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!
Denton County Friends of the Family (DCFOF) is committed to providing compassionate, comprehensive services to those impacted by rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence while partnering with the community to promote safety, healing, and prevention. AmeriCorps VISTA, April Comperda, began the process of automating DCFOF’s bi-weekly newsletters and weekly board member newsletters to ensure that donor communication remains effective and sustainable. Automation provides non-profits, like DCFOF, with an innovative platform for functional, instantaneous donor behavior tracking. After sending the email newsletters out, April was able to determine how many people opened them and which parts received the most attention/clicks. Studying the feedback responses, April had the capacity to formulate segmented marketing personas based on similar behavioral trends. One persona that April identified was Millennials and the continuous upward trend of social activism. As a Millennial herself, April recognizes that her generation makes decisions based on personal values and actually will engage in the causes they care about. Even though, at the start of their career, Millennials don’t necessarily have the means to contribute financially, their giving capacity grows as their careers progress. Using their voices to speak out, volunteering, and participating in peer-to-peer fundraising are just some initial stepping stones leading to the future of committed donors. In the upcoming months, April plans to strengthen DCFOF’s donor communication methods and maximize the agency’s full potential with automation.
The citizens of Denton County, Texas have an interesting socioeconomic structure and somewhat of a unique need for workforce development. VISTA Steven Tillman, serving with Christian Community Action in Lewisville, TX, has spent months researching, gathering, and reviewing data, in efforts of finding a point of engagement which aligns with those needs. Programs department administrators at Christian Community Action approved Steven’s vision for holding Job Readiness courses on Saturdays. He recently launched the pilot for a group of hopeful and enthusiastic clients. The program still incorporates job market awareness, vision-scaping of future plans, and personal brand marketing, but also assist the client in conserving time by scheduling three classes in one day, rather than scheduling three classes over a period of three consecutive days. With this new addition, clients who have a busy schedule during regular business hours can participate in courses with less compromise.
VISTA member, April Neal is serving with Youth and Family Counseling in Lewisville, TX. The mission of Youth and Family Counseling is to aid the families and children of Denton County, thereby creating healthy and productive individuals, families, and communities which will benefit the quality of life for all. In the month of April, she learned the importance of balance and time management. With good planning, April put together her second DINE- IN Fundraiser where she met a lot of people and potential clients for the agency. At the fundraiser, single moms inquired about counseling services for their children. Some parents also learned that about the free services offered to keep children and families healthy.
AmeriCorps VISTA Sarah Crain has made a tangible impact on Woman to Woman as their Logistic Specialist. While with Woman to Woman, Sarah has authored 5 different manuals that help improve efficiency and continuity within Twice as Nice Resale. These manuals range from how to react during a fire to how to efficiently sort donated items at the warehouse door. Sarah wanted to ensure Twice as Nice was operating at its fullest potential to increase sales for the store that would in turn increase financial support Woman to Woman. Throughout her service year, Sarah has ensured that Staff and Volunteer voice’s were heard in every policy she created. Often times Sarah would shadow volunteers to discover best practices for each department in order to efficiently write policy. Staff are now equipped to author and edit policy themselves to always ensure their organization grows. Sarah has been able to make an impact in the Denton community by building logistical capacity for Woman to Woman!
Aleisha Tunstall is the Grant Research and Development VISTA at Our Daily Bread (ODB). ODB is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit community soup kitchen located in Denton, TX, that provides nutritious meals, special services and referrals for other services to those in need. Currently, Aleisha is working under the direction of the Executive Administrator to create a Volunteer Council for Our Daily Bread. Aleisha is outlining the roles of the Volunteer Council and its mission. The Volunteer Council is estimated to begin serving at ODB around September of 2017. The purpose of the Volunteer Council is to take the place of the Volunteer Coordinator position and take over volunteer communications, recognition, and database duties.
Rebecca Dake, Community Outreach VISTA at Interfaith Ministries (IFM) of Denton, partnered this month with the Denton Independent School District (ISD) on a video about the Apple Tree Project. IFM’s Apple Tree Project provides back-to-school assistance to Denton ISD families who qualify for the Free and Reduced Meals Program. Rebecca interviewed Barb Haflich, the district’s Social Services Coordinator, who said the families served by the program are “just doing the best they can.” The families live at or below the poverty level and cannot easily absorb the costs associated with going back to school. The video aims to raise awareness of and participation in the program. The VISTA’s video is a marketing tool that can be used again next year, helping to sustain the program. To view the video, visit: https://youtu.be/PJH8BjtsB4w.
AmeriCorps VISTA, Nicole Owens, is in the process of completing the Denton County Friends of the Family’s community education project. Nicole has welcomed two new Speakers Bureau members who completed their training in the month of March. They are now able to shadow tabling events and presentations to learn more about representing Denton County Friends of the Family (DCFOF). Developed by VISTA Members, the rigorous Speakers Bureau training covers a variety of topics to insure members have an adequate understanding of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and the dynamics that contribute to both. Once they’ve observed several presentations, members will assist with presentations, alleviating some of the heavy workload of the DCFOF community education team.
In the month of March, Giving Hope, Inc. is seeing the hard work of Resource Development VISTA Daisy Martinez pay off. The Annual Night of Hope event has not even taken place yet, and the agency has raised a total of $42,750 in sponsorships, $1,125 in Ticket Sales, $675 in cash donations, $495 in Raffle Ticket Sales, and $540 in item donations for the Silent Auction. In total Giving Hope has raised $45,585 for A Night of Hope, and still have the opportunity to raise even more the evening of April 6th. Daisy is working very closely with Giving Hope Board President, Margaret Dawson and the other Board Members to bring in as much money as possible to help more potentially homeless, or homeless people within the community. Daisy also had the opportunity to manage 2 volunteers who went into the community to solicit donations for the silent auction. Daisy and the volunteers collected a variety of items from floral arrangements, to wine tasting classes, to gift cards to local restaurants. The goal for this year’s event was $40,000 which is double the amount of last year’s fundraiser has been exceeded. Stay tuned to hear the final total of the 2017 Night of Hope fundraiser.
The month of March was chock-full of new volunteer groups for Twice As Nice Resale and VISTA Hannah McNeill was instrumental in coordinating these volunteers! Volunteer Recruitment and Resource Development VISTA, Hannah McNeill, serves with Woman to Woman Pregnancy Resource Center where she organized and led three volunteer groups (51 volunteers) who contributed 132 hours of service to Twice As Nice Resale, the fundraising arm of Woman to Woman. As Hannah supervised each group, she became acclimated to the role of volunteer management and she noticed a lack of procedure when it came to assigning projects to a volunteer group, thus leading to miscommunication and confusion among the staff. To solve this issue, Hannah began developing a volunteer group task list. The task list will bring clarity and serve as a catalyst for well thought out projects for groups of volunteers. The task list is categorized by age appropriate projects, i.e. elementary school, middle school, high school, and senior age groups. Her next goal is to focus on producing and training confident individuals proficient in managing volunteers which will transfer the responsibility of managing volunteer groups from staff to volunteer leaders allowing Twice As Nice Resale staff to take on even bolder endeavors!