new donors as well as researching and writing grants in line with the agency’s mission.
Our Daily Bread is a community soup kitchen that serves a free, nutritious lunch meal Monday through Friday to the hungry and homeless in Denton County, TX. Our Daily Bread also distributes hygiene products, offers medical services and assists their clients through referrals to other social service agencies for assistance.
VISTA Nate Dears has increased Our Daily Bread’s capacity to serve the homeless and hungry of Denton through his grant writing and fundraising skills. Since July 2014, Nate has helped raise $67,417 of which $16,709 came from the “Donate” button he installed on the agency’s website!
Nate has successfully written grants totaling $23,713 to provide MREs (meals ready to eat), fund a staff position and aid with emergency assistance to the 2,333 unduplicated clients of which 1,044 are homeless and 89 are children.
Keep up the good work Nate!
December 2015 was a great conclusion for PediPlace, a non-profit children’s health clinic. Thanks to the work of AmeriCorps VISTA, Kendra Reams, the toy drives, volunteer organization and distribution of toys and warm clothes for PediPlace’s patients went smoothly and successfully.
PediPlace adopted 4 families with a total of 21 children to which the toys and clothing were given. The Motorcycle Toy Drive brought in 157 new toys and $200 in cash donations. Another 450 toys were donated from various community groups.
Kendra developed social media marketing materials to make a final push for the Holiday Giving program which garnered $23,000 in cash donations to the agency. With the various toy drives, volunteers decorating, families adopted, and community supporters, PediPlace has been able to not only make health care a reality for every kid, but also were able to make a Happy Holiday a reality for their patients.