In September, Stephanie Adams, Grant Writing VISTA at Christian Community Action (CCA) has submitted grants to the Lupe Murchison and Wells Fargo Foundation, with the potential to receive $60,000. If awarded these funds will provide operational support to Christian Community Action as well as fund its family assistance services, which provides immediate financial assistance to families and individuals in crisis ensuring homelessness prevention. Additionally, Stephanie submitted a letter of inquiry to the United Supermarkets Foundation. If awarded, this foundation will grant $1,000 to CCA’s food bank which offers a diverse selection of nutritious items as well as hygiene and household products to low-income families and individuals of North Texas. Stephanie’s work will build community connections and partnerships between CCA and foundations, ensuring sustainability for the organization long after the completion of Stephanie’s VISTA service year.
September was quite a busy month for VISTA Sean Enfield. As his organization, the Plano Children’s Theatre, prepares for its big move, Sean has been tasked with recruiting volunteers for the move as well as volunteers to help with the build out of the new space. He has been utilizing the organization’s online presence and talking with community service volunteers in order to get them involved in the Raised Seating Project. While that project is underway, he is still managing the day-to-day operations of the various theatres, their productions, and events. This month, he has recruited 32 volunteers for October’s Halloween fundraiser and the agency’s move and managed 9 volunteers on the production teams for the 11 shows that began rehearsals and 6 shows that performed. These volunteers have served 365 hours cumulatively at Plano Children’s Theatre.
Last month Hurricane Harvey caused financial challenges for Epilepsy Foundation Texas. The Foundation made sure every affected patient needing their medication received it at any cost to them. VISTA Rashika Smith made it her personal goal to double the in-kind donations from last year in order for the silent auction at the “Race on Over” fundraising event in November to be successful. The word “no” became a common word she heard but that one yes kept her motivated to reach for another yes. Thus far, Rashika has garnered 78 items for the silent auction for a total value of $41, 364. She was also able to network with different business to set up a fundraiser day, such as Kendra Scott Jewelry. Kendra Scott has agreed to not only donate jewelry for the auction but also set up a giving day (Oct. 20) where 20% of the money is donated back to the Foundation. Monies raised will help Epilepsy Foundation Texas provide medical services to patients with epilepsy, education to patients, families and the community and will help send children to summer camp.
In September 2017, AmeriCorps VISTA Business Development Officer Melanie Cheney helped bolster her organization’s total fundraised amount from North Texas Giving Day on September 14th. Through careful strategizing and posing a fundraising challenge to the Board of Directors, Cheney successfully helped raise nearly $9,000 more in 2017 than her organization raised in 2016 (increasing the total amount fundraised from $28,000 to $37,000). The money she helped raise will go toward tuition scholarships for children from low-income backgrounds, in fulfillment of North Texas Performing Arts’ vision of making arts education accessible to all North Texas families. In addition, Melanie strengthened the agency’s existing database of potential local donors for our silent auction fundraisers by adding over 20 new donor businesses to the spreadsheet and garnered in-kind donations worth $3,200.
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.
On Saturday, September 30, Affordable Housing Advocate VISTA Jennifer Weatherford attended the Veterans and Family Resource Expo in Sherman, TX on behalf of her host agency, Texoma Council of Government’s Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC). The ADRC, which acts as a referral agency and advocates to address the needs of the elderly, persons with disabilities, low income individuals and families, homeless and at-risk homeless persons across twelve counties in Northeast Texas, is an especially crucial resource for veterans. During her time spent at Saturday’s expo, Jennifer shared crucial information about the ADRC’s available resources to the community in attendance, many of whom were not aware of the help TCOG and the ADRC offers.
Woman to Woman (W2W) Pregnancy Resource Center’s VISTA, Jennifer Annen, took volunteer training to the next level this September! As W2W welcomed in a new volunteer coordinator, Jennifer worked closely with her to demonstrate their procedures for recruiting, contacting, and orienting new volunteers. Joining forces with her fellow VISTA and new volunteer coordinator, Jennifer helped to identify weak spots in the current recruitment and training processes as well as brainstormed improvements. This collaboration provided staff with a checklist of items to be completed by the volunteer coordinator and store staff when engaging new volunteers. Having these vital steps clearly defined will help W2W recruit volunteers more efficiently and reduce the unfortunate opportunity for procedures and people to slip through the cracks. Jennifer will now analyze the next half of the process: how the agency orients and trains their volunteers in their respective departments. Ensuring new volunteers start off on a good footing encourages smooth sailing during the training process. W2W is largely volunteer-driven and would not be able to provide free services to the community without them. For example, in the month of July, Twice as Nice Resale’s volunteers served 1,755 hours. Their hard work processing tons of donations, cleaning and organizing store shelves, running the cash registers, and many other important duties contributed to the agency being able to provide 40 sonograms to pregnant women at no cost to them. For disadvantaged women and families facing an unintended pregnancy, one sonogram could cost an average of $270, according to New Choice Health. This means women in the area saved about $10,800 in July for sonograms alone!
As the Fall Semester at North Central Texas College (NCTC) began and students came back to school, VISTA member Rachel Bingham helped welcome several new members into the NCTC Elite Team by creating an application process and recruiting at various NCTC events. NCTC Elite Team is a peer to peer mentoring program that assists students with the college going culture and building a network of student engagement. The team has now grown from 6 peer mentoring work studies to 25, allowing the Elite Team to reach out to many more students and even begin to form partnerships with nonprofit organizations in the community as student ambassadors. In September, the Elite Team reached 300 people and provided them with important college-going information. Rachel is now helping to train new members of the team and teaching those skills necessary to being an excellent peer mentor. Recruitment efforts will continue in October as the NCTC Elite Team starts a new branch at NCTC’s Flower Mound campus.
When thinking of helping the homeless, some people might think of social workers. However, we more likely tend to think of volunteering at a soup kitchen or food pantry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, faith-based communities report the most volunteerism, and the most frequently reported forms of volunteerism are meal services and food pantries. Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance has dedicated part of its Strategic Plan to engaging and coordinating with the faith-based communities of Dallas and Collin counties with the goal of serving more homeless neighbors in the Continuum of Care (CoC). AmeriCorps VISTA member, Victoria Jackson, has joined this Faith-Based Collaboration to map the system of services in religious communities. The purpose of this map is to discover where our homeless neighbors enter and exit the system, how they navigate it, and how organizations in the CoC can engage them. Additionally, if the faith based communities of the Continuum of Care collaborate through increased communication then more referrals with direct clients to housing programs will end their homelessness.
AmeriCorps VISTA member Steven Tillman has been more active within the Lewisville/Flower Mound area while continuing his outreach towards staffing Christian Community Action’s Job Readiness Training Program with volunteer trainers. His host site, Christian Community Action, in collaboration with a local branch of Old Navy, recently held a well-received “Back to School” event for citizens of Denton County. Steven assisted with the facilitation of the event, where families received free clothing and school supplies for students. He also recently attended two business events: The Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Conference, and The Lewisville Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Social. Both of these events hosted key members of Lewisville’s business and nonprofit sectors. Steven connected with attendees of both events and spread the word of his efforts towards developing a team of Job Readiness Trainers increasing the populous of gainfully employed citizens of Denton County. The Job Readiness Training program 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.