Friday, January 8, 2016

2015 VISTA Year in Review!

Some of our favorite highlights from another year of AmeriCorps VISTA, building capacity of community-based service programs that benefit both campus and community partners.

VISTA program celebrates 50th Anniversary with help from NC Campus Compact VISTA Leaders Perdita Das and Catherine Casteel. They were key organizers of the state anniversary event: a sunny day of service and fellowship at Lifespan in Greensboro.

VLDR Perdita Das gives then-national director Paul Monteiro a piece of her mind! Actually, she was extremely polite and honest about the challenges VISTA Leaders and members face. A week after their conversation, VISTA changed rules regarding second employment. Coincidence?

NC Campus Compact VISTA alum Carolyn Byrne Rifkin returns to the Compact as VISTA program coordinator!

The Marian Cheek Jackson Center -- with the help of UNC, Self-Help Credit Union, and other partners -- realizes a plan to create a multi-million dollar landbank to preserve affordable housing in Northside.

The Hospitality House's Welcome Home Thriftique celebrates its 1-year anniversary.

Our 2014-15 VISTA cohort rolls up the numbers, as shown in the infographic (left), prepared by VLDR Catherine Casteel. But just imagine how much impact they made that's not accounted for in these tallies!

NC Campus Compact hosts a new, 2-day orientation program for new VISTA members, featuring some hands-on service, a presentation by NC Fund historian Robert Korstad, and relationship building!

The 2015-16 VISTAs get rolling and hit major milestones:

Since August, our newest NC Campus Compact VISTAs have managed 726 volunteers and have raised cash and in-kind donations valued at just over $80,000.

The work of the education-focused VISTAs served 694 students, 224 of whom have entered post-secondary education.

VISTAs serving in Healthy Futures projects reported 249 people experiencing increased food security and 2,653 people receiving support for hunger.

And 120 people received financial literacy education, 520 received job skills training and 43 people were placed in jobs in part because of the work of the Economic Opportunity VISTAs.

Monday, January 4, 2016

NOW AVAILABLE: 2016-17 VISTA Host Site Applications

NC Campus Compact has released the application to host an AmeriCorps VISTA for 2016-17. 

NC Campus Compact member campus units may apply with a community partner OR community-based organizations may apply with a member campus partner.

What is VISTA?
VISTA is an AmeriCorps program that engages individuals in a year of full-time service with a sponsoring organization to create or expand programs that bring individuals and communities out of poverty. The VISTA program was created in 1964 as Volunteers In Service To America. Today, more than 7000 VISTA members serve with community-based organizations and governmental agencies across the United States. Like other AmeriCorps programs, VISTA is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency that seeks to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.

All VISTA projects must demonstrate four key principles:
Anti-poverty focus
Community empowerment 

The purpose of VISTA is to build capacity of non-profit organizations and communities to help bring individuals and communities out of poverty. Projects should be responsive and relevant to the lives of community residents and engage them in project planning and evaluation. Activities should focus on building capacity of organizations or communities, rather than providing direct service to individuals. As short-term resources designed to create long-term solutions, VISTA must focus on sustainable improvements that will last beyond the VISTA term. Host site applicants should keep these key principles in mind as they consider their plans for a VISTA’s service. 

For more information or to discuss a proposal you may contact VISTA program coordinator, Carolyn Rifkin.

For update and the application, visit the Host Site Application Info page.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Gap

Natasha Vos

There have been a lot of conversations this year about the financial model that AmeriCorps VISTA uses to pay its members. Currently, the stipend for the year is set at 105% of the poverty line of the county that the member is serving in. For me, that means I can expect to receive around $11,400 for the year, or $442 every two weeks. The logic behind this is that we can have (in at least a small way) a shared experience with those living in the communities we serve. We intensively plan out budgets, enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), seek out public transportation, and look for cheap housing. If anything, my experience has informed me that those living in poverty are actually the best at using financial resources, because they have so little to work with in many cases. I recognize the limitations of this model in its inability to account for factors such as family size and support, transportation, personal, physical and emotional health, education, etc. which is why I say a shared experience, 'in at least a small way'. Many AmeriCorps members elect to go through application processes for benefit programs such as SNAP, and recently the Healthcare Marketplace.

This year I turned 26. The only birthday milestone that you do not look forward to because you officially get the boot from your parents’ health care plan. As an AmeriCorps member in North Carolina, I fall in this health care limbo referred to as “the gap.” Try to follow me here because it gets a little complicated. I exist in an income level with my stipend that is too low to qualify for monthly federal tax credits to help me pay for the most basic health care plan. However, because North Carolina as a state did not expand Medicaid, this same income level (105% of the poverty line in Forsyth County), was too high to qualify me for Medicaid. The consolation prize? An exemption that would prevent me from being penalized on my taxes for not having health care.

