As part of Blog Action Day, we are writing about poverty. For us, the choice of what to say is easy enough — VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) has been the anti-poverty service corps since the Lyndon Johnson administration in the mid-60s.
Launched as part of Johnson’s War on Poverty, and influenced by the structure of Peace Corps, VISTAs have worked in a range of ways over the years, called on to tackle the root causes of poverty.
Over 170,000 VISTAs have served since 1965, and VISTAs were instrumental in launching and developing well-known programs such as Head Start, Upward Bound, and even the credit union.
In the 90’s VISTA became a branch of Bill Clinton’s AmeriCorps program, so it’s called AmeriCorps*VISTA now.
This is from the promotional booklet VISTA: In Service to America (PDF):
[VISTAs] have established health clinics, neighborhood watches, and computer training programs. They have formed many of our nation’s literacy programs, along with Upward Bound, Head Start programs, and adult education initiatives. Parents who want to work or to develop a skill can send their children to after-school clubs, athletics, and day care centers run by VISTA members. VISTA service has led to urban renewal programs and neighborhood beautification. Most importantly, many programs established by VISTA members continue long after they complete their service.
What makes VISTA different from other service corps?
Indirect service. AmeriCorps*VISTA service is indirect service, meaning that VISTAs are limited in the number of hours they are funded to work directly with clients. (You won’t often see VISTAs tutoring children, though they may very well run the tutoring program. You won’t see them building trails, though they may recruit the volunteers who do, or find the funding for the equipment the volunteers need.)
Capacity building. AmeriCorps*VISTA projects are spelled out clearly in work plans, and must expand the ability of the organization or agency to meet its mission and serve its clients. An example might be building a volunteer program structure at a drug treatment center, or securing grants that will extend the school lunch program through the summer in apartment complexes where families with low incomes live.
Sustainability. AmeriCorps*VISTA projects are usually 1-3 years in length (and can be run by a different VISTA each year, each VISTA building on the achievements of the person before). By the end of the third year, the project should be made sustainable in some way — through, for example, finding renewable revenue streams, or training organizational staff to maintain the program.
Anti-poverty. The AmeriCorps*VISTA project must be a proactive intervention into the cycle of poverty, with an aim to end it by tackling poverty’s root causes.
But what are the root causes of poverty?
According to Project Homeless Connect, they are:
- A family history of poverty. People born poor are most at risk of staying that way due to a range of issues like poor self esteem, abuse, and lowered emphasis on education.
- Chronic poverty which may include physical and mental disabilities without adequate health care, that make it impossible to work. Substance abuse. Elderly people who can no longer support themselves.
- Limited economic opportunity like high unemployment rates and few job prospects. Most common in rural areas and where employers are paying only minimum wage.
- Lack of educational opportunities that are offered where and when needed, and that help people make the connection to a career.
- Racial and cultural isolation and discrimination that create barriers to self-sufficiency.
- Family chaos and strife, including divorce, parenting solo, and parents who deprive each other and their children of love and support, who are abusive, who abandon their children, who don’t bond with their young children.
- Limited social capital like “trust, good will, fellowship, social interactions, and community involvement.” Low awareness among people with low incomes about how to engage governmental institutions.
- Communities lacking an awareness of poverty so that solutions can be found.
- Catastrophic life events, especially when a family is already on the edge of poverty.
Would you add any others to this list?
And we’ll let the Corporation take us out, with this t.v. ad about VISTA:
Read more about Blog Action Day, and listen and call-in to BlogTalkRadio which is hosting a special live radio show from 9 am to 9 pm PST (Portland) time on Wednesday, October 15.
Read these Blog Action Day posts regarding poverty and other service corps:
Ode Magazine’s Reader Blog – Laura Portalupi reminisces about poverty and Peace Corps South Africa
Indiana VISTA Blog – Jenna reflects on confronting poverty as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member