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.
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.
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.
NewDay Services’ Community Outreach VISTA, Meghan Kajihara spearheaded the effort to secure Fatherhood EFFECT a spot at the Back to School Fairs for Northwest ISD and Lewisville ISD. The agency gained visibility with the other participating organizations as well as the 600+ clients in attendance and distributed 362 flyers. She also developed relationships with 8 new businesses and set up a successful meeting with the Denton County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. The work Meghan does with NewDay Services uplifts and educates parents so they can provide stable home environments for children, curtailing child abuse before it can ever begin and putting a stop to destructive, comorbid factors that hurt a child’s probability of escaping poverty. This month, while working on her organization’s data management pipeline, she discovered some interesting statistics that she thinks are a perfect indicator of how the Fatherhood EFFECT program changes the lives of fathers and their children. No single participant with a criminal record or who entered the program as part of their reentry from incarceration ever returned to prison after going through the class. That’s a recidivism rate of 0%. Not a single father who has ever been through the program has ever had another CPS case opened against them. Sixty percent (60%) of fathers see an improvement in their work lives. The lessons they take away from EFFECT stick and change their lives and the lives of their children.
Meghan Kajihara serves as the Community Outreach VISTA for NewDay Services in Denton TX. In July, Meghan established new relationships with 9 local businesses with the hope to establish the Fatherhood EFFECT program with business owners as a resources for employees as well as a place where they can seek service referrals. By working with employees and enacting a meaningful change in their lives, the agency can help employers see the value of our work not only to their community but to their business and begin the process of turning these community contacts into donors. Meghan also spearheaded the effort to get Fatherhood EFFECT a spot at the Denton Mobile Food Pantry’s quarterly resource fair which will gain visibility for the organization not only with the other organizations present but also with the 150+ clients in attendance. The contacts Meghan has made will lead to new opportunities to increase volunteers and resources. The work Meghan does with NewDay Services uplifts and educates parents so they can provide stable home environments for children, curtailing child abuse before it can ever begin and putting a stop to destructive, comorbid factors that hurt a child’s probability of escaping poverty. She has seen the change begin in an HIV-positive father who came to the Fatherhood EFFECT program for resource referrals. Though he was previously long-term unemployed, he has found work and his son will be coming to stay with him. This will be the first time he has seen his son in many months and he is both nervous and excited to reunite with him. In fact, the kids’ activities database Meghan created was very helpful to him in planning activities for him and his son. As in the case with this father, Meghan and her NewDay Services colleagues continue to strive to connect people to resources, their community, and their children, no longer isolated by their challenges or anxieties.
Stephanie Del Los Santos is serving at the Epilepsy Foundation of Texas in the Houston office as the Camp and Resource Development VISTA. Stephanie keeps everyone informed of the Foundation’s activities and events through the monthly CEO Update. The CEO Update reaches over 7,000 people and includes board members, major donors, and involved participants. The Update allows the community to stay informed about the Foundation’s activities and learn about the people they serve.
Meghan Kajihara is a Community Outreach VISTA serving with NewDay Services for Children and Families in Denton, TX primarily through the Fatherhood EFFECT program. Fatherhood- Educating Fathers for Empowering Children Tomorrow (Fatherhood EFFECT) seeks to reduce child abuse and neglect by engaging fathers and father figures in preventative services. Meghan has built solid relationships with school district representatives from the Denton ISD, Lewisville ISD and Northwest ISD who combined serve 100,537 students. These individuals will help NewDay Services collaborate more closely with the school districts and provide outreach more effectively to community parents. The work Meghan does with NewDay Services uplifts and educates parents so they can provide stable home environments for children, curtailing child abuse before it can ever begin and putting a stop to destructive, comorbid factors that hurt a child’s probability of escaping poverty. The way NewDay Services helps strengthen families is by leading classes and support groups for parents, teaching them how to be present in the lives of the children and to learn how to understand and meet emotional needs for themselves and their families. They also provide individualized life coaching and mentorship, so these growing and learning parents always have someone to turn to on their journey. The key change seen in the 183 clients served is the transformation they undergo from anxious and alone into the parent they dreamed of being and that their children deserve. Clients have come to them with substance abuse issues and found sobriety. They have come to them homeless and unemployed, and found housing, work, and purpose. Above all, they leave connected to resources, their community, and their children, no longer isolated by their challenges or anxieties.
On Tuesday, June 20, AmeriCorps VISTA Jennifer Weatherford attended a Career and Community Resource Expo in Mt. Pleasant, TX on behalf of the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC). Jennifer regularly attends expos similar to these in order to inform communities about the information and referral services offered by the ADRC, services which work to prevent homelessness in vulnerable populations, including the elderly, veterans, disabled persons, low income families, and those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness by coordinating and connecting crucial community service providers with those most in need. During her time at the Mt. Pleasant Expo, Jennifer provided outreach materials to the more than 160 local community members who were in attendance, and made personal referrals to 14 of those who stand to benefit immensely from the ADRC’s services.
April was an excellent month for Interfaith Ministries of Denton, an emergency financial assistance agency in Denton, TX, to have an experienced VISTA. Community Outreach VISTA Rebecca Dake was able to take over a major back-to-school assistance project when a staff member moved on to another job opportunity. Rebecca took on the planning, coordination and execution of online registration and four in-person registrations for local families who met a financial hardship requirement—enrollment in the local school district’s Free & Reduced Meals Program. So far the registration process has secured spots for nearly 800 children to receive a backpack and school supplies, and as donations allow, a clothing gift card and book. When a new project lead was hired, Rebecca was able to train the new staff member on the registration process and next steps to continue coordinating and managing the project. As April is her last month of a one-year service term, Rebecca has updated the new staff member on outreach activities she led during the year. She trained the staff member in social media techniques, graphic design software, newsletter creation and email marketing campaigns. She also leaves behind a manual—with graphics of course—to make website updates, social media posts, tabling opportunities and other outreach activities easier to execute.
NewDay Services for Children and Families’ Community Outreach VISTA, Meghan Kajihara, continues her work on the agency’s organizational archive and has made meaningful progress. She is nearly done transcribing the testimonies of fathers who have participated in the FOCUS and EFFECT programs. Having these materials transcribed and organized will help NewDay perform qualitative analyses of their programs and see how they have developed over time, as well as acting as a resource for creating outreach materials. She has also started assembling templates for class materials that may be stored in the OneDrive and easily adapted after she is gone. The word for the month of April in the Fatherhood EFFECT program was “data”. Meghan found herself inundated with it this month, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. From survey results to survey writing to newsletter analytics, she had many different streams of data to learn from. The whole North Texas Fatherhood EFFECT team has been carefully considering their survey methodology as well as the information they survey for, and Meghan feels proud and excited to be able to be a part of this discussion. During the last EFFECT class cycle, she kept track of the people sending them referrals and wrote a special newsletter just for them, announcing the summer session of the Fatherhood EFFECT class. 84% of the recipients opened the email and they have since received a flurry of referrals. At the very end of the month, she pitched her idea for an analysis of class attendance data to get a better understanding of when and why participants may start to drop off, and what they can change to improve retention. Her supervisor was very receptive to the idea and she can’t wait to get started on it.