AmeriCorps volunteers fight poverty in America

By Lanell Mantey - Guest Column
June 20, 2016 at 5:12 p.m.
Updated June 21, 2016 at midnight

Lanell Mantey

Lanell Mantey   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) is the national service program designed specifically to lift people out of poverty.

Founded in 1965 as a domestic counterpart to the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps' VISTA has been on the front lines fighting poverty in America for close to 50 years. Today, more than 46 million Americans live in poverty. AmeriCorps VISTA taps the skills, talents and passion of more than 7,000 Americans annually to support community efforts to overcome poverty.

AmeriCorps VISTA members commit to volunteering for one year, full-time at a nonprofit agency. VISTAs help to improve health services, create and evaluate programs, strengthen community groups, conduct outreach, and much, much more. With passion, commitment and hard work, VISTA members and their service sites create implement, expand and improve programs designed to bring individuals and communities out of poverty.

Any nonprofit organization, educational institution, or tribal or public agency with a project explicitly designed to alleviate poverty may sponsor a VISTA. VISTA expands the ability of sponsor organizations to fight poverty. Rather than providing services to low-income individuals and communities, VISTA strengthens and supports organizations by building infrastructure, expanding community partnerships, securing long-term resources, coordinating training for participants and much more.

To be eligible to be an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you must be a U.S. citizen, national or lawful permanent resident alien age 18 and older. Members receive a modest living allowance as a part of volunteering for the program. Members who serve for a year also receive limited health benefit options, childcare, if needed, and other benefits. After successful completion of a term of service, members can choose to receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or post-service stipend.

VISTA members do not provide direct services, such as tutoring children or building homes. Instead, they focus their efforts on building the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of the organizations that fight illiteracy, improve health services, foster economic development and otherwise assist low-income communities.

VISTAs develop programs to meet a need, write grants and recruit and train volunteers.

Texas faces a critical challenge. Demographic projections show that unless the state reverses the trend of declining college participation and success rates, Texas will become less educated, less prosperous, less economically competitive and have fewer opportunities and a lower quality of life for its people. The Texas State Demographer projects that if past downward trends in participation in higher education are not corrected, by 2040 the annual loss in household income will exceed $80 billion. This projected economic impact was a reason for the creation in 2000 of Texas' higher education plan. College for Texans is an unprecedented statewide initiative that informs and advises low-income families about the benefits of higher education. VISTA has been heavily involved in developing and implementing programs for area high schools to assist low-incomes to go to college.

The Victoria Business and Education Coalition are proudly sponsoring a VISTA member under the direction of the Literacy Coalition of Austin.

It is our honor to welcome to VBEC Million Amhatsion from Eritrea who has been living in Connecticut for the past five years and obtaining a master's degree at University of Bridgeport in Global Development. He brings with him a world of knowledge in video/web design skills, social media design and the ability to formulate data. We are excited to have an AmeriCorps VISTA member help us reach our mission to formulate, launch and sustain a plan that overcomes barriers to educational attainment in the Victoria ISD and school districts within the region by directly linking the business and professional community to our students, our future.

Students are given academic assistance and provided with supportive guidance to help them succeed in school, college, the workplace and society. The values of character, scholarship, leadership and service are promoted, developed and put into practice.

If you would like to become a volunteer to help our youth in Victoria, please contact VBEC at 361-572-8232 or vbectx@vbectx.org.

Lanell Mantey is the executive director of Victoria Business and Education Coalition. She may be emailed at vbectx@vbectx.org.


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