Fortunately, being a second term AmeriCorps member I had earned my educational award of $5645 to be used towards my existing student loans. Because the education award is a taxable source of income, using it entirely this year, bumps me up into the next income bracket, qualifying me for tax credits and an affordable health care plan. Fantastic right? Here’s the drawback: the education award is a taxable source of income that taxes have not been taken out of, so I will end up owing several hundred dollars for using it all this year in addition to state taxes I will owe, because they are not taken out of our weekly paychecks. Many AmeriCorps members choose to use their education awards slowly over time to pay a minimum in taxes on them. I had to essentially do a cost benefit analysis. Not having health care was not an option. Purchasing my own plan would have cost me $200 per month, but using my education award would result in $300-400 in taxes once. Easy choice, but I’m still forking over a couple hundred dollars, which for someone making $11,400 a year, is challenging.

AmeriCorps offers its members a $6600 allowance per year to be used on approved health care costs, but you have to a have plan first. This is not a critique of AmeriCorps or its policies. This is using myself as a personal example to demonstrate challenges that low income individuals face to providing basic care for themselves and their families. I had the luxury of choosing to use my education award to ensure that I make enough to qualify for tax credits and an affordable health care plan. There are millions of families and individuals that do not have this luxury. The Affordable Care Act has provided healthcare to millions in this country for the first time. It has withstood many challenges to its constitutionality, and that should be (and has been) celebrated. But cracks have appeared that allowed states to choose whether to expand Medicaid and in over half of the states, that choice was no. However you feel about state’s rights, the fact is that because of North Carolina’s decision not to expand Medicaid millions of individuals and families still do not have health care. Progress is never content and we need to continue to find these gaps and close them.

Friday, December 4, 2015

VISTAs Raise Awareness About Hunger and Homelessness

Food and shelter are two of the basic necessities every person needs to build a stable life. But unfortunately for millions of Americans, these two basic needs are not met. Bringing focus to these issues is the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (HHAW). Traditionally held the week before Thanksgiving, HHAW gives communities the opportunity to reflect and take action on these issues.

At NC Campus Compact, our VISTA members utilize HHAW to educate their campus communities and provide students with opportunities to engage in their communities.

VISTA Annah Wells at Western Carolina University hosted a week of events in Cullowhee. The opening event, "Weigh the Waste," challenged students to think about food waste by measuring and visualizing over 225 of food thrown away at the dining hall during lunch. Annah also led three groups of students volunteer at the  Community Table and where volunteers unloaded trucks from larger food pantries with donations and served a hot meal to neighbors in need.  At the Hunger Banquet, students learned the realities of global poverty and world food distribution.  The week wrapped up with a Hunger Games Dodgeball event where students competed against other "tributes" in a fun game while learning about social injustice and unequal access to resources. Throughout the week students also participated in a "Live Below the Line Challenge" to see if students can live off of $1.25 a day for a week, the same budget the average American receiving food stamps has to spend on food.

UNCG students volunteer at BackPack Beginnings for HHAW.
At the University of North Carolina- Greensboro VISTA Allison Plitman planned seven events, one for every day of HHAW. The variety of programming offered students the opportunity to volunteer with servGSO at BackPack Beginnings and the Pathway Center, a film screening and panelist discussion, an Empty Bowls event, a Stop Hunger Now packing event, and Soup for Hoops. At Soup for Hoops, a canned food drive, UNCG student groups donated hundreds of cans of food at the men's Basketbath. All of the donations went to UNCG's on-campus food pantry, the Spartan Open Pantry.

“College is a great time to get engaged with the community,” said Allison. “It’s so fulfilling to make a difference, especially a tangible difference like packaging food or serving a meal.”

25 Meredith students participated in the HHAW bingo event.
At Meredith College second-year member Meghan Engstran held an event called "A Night of Chance: Bingo Under the Stars." The event caught the attention of the student population by offering what appeared to be an ordinary night of Bingo. But this game of bingo had a twist- winning a round of bingo does not grantee a satisfying prize. Each aspect of the event simulated situations a person dealing with homelessness or hunger might go through. Meghan states "The purpose of tweaking the bingo cards was to show that not everyone starts with the same and advantages in life."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Lead the way-Be a NC Campus Compact VISTA Leader!

NC Campus Compact is now accepting applications from candidates for a 2015-2016 NC Campus Compact AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader.  VISTA Leaders work with the VISTA program coordinator to support NC Campus Compact VISTAs serving in community that addresses local needs in one of three areas: education (K-12 success or access to post-secondary education), economic opportunity (housing or financial literacy), or healthy futures (food security). 

