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.
Marcela Solia began her VISTA Leader service with the VISTA North Texas project in April. Her role is to both support the current VISTAs and to support partnering agencies in recruiting new VISTAs for the North Texas Project. Marcela was able to facilitate future recruitment by creating a step by step guide on the recruitment process including templates of marketing materials. Every partner agency will receive this guide to help them through their recruitment. The marketing materials developed include flyer templates and social media posts that can be adapted to the agency’s needs. In order to support the current VISTAs, Marcela takes time to get to know each VISTA and their roles.
On Saturday, May 20, Affordable Housing Advocate VISTA Jennifer Weatherford rose before the sun and drove the approximately three hours to Texarkana, TX to attend the annual Texarkana Veterans Information Fair. Jennifer’s host agency, Texoma Council of Government’s Aging and Disability Resource Center, 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, and veterans across 12 counties in Northeast Texas. During her time spent at Saturday’s information fair, Jennifer shared crucial information about the ADRC’s available resources to clients who, until then, were not aware of the help TCOG and the ADRC offers. She also identified a supplemental veteran resource and developed a working relationship with a prospective landlord in Texarkana who is eager to begin to develop affordable housing in the area.
Jennifer Annen, the Volunteer Training VISTA serving with Woman to Woman Pregnancy Resource Center in Denton, TX, has already gotten a kick-start in building capacity within the organization’s Twice as Nice Resale store. Woman to Woman and Twice as Nice Resale (TANR) have grown tremendously over the last couple of years and are continually striving to improve, but with great growth can also come growing pains. To help ease some of those growing pains, Jennifer has been tasked with strengthening the organization’s volunteer training program as well as increasing the retention of their current volunteers. She has begun creating departmental training guides which includes all the necessary knowledge for each individual area of the store and warehouse as well as a checklist for the trainer and trainee to complete. This ensures that our volunteers are receiving the attention they deserve during their training and TANR staff can feel confident knowing we covered all the essentials for our volunteers to be successful in their department. By implementing these station guides early on in her VISTA term, Jennifer hopes that they will be easy to follow and use beyond her next 11 months of service. To complement the new individual training process, TANR will hold a monthly two-hour training and review session for all staff and volunteers. To facilitate a meaningful learning opportunity and use of our volunteers’ time, Jennifer drafted a template to be used when planning each monthly session. She hopes that through using this template, staff will also be able to easily keep track of the progress and usefulness of these trainings over time as well as fill in any information gaps as needed. Jennifer looks forward to practicing these new training strategies to not only improve the experience for our staff and volunteers, but to continue aiding Woman to Woman as they serve their community!