AmeriCorps VISTA Stephanie Adams’ work at Christian Community Action (CCA) in Lewisville, TX has included submitting grants to the Hillcrest, Harry W. Bass, Celanese, and Kohl foundation as well as the Bank of the Ozarks. If granted funding from each of these foundations Stephanie’s work could provide Christian Community Action’s comprehensive programs and services with $32,500 to continue providing relief to its clients in crisis. CCA’s programs include food and financial assistance, life skills and job readiness training, as well as spiritual care and counseling to approximately 4,000 community members in need. The grants written to the Hillcrest and Harry W. Bass foundation could potentially provide funding for CCA’s Food Assistance program and help CCA purchase fresh fruits and vegetables as well as household and hygiene products.
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.
“Focusing on our foundation and building on it” is the theme that VISTA Jennifer Annen is using to create a new training for the volunteers at Woman to Woman’s Twice as Nice Resale in Denton, Texas. January was the second phase in the construction of the quarterly training, known as “BUILD,” for the resale store’s staff and 120+ active volunteers. After conducting over 20 hours of interviews with current volunteers, Jennifer and her volunteer management team took the feedback into consideration when planning how to most efficiently use the volunteers’ valuable time during trainings. Jennifer and her team began by replacing one of their old methods of training every first Thursday of the month and implemented BUILD, which would gather more volunteers at a time most convenient to them and jam-packed with the most pertinent information. By working closely with various presenters to compose their portion of the training, Jennifer made sure that the activities and lessons would be worthwhile, interactive, and even fun! To string together all sections of the training, Jennifer designed a PowerPoint presentation that remained on the screen to help the audience follow and to highlight the largest takeaways. She and the volunteer management team created a booklet for all of the audience members to fill in the blanks, take notes, and walk away with important upcoming dates and events. Ultimately, forty-five volunteers and staff participated in the training event and two of the founding board members even made an appearance. One of the highlights of the evening involved a long-term volunteer of thirteen years who spoke about why she has stayed with Woman to Woman for so long and how much of an impact you can within your volunteer service. Jennifer’s team received excellent feedback from all attendees and she cannot wait to see all of the hard work of the BUILD event transpire into more cohesiveness and ownership within the ministry. The value of these amazing volunteers’ service has helped to provide over 1,700 hours at the resale store in just the last month of 2017 alone. These hours enable Twice as Nice to serve Woman to Woman in providing many free services to the community. Jennifer hopes that these quarterly trainings will encourage volunteers to continue spreading the word to friends and the community how just serving a few hours a week can provide so much for the Denton County area!
Network of Community Ministries, Inc. located in Richardson, TX responds to human need by giving assistance with the goal of helping individuals achieve long-term independence. Its mission is “caring, coaching and empowering neighbors in need as they seek an improved quality of life.” Ben Chapman serves as the Marketing and Fundraising VISTA spent time shadowing Networks’ Handy-Men Program, a service provided to Network clients who are either seniors or disabled. He and the volunteers went to a senior woman’s home and he took photos of the volunteers fixing a woman’s fence for her. He also had the opportunity to interview her about her situation and how Network has been there for her. She is forced to be a working senior but still cannot afford to keep up with her home, despite already having a roommate. She told Ben that the fact that the Handy-Men Service can be there for her is truly a blessing. She stated “They keep you together. Because if your house is falling apart, it’s impossible to put your life back together”
April Comperda, serving as the Drug Education VISTA at Chisholm Trail RSVP in Denton, TX continues working on the agency’s Prescription Take Back Day campaign. Even though the Take Back Days occur just twice a year, Chisholm Trail RSVP continues to stand as mechanism for change and bridge the gap all year long. Recognizing that seniors do not fit the typical stereotype of a drug abuser, Chisholm Trail RSVP understands the necessity of bringing the Take Back Days to senior living communities and senior centers. In addition, April’s mission to increase public awareness, has led her to create a media kit containing resources promote the Take Back campaign to target seniors. In addition, she secured a generous donation of 1,000 Dettera at-home disposal pouches from a nationwide pharmaceutical corporation. The pouches reinforce the dangerous effects of leaving medication in places for anyone to find. April’s efforts build the capacity and necessary sustainability to carry-out Chisholm Trail RSVP’s initiative for years to come.
In December, Drug Education VISTA, April Comperda, continued mobilizing the Chisholm Trail RSVP, Inc., Prescription Drug Take Back project in Denton County, TX in response to the CNCS call to action. Chisholm Trail RSVP’s Take Back campaign, includes events providing services such as medication review and providing mail-back envelopes to assist residents with a safe, convenient way disposal method for any unwanted and expired medications in order to prevent drug diversion with addicts, curious teens, innocent children, and pets. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has definitively concluded that the majority of people who misuse prescription drugs obtain them from family or friends first. Consequently, as the prescription opioids start to become harder and harder to get off the streets, many addicts turn to heroin for the cheaper and faster high. Four out of five (80%) new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers (NIDA, SAMHSA, 2016). Not only is the Denton community home of two universities and several retirement communities, its metropolis location, which resides so close to DFW area, creates an opportune channel of drug trafficking and diversion. April and Chisholm Trail RSVP organized (DEA) National Prescription Take Back events as part of the Disposal Campaign, targeting senior living communities and senior centers across Denton County. The overarching goals of the Take Back Program are 1) reduce the amount of prescription medications circulating the streets; 2) to prevent the diversion of prescription medicine; 3) gain community support; and 4) increase education and awareness of the opioid epidemic and prevention measures; 4) conduct medication reviews to identify any medicine errors, especially for seniors. The event will be on April 28th at five senior community locations in Denton County.
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!
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.
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.
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.