It's official! You've just been sworn in to be an AmeriCorps*VISTA member and you might feel a little nervous, maybe a bit scared, but all together excited to embark on this new VISTA journey. You're ready to change the world! .... right? Sort of.
Often new members start their term completely pumped to make a huge difference in their respected communities. And they do, but they don't always get to see the impact of their hard work. As capacity builders, VISTAs provide indirect service focused on the sustainability of their agency's program(s). This can be conflicting for a VISTA who is stationed behind a desk in a cubicle who does great work but doesn't necessarily witness the fruit of his/her labor.
Over the last month, I've had the opportunity to conduct site visits for the Orange County VISTA members. To say that I am grateful is an understatement. After each site visit I am more and more inspired by each and every member's passion and dedication to service in their community. Their testimonies are a motivating reminder of the "bigger picture"- the reason we stay at the office after hours, write vigorously for grant proposals, create beautifully designed flyers/brochures/newsletters, and much much more only to receive a poverty level living stipend. Simply put, we do it because it matters. Those in-kind donated books requested and received may now be in the hands of a 5 year old child to read before bed. The after school program that you worked so hard to coordinate now provides a positive space for children to learn instead of spending time on the streets. All of it matters. Thank you for reminding me.
Now, it's my turn to remind the VISTAs and the community at large of the bigger picture. For the fiscal year of 2011- 2012 (October 2011 - December 2012), the First 5 Service Corps VISTAs, a group of 40+ members, raised over 2 million dollars ($2,121,525) between grants, fundraising events/activities, and in-kind donations received. Of the grants received, $64,150 were First 5 grants. A total of 2,599 volunteers were recruited and served 2,073 hours. Four hundred new outreach materials were created with 159,773 materials distributed to the community. Over 6 hundred outreach activities were conducted reaching 65,361 new participants. As a result of the outreach efforts, there was a 74% increase in participation.
Are you impressed? You should be. The VISTAs have made an amazing contribution to their communities and are making a real difference in the country. So the next time a VISTA wakes up really tired and wonders "what's the point?", remember that the efforts made a huge impact and are a vital piece to the bigger picture. Because in the end, the bigger picture makes it all worth it!
"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" - Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King believed in a nation of freedom and justice for all, and encouraged all citizens to live up to the purpose and potential of America by applying the principles of nonviolence to make this country a better place to live.In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday as a national day of service.Every third Monday in January, the MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service – a "day on, not a day off." The MLK Day of Service is a part of United We Serve, the President's national call to service initiative. It calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems. The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King's vision of a "Beloved Community."
The MLK Day of Service is a way to transform Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and teachings into community action that helps solve social problems. That service may meet a tangible need, or it may meet a need of the spirit. On this day, First 5 Service Corps AmeriCorps and VISTA members honored Dr.King's dream by participating in service projects across the state of California. At Lincoln Elementary School in Santa Ana, members helped paint a US map mural on the playground floor. On Tuesday morning, the children of the elementary will have a pleasant surprise as they run to their designated classes and find a new brightly painted map of the United States. At OC Food Bank, members were assigned on an assembly line to pack various food items into boxes to be later distributed to low income needy families. Over 7,000 boxes were packed by community volunteers. VISTA members also took part in the statewide effort homeless count with HUD. Dedicated members walked the streets of their counties ion the cold morning to count homeless individuals living on the streets. What a fantastic way to spend the day and honor a great man!
The time has come for the dreaded Quarterly Reports. Each quarter, the VISTA members are required to complete a lengthy report detailing their work and accomplishments for that quarter. These reports are quite tedious, but they provide the best scope to document the incredible amount of work VISTAs accomplish at their sites. We understand the reports are very demanding and we would like to recognize the VISTA that goes above an beyond to accurately record all of the data. To applaud the efforts of well-written reports, we will select one VISTA member each quarter to spotlight their work. The member will receive the coveted bragging rights and an awesome highlight on this blog. So stay tuned for this quarter's honorary VISTA!
Each month the VISTAs serving in Orange County meet to receive more professional training and spend time with their fellow VISTAs. However, for the month of December, the VISTAs gathered for some holiday cheer. The morning was spent with a fun game of "Never Have I Ever," a yummy baking contest, and a white elephant gift exchange. From learning about one's traveling adventures, to cakes pops and flan, to unwrapping a parrot toothpick holder, it's safe to say it was a great time for all to enjoy each other's company during this festive season. So from us to you, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!