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.
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.
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.
In June 2017, AmeriCorps VISTA Resource Development Officer Melanie Cheney serving with Plano Children’s Theatre helped deliver a presentation at the Plano Metro Rotary Luncheon that resulted in a $5,000 donation from the club. This donation will be used to pay for scholarships for underprivileged children who cannot otherwise afford tuition costs. This will allow children from low-income households to have access to enriching extracurricular arts activities that help teach valuable life skills (responsibility, discipline, integrity, etc.) and push them to become better students and citizens. Simply by bringing a few of our students to perform a couple songs at the Rotary Luncheon, we also received a $100 donation from a rotary member who was so moved by their performance that he attended the actual performance that weekend and wrote a letter detailing how thoroughly impressed he was by our students’ passion and skills. In 2016. Plano Children’s Theatre awarded 255 scholarships to underserved students, totaling $30,906.
The purpose of the Continuum of Care in Dallas and Collin Counties is to provide a smooth transition between services for people experiencing homelessness. Each agency and program should be able to contact each other to find services with as little inconvenience to the client as possible. What might be a small inconvenience to some, such as having to travel across town or finding a photo ID, might be a major roadblock to someone experiencing homelessness and could prevent someone from accessing the services they need. This is especially true for homeless youth, runaway youth, or youth aging out of the foster care system. Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance’s VISTA, Victoria Jackson, is drafting a Youth Services Directory that condenses all agencies serving homeless youth into one book. This book will be available in every public school, counselor’s office, community center, and case manager’s office in the local Continuum of Care. By having all relevant youth services in one place, a young person looking for housing might be able to eliminate their own roadblocks and make their homelessness brief, rare, and nonrecurring.
Two more successful sessions of the Christian Community Action Job Readiness program pilot were recently held on two consecutive Saturdays for another group of hopeful and enthusiastic clients. In fact, AmeriCorps VISTA member Steven Tillman has seemed to have his hands full with the program’s rollout and revamp since the turn of the New Year. These course pilots serve as the foundation for the full development of a program which focuses upon workforce development, financial awareness, and self-empowerment. Such a program is estimated to require years of added program development and branch-cultivation for complete establishment. Social service nonprofits Goodwill Industries of Dallas and The Salvation Army of Denton County have expressed sincere interest in partnering with CCA in order to better serve the citizens of Denton County. The Workforce Solutions North Texas branch has also expressed interest in meeting with Steven to discuss the parameters for a partnership. An embodiment of programs which address the matters of unemployment and underemployment through socioeconomic awareness, skills development, and self empowerment could undoubtedly have a positive impact on a multitude of North Texas citizens. Therefore, Mr. Tillman’s efforts appear to not only be “headed in the right direction,” but in a “bright” direction, as well.
The heat is on in Plano, TX! In May, VISTA Sean Enfield helped Plano Children’s Theatre prepare for its upcoming summer camps. Plano Children’s Theatre offers scholarships to low income children to attend the theatre summer camps. During the summer season, the theatre operates during the days as well as the evening to accommodate the busy camp schedule. Because of the increased activity, the theatre’s volunteer needs change. As Volunteer Coordinator, Sean has been prepping to manage this shift in volunteer management. Throughout the month, he has worked to recruit interns for all four of the theatres’ camp programs and has worked with the Office Manager to re-tool the community service volunteer program so that it can continue during the camps. He has also been prepping for upcoming volunteer training initiative that will begin in the summer. Sean has recruited 114 new volunteers to serve at the summer camps. He has also managed 20 volunteers who served 125 hours in May by building production sets and other vital agency needs.
Rashika Smith is the Community Outreach VISTA serving at the Epilepsy Foundation Texas’ Dallas office. In May, she received the sad news that a five year old passed away in his sleep from epilepsy. Hearing about his death was hard and knowing he was just a child was even harder. Rashika met this child at Sharon’s Ride in Fort Worth. Sharon’s Ride is a fundraising and epilepsy awareness event. This was the first Epilepsy Foundation event the child and family attended and Rashika remembers seeing the child smiling and having fun. Rashika has learned first-hand that creating events is more than just making money. These events also help to make precious family memories. As a VISTA, Rashika’s work is behind the scenes where she creates positive impact and sometimes she does not get to see the results. The thought of the little boy gives her fuel to keep going and work even harder to raise money and awareness about epilepsy so one day another family does not wake up to their child not being able to say,” good morning”.
In May 2017, AmeriCorps VISTA Resource Development Officer Melanie Cheney secured a $20,000 grant for Plano Children’s Theatre from the Hudson Foundation by creating a ‘target list’ of foundations and reaching out to each one about making a grant toward the agency’s capital campaign. After a successful site visit with the Hudson Foundation, they agreed to sponsor of one of the large practice rooms in the new facilities in the Shops at Willow Bend in Plano. This money will go toward the renovation of the space and contribute to the creation of the Willow Bend Center of the Arts. Melanie also submitted a grant application to the Hoglund Foundation for $3,500. If granted, the funds will be used to provide free programs in Dallas Title I elementary schools.
In May, NewDay Services’ VISTA Meghan Kajihara saw in full force the value of sustainability in her activities with the Fatherhood EFFECT program. The archival system she devised for NewDay Services’ Fort Worth office has already proved useful and is being used to help collect information for fleshing out a full history of the organization. In the Denton office, she has been particularly excited by her project of assembling a “go bag” for more spontaneous outreach opportunities. Modular in design and easily packed, the assembled “go bag” has already served her well at a major resource fair, making set up and clean up quick and simple. This bag of materials can be used by anyone in their office and is mobile enough to be taken to smaller meetings with individuals or potential community partners. It has been very satisfying for Meghan to see how sustainability does not always exist as a grand undertaking or organizational restructuring, but as small, cumulative changes that make everyday operations run a little more smoothly.