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.
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”.
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!
VISTA Hannah McNeill has been utilizing social media to potentially recruit volunteers and provide further resources for Woman to Woman Pregnancy Resource Center in Denton, TX. Throughout the past 9 months of her VISTA term, she has been posting daily to all Woman to Woman and Twice as Nice Resale social media platforms. The amount of people reached through the organization’s social media has skyrocketed substantially. This is easily seen from the Twice as Nice Facebook reach for August and September 2015 combined was 1,717 people. In March of 2017 alone, their Facebook page reached 12,167 people! As Hannah seeks to maximize the organization’s social media following, she also desires to provide Woman to Woman with viable ways to keep track of the social media success. One of the ways Hannah is doing this is by logging the social media statistics each month. With hopes to continue the growth in reach, Hannah organized a social media loop giveaway, collaborating with 5 local businesses. She facilitated each business donating their giveaway items as well as wrote a document with thorough wording and scheduling for the giveaway. This document was then given to each business with instructions to tag the other businesses in the post. Hannah’s hope in this giveaway is for strong relationships to be built with Woman to Woman and local businesses and for growth to be seen in followers for each business. These social media efforts are vital for Woman to Woman and Twice as Nice Resale to recruit volunteers and gain new resources. Her efforts paid off by recruiting 10 new volunteers to serve at the Twice as Nice Resale!