Jennifer Annen, Volunteer Training VISTA serving at Woman to Woman Pregnancy Resource (W2W) in Denton, Texas, has launched the first stage of revamping the training program for the volunteers at W2W’s Twice as Nice Resale. Knowing that the monthly trainings were well-intentioned and full of useful information, but could not reach an optimal amount of volunteers, Jennifer set out to devise a plan to magnify their impact. Jennifer sat down with Twice as Nice’s weekly, permanent volunteers to gain feedback on their satisfaction with their current duties and if they feel appreciated for their hard work within the ministry. They discussed at length what method of training they thought could be most useful and what times match best with their schedules. After over 20 hours of conversation, Jennifer took this crucial information and teamed up with staff to begin planning a quarterly training which could reach more people and pack a more powerful punch with relaying vital information to their volunteers. Jennifer hopes that the trainings’ cohesiveness will encourage Twice as Nice’s volunteers to feel empowered, appreciated, and the desire to take greater ownership. The value of their contributions amounted to 1,724 hours served in just the last month but provided 80 class presentations through W2W’s Living Choices education program and allowed the Pregnancy Resource Center to hold 76 client visits. Without the volunteers’ efforts, it would be impossible to reach so many individuals within the Denton county community!
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.
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!
The New Volunteer Training VISTA will increase the agency’s capacity by improving current volunteer trainings and procedures thus increasing retention of volunteers. The New Volunteer Training VISTA will develop a curriculum to thoroughly orient and train new volunteers and will refine volunteer education and training in order to move volunteers from program participation to ownership. The VISTA member will expand and enhance the volunteer program through the evaluation and revising of existing policies and procedures. The VISTA will create a new volunteer training program that is consistent with new policies and procedures as well as follow-up trainings and evaluations to allow volunteers to provide feedback and retrain in areas where they need help. The VISTA member will develop a volunteer management system to track volunteer activities and hours of service. The system created will need to have measures in place that will maintain confidentiality and security of volunteer records.
The Volunteer Coordination VISTA will help break down the barriers poverty creates for low-income children seeking an arts education through the development of a new comprehensive volunteer recruitment and training program. Major functions will include evaluation and updating the volunteer handbook, policies and procedures, evaluating the agency’s volunteer needs and recruiting 50 new volunteers to fill those needs, and the development of training materials to educate and enable volunteers to serve the needs of the agency. Applicants should possess good oral and written communications skills, volunteer recruitment experience and computer skills.
Name: Victoria Jackson
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Alma Mater: Loyola University Chicago
Volunteer history: I was on the executive board of the Habitat for Humanity chapter of my university, and after college I was a typing and TEFL tutor at local community centers for about a year. I came across AmeriCorps while working at a mortgage company, and decided to leave the industry to work for DuPage Habitat for Humanity as an AmeriCorps National on the construction team. After my first AmeriCorps year ended, I came back home to Dallas and found a VISTA position at Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance.
Why did you choose VISTA? I knew that I wanted to work in the nonprofit world but had very little experience and didn’t know on which cause I wanted to focus. VISTA provides me with the opportunity to learn in a working environment and has helped me focus my interest in one area.
Tell us a little bit about what your organization does and your role in it: MDHA facilitates collaboration between homeless service providers and is the lead agency for the Continuum of Care, whose end goal is to make any experience of homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring. MDHA also coordinates HUD Continuum of Care grant funding for homelessness in Dallas and Collin county. What I do, specifically, is help facilitate collaboration between youth service providers, faith-based organizations, and create tools that help people recovering from homelessness to achieve and maintain stability.
What is your biggest accomplishment as a VISTA so far? The Youth Services Directory, which is an array of services and housing options for homeless youth in Dallas and Collin counties.
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.
Victoria Jackson is the Homeless Resource Development VISTA with Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA). MDHA serves as the lead agency for the local Continuum of Care and it administrates the local Homeless Management Information System, which tracks performance and drives improvement of service providers. The homeless assistance agencies that have programs for Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) have encountered a new challenge: what to do when a client no longer wants services. About 5% of the tenants of PSH feel that they can live independently and no longer need supportive services. AmeriCorps VISTA member, Victoria Jackson, has joined an endeavor spearheaded by the Dallas/Collin County Continuum of Care to create a path to independence from the PSH Program. Victoria has helped update the Independent Housing Readiness Assessment (IHRA), a tool that will be used to help a client decide if he or she is ready to live independently. Considering the fact that affordable housing is extremely limited in Dallas, creating more Permanent Supportive Housing for the homeless with disabilities is even more difficult. Therefore, finding room for more clients in the PSH programs will help alleviate the burden on the emergency shelter system. With the help of the IHRA, more clients might be willing and able to live independently and create more room for clients in Permanent Supportive Housing Programs.
Name: Jennifer Weatherford
Hometown: Seguin, Texas
Alma Mater: Arizona State University
Volunteer history: Let Girls Learn Fundraising and Awareness Project for Senegalese girls (2016); Votua Village Service Learning Project to maintain agricultural projects in Votua, Fiji (2015). I’ve also volunteered my time as a research assistant during my undergrad and spent a couple years as a foster for cats in the East Valley in Arizona.
Why did you choose VISTA: I recently relocated to Northeast Texas and was looking for a way to connect to my new community while putting my love for volunteering and community service to its best use. VISTA was the best option for me—not only does the VISTA program give me the resources I need to grow as a service-minded individual, but offers incentives for me to continue my education and pursue my graduate degree after my year of service has ended.
Tell us a little bit about what your organization does and your role in it: I’m serving as an Affordable Housing Advocate VISTA with the Aging and Disability Resource Center at the Texoma Council of Governments. Essentially, my role in the organization is to connect with housing developers, landlords, homeless coalitions, and other partner agencies in order to expand the capacity of my community to offer affordable housing to homeless, at-risk homeless, seniors, veterans, low income families, and disabled persons.
What is your biggest accomplishment as a VISTA so far? My role with VISTA has been a roller coaster of information, particularly because I’m the first VISTA in my community and the first to serve in this capacity. There was a lot to learn early on but the rewards from my time spent providing outreach to Northeast Texas have begun to show themselves; I’ve helped house a dozen individuals by connecting them to services throughout the region, and I’m excited to begin the next step of my service by providing much needed outreach to builders and developers to expand affordable housing.