Senate Recognizes VISTA’s 45th Anniversary

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution honoring the work of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), for its 45 years of work towards alleviating poverty, and other accomplishments.

Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-VA) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) introduced the resolution (S.Res.449), and were joined by several co-sponsors. Rockefeller first lived in West Virginia as a VISTA, when he was 27 years old.

The resolution recognizes the more than 175,000 VISTAs who have served since 1965, and their creation of “many successful and sustainable community initiatives, including Head Start centers, credit unions, and neighborhood watch groups.” The resolution honors VISTAs’s work on diverse poverty-related issues such as health care, technology, crime/recidivism, housing, and literacy. The resolution also highlights these numbers:

  • 7,000 VISTAs serve each year
  • Annually, VISTAs bring in $100 million in cash and in-kind donations to their organizations
  • Also each year, VISTAs recruit 1 million volunteers who engage in 10 million hours of volunteer service.

Read the entire Senate resolution here. Oddly, the House introduced a similar bill (H.RES.1152) last week, but it wasn’t passed; instead it’s been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.

According to a statement today from the Corporation for National and Community Service, which operates VISTA, the resolution marks the official kick off of VISTA’s 45th anniversary celebration — a series of events and celebrations that will take place this year.

Celebrations will include a photography exhibit of VISTA photography from 1968, an effort to collect and share stories of VISTAs, and I’ll be launching a podcast episode featuring three VISTAs who’ve served across the decades during AmeriCorps Week in May.

Are you a VISTA or former VISTA? How will you commemorate the 45th anniversary of the organization?

A Year of Celebrations: the 45th Anniversary of VISTA

Voices of VISTA was a series of radio ads featuring celebrities, and interviews with VISTAs. Listen to the radio spots on the VISTA Campus (free login required).

Happy New Year!

2010 is the 45th anniversary that Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) first fanned out across the country, spending a year organizing communities in poverty, developing local infrastructures, and connecting people with the rights and the social service resources in their regions.

In honor of the 45th anniversary, the Corporation for National and Community Service — the agency that runs VISTA today, as AmeriCorps VISTA — is planning several celebrations throughout 2010, across the country and online.

For example, special events like an exhibit of VISTA photos from the late 60s by then-VISTA Frederico Santi may appear in a few places around the United States, presented during AmeriCorps Week (May 8-15)  and during other times.

Also a focus on poverty issues and a celebration of VISTA’s contributions are in the works for this summer’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service in New York City, among the oldest host cities for VISTAs.

I hope to focus more attention on VISTAs past and present on this blog during the coming year, including writings of VISTAs who have served in the Pacific Northwest and contributed writings to the Northwest National Service Symposium.

To all VISTAs — thanks for your service, and I am excited to help kick off this exciting year! Continue reading

What Happened to Getting Rid of the Taxes on the Education Award?

Institutions that Match the Ed AwardWhen the various bills that became the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act were in play, there was talk about eliminating the taxes from the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.

In case you are new to national service, the education award is the post-service benefit received by AmeriCorps and VISTA members that can help them pay for educational expenses and/or student loans. It’s considered taxable income.

It was never the Kennedy bill but rather a separate bill introduced by Senator Dodd of Connecticut that would have ended the tax on the education award. Late in the process, elements of Dodd’s national service bills were incorporated into the Serve America Act. However, the elimination of the taxes on the education award was not one of those elements. The tax remains.

I called Senator’s Dodd office last week and asked a staffer if there were any plans to follow through with Continue reading

Do volunteers make a difference in kids’ lives?

The impact of service on the person who serves may be immediate, but a volunteer might never see the impact he had on the community. I found a story in the NY Daily News about a VISTA from the late 60s named Michael Gaines who has returned to the site where he served to see if he can learn anything about the lives of the children he served. The story has no closure yet, but I will keep my eyes peeled for developments.

AmeriCorps*VISTAs Blog on Grad School for Idealist.org

A former AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader and a current AmeriCorps*VISTA participate in Idealist.org’s Grad School Blog Project

Officially launched this week, a network of 12 bloggers — students, seekers, and admissions staff — are blogging about grad school. The project is a part of Idealist’s Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center.

Vanessa Mason is a prospective public health student and is a current AmeriCorps*VISTA member servingvanessa-mason with a refugee-focused nonprofit in Houston. She blogged about the relationship between refugees and public health this week as part of the refugee-themed Bloggers United day:

…Since I have started working as an AmeriCorps VISTA for the Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees, this has taken on a newfound importance for me to raise awareness about the challenges that refugees face. This cause is particularly personal after meeting some of the children that have been directly affected by the escalating crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Violence in recent weeks has escalated to an untenable level. While violence is an obvious contributor to the high mortality rates, the majority of deaths are caused by preventable and treatable diseases. (Read more…)

Vanessa blogs at Subject to Change. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Eileen Gallagher is a Masters candidate at Brandeis Heller School for Social Policy and Management. After graduating from college, she served as a VISTA on campus, “working with students to plan service events, running a tutoring program in local elementary schools and functioning as part of the college’s student affairs staff.”

Originally interested in higher ed administration, her experience in VISTA shifted her career goals.

She says, “I knew that I loved the community that I had built ineileen-gallagher small-town Meadville and the way that I saw people banding together to create change. I wanted to study ways to use the resources that a community has to create change.”

So, she says:

“I narrowed my interests to the fields of community development, nonprofit management or business. I decided that a business degree would allow me to gain the management and technical skills that I was interested in, as well as experience in leadership and organizational behavior. I looked specifically for programs that had coursework or a concentration in community development or socially responsible business.  I also examined the list of schools that match the AmeriCorps education award.

This list is precisely how I found Brandeis’ Heller School, where I am currently enrolled in the Master of Business Administration program.  When I looked at the website for this program, I saw that Heller’s motto is ‘Managing for a Social Mission.’  I was hooked!  This seemed like the perfect fit for my interests and ambitions.”

Eileen blogs for Social Impact MBA.

Read more about the Grad School Blog Project. Find more grad school bloggers and check out Idealist’s Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center. Apply to be part of the project—we are especially looking for bloggers in the fields of journalism, public interest law, public policy and administration, international affairs, and theology. The Project would also love to hear from more men!

Michelle Obama talks about AmeriCorps

In a post-election interview with Newsweek, Michelle Obama talks about potential expansion to AmeriCorps and national service, as well as her association with Public Allies. Again, with the economy such an issue, it’s great to see that national service isn’t getting placed on the back burner!

(See also this post about Public Allies press coverage since the election.)

Change.gov

I checked out the presidential transition Change.gov website today to see if I could find much about national service. Yikes, it’s a high enough priority that it even gets its own tab (“America Serves”) across the top of the page! There isn’t that much content yet (but that might change by the time you click your way there. I am hopeful that national service will be less of a White House pet project than one of the primary solutions to the many problems affecting the country.

To read more about Obama’s service initiatives, check out his pre-election stance. To read more about service programs currently available, including teaching corps, conservation corps, etc., check out our side bar — “corps and coalition,” categories, and tag cloud.