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!
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.
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.