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.
In December, Drug Education VISTA, April Comperda, continued mobilizing the Chisholm Trail RSVP, Inc., Prescription Drug Take Back project in Denton County, TX in response to the CNCS call to action. Chisholm Trail RSVP’s Take Back campaign, includes events providing services such as medication review and providing mail-back envelopes to assist residents with a safe, convenient way disposal method for any unwanted and expired medications in order to prevent drug diversion with addicts, curious teens, innocent children, and pets. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has definitively concluded that the majority of people who misuse prescription drugs obtain them from family or friends first. Consequently, as the prescription opioids start to become harder and harder to get off the streets, many addicts turn to heroin for the cheaper and faster high. Four out of five (80%) new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers (NIDA, SAMHSA, 2016). Not only is the Denton community home of two universities and several retirement communities, its metropolis location, which resides so close to DFW area, creates an opportune channel of drug trafficking and diversion. April and Chisholm Trail RSVP organized (DEA) National Prescription Take Back events as part of the Disposal Campaign, targeting senior living communities and senior centers across Denton County. The overarching goals of the Take Back Program are 1) reduce the amount of prescription medications circulating the streets; 2) to prevent the diversion of prescription medicine; 3) gain community support; and 4) increase education and awareness of the opioid epidemic and prevention measures; 4) conduct medication reviews to identify any medicine errors, especially for seniors. The event will be on April 28th at five senior community locations in Denton County.
Martha Tonn is the Volunteer Recruitment and Development VISTA at Cornerstone Ranch, a unique home and day program for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities located in McKinney, TX. On Saturday, October 28, Cornerstone Ranch held their annual Gala & Art Auction, which accounts for approximately 80% of the organizations operating funds for the year, as well as building capital towards their site expansion plan. The event was a sellout, with over 350 people attending. Martha played a vital role in preparation for this year’s event, recruiting 17 new volunteers to assist with auction set up, decorating, and running the silent auction portion of the event. Martha scheduled three pre-auction work days prior to the event to accommodate volunteers who are only available on weekends. These volunteers did many projects early so that set up and decoration could proceed smoothly on the day of the event. Martha also used Signup Genius and social media to promote volunteer opportunities throughout the month, assuring that each stage of the preparation had adequate volunteer support. On the Saturday of the Gala, Martha managed 41 volunteers who served a total of 175 hours that day from set up in the morning through the wrap up of the event.
Rashika Smith is serving with the Epilepsy Foundation Texas as the Community Outreach VISTA. Education outreach for epilepsy is what Rashika primarily markets to potential funders and supporters. As part of her professional development, Rashika attended the Epilepsy Foundation’s seizure first aid training. As with any training like CPR and first aid you hope you never have to use it, but when 1 in 26 people develop epilepsy in their lifetime this type of education is important. The Epilepsy Foundation offers seizure first aid training so those in the community are aware and know what to do and not do when coming into contact with an individual experiencing a seizure. Rashika never imagined the training she attended and now assists with would ever be used. However, one Thursday afternoon, the sound of a loud scream prompted her into action when a co-worker was in the throngs of an active seizure. Rashika jumped into action, administered seizure first aid and stabilized her coworker until paramedics arrived. According to her supervisor, Rashika remained calm and administered the first aid flawlessly, even remembering to time the seizure. When paramedics arrived, they asked her how she knew to time the seizure. She was very proud to explain to them what Epilepsy Foundation does and the services offered.
VISTA leader, Marcela Solia, connected with Keep Denton Beautiful to organize a 9/11 day of service project. This was a chance for the VISTAs to contribute to our community in a more direct way. They spent their morning at Lake Forest Park in Denton collecting trash and recyclables that had been left behind. Several bags of trash were collected, including an entire pile of recyclable cans left by the lake. Being able to salvage as many recyclable items as possible is important so that resources aren’t wasted and can be reused in the future. We emphasized to the VISTAs that it is important to keep our parks clean not only so that those who attend the park are safe from sharp and dangerous objects left behind but also because a clean environment is essential to our health. Trash may lead to pollution or damage plants that provide nutrition to humans. In return for contributing to their project, Keep Denton Beautiful posted our picture on their website. This gives the VISTA North Texas project more visibility and allows us to reach those who may not know about us or the role we have in our society.
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.