NC Campus Compact VISTA members work to develop partnerships between universities and community partners that address these issues by mobilizing campus resources, including student volunteers, faculty and staff expertise, or financial/in-kind contributions. Please click here to learn about our 2015-2016 VISTA members and projects.

To apply and learn more about the process please click here.

The VISTA Leader will support the current cohort of 17 VISTA members whose terms began in August 2015. The VISTA Leader will play a key role in recruiting new members for the 2016-2017 year. Other duties include, but are not limited to, advising members to ensure VISTA project success; managing performance measurement system for monthly VISTA reporting, providing summaries, and assisting with submission of CNCS reporting; enhancing member communication with calls, emails, and site visits; and co-coordinating training and presentations.

QUALIFICATIONS: Applicants must have one full year of prior VISTA service to apply. Strong candidates will have: Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree; experience with college service programs and programs serving low-income adults and/or youth; strong writing and organizational skills; knowledge of social media platforms and MS Office products. The VISTA Leader role demands passion for the VISTA mission of fighting poverty and for the Campus Compact vision of higher education as a path to active citizenship. Applicants must be a U.S. Citizen or have permanent legal resident status. The VISTA Leader will serve at the Compact’s office in Elon, NC, on the campus of Elon University. Elon University is a selective, independent university renowned as a national model for engaged learning. Learn more at

CNCS benefits include: Education award upon successful completion of service, health coverage,  living allowance,  professional development,  relocation allowance,  childcare assistance if eligible. NC Campus Compact offers an additional living stipend to support the VISTA Leader.

The start date for the position is flexible, but is expected to be be filled by mid-January. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

In addition to the online application, please send a letter of interest and a current resume to Program Coordinator Carolyn Byrne at

Thursday, October 15, 2015

VISTA Alumni Network Newsletter- Fall 2015 Edition

Check out our latest edition of the VISTA Alumni Network Newsletter! This issue contains news from our NC Campus Compact Network, highlights the work of our VISTAs and also has announcements of potential alumni involvement.

Read the newsletter by clicking here!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Orientation 2015: Starting Off on the Right Foot

Learning. Serving. Bonding. These three words perfectly summarize the month of August for our 2015-16 cohort of VISTAs.

This year North Carolina Campus Compact welcomed twelve new members and welcomed back five returners. Read more about our members here and about this year’s projects and host sites here.

VISTAs are young professionals who have dedicated a year of service in a low income community to build the capacity of an organization meeting certain needs of that particular community. Our VISTAs are at both colleges/universities as well as community partner organizations. The members started off their year with lots of learning, from the intensive on-site orientation planned by their hosts to the various webinars and orientation we provide as supplements to equip them with what they may need for their year of service.

All new members to the VISTA program must attend a Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) hosted by the Corporation of National and Community Service. Our new members attended one from August 3rd to 6th in Atlanta, GA where they spent an intensive four days of learning about poverty in the United States, familiarizing themselves with their detailed Volunteer Assignment Descriptions (VADs), and meeting many other VISTAs from all over the country. On August 5th, VISTA program coordinator Carolyn Byrne and VISTA Leader Catherine Casteel, traveled to Atlanta to meet with this enthusiastic cohort. They met during lunch and dinner, and it was the first time the entire team got a chance to meet each other, and learn more about Campus Compact and the history of civic engagement in higher education institutions. Carolyn and Catherine gave the VISTAs a chance to get to know one another and later facilitated a discussion about exploring the history of university-community relationships in the places they will be serving. The VISTAs definitely left Atlanta excited about learning and serving at their sites!

After being sworn in on August 6th, the VISTAs traveled straight back to their placements to begin their year of service on August 7th. It was also the last day of service for our outgoing VISTAs, so some of our new members were able to meet their predecessors and get some last minute, on-the-ground advice. Our returning members just rolled into their second year on the very same day. The host sites conduct their own on-site orientations that allow the VISTAs to shift from learning broader themes to and settle into their specific assignments for the year. NC Campus Compact also hosted two webinars in the weeks that followed, covering topics such as asset based community entry, performance measures and monthly reports and preparing the VISTAs for the upcoming orientation at Elon University.

This year, for the first time, Campus Compact hosted our VISTAs for a two-day training at Elon on
VISTA Natasha Vos sharing her Impact Story
August 27th to 28th. The two days were filled with workshops of different topics presented by both staff and guest speakers. The goals of having an intense two-day orientation were to allow the members ample opportunity to bond with each other as a cohort, learn more about specific topics and tools that they will need to succeed in their year, and also hear from experts in the field. Each carefully planned session was made better by the eager participation, great questions, and thoughtful reflections from all the VISTAs. August 27th started bright and early as our members drove in from all corners of North Carolina. After introductions, our five returning VISTAs shared their IMPACT stories- a summary of their year of service with both highlights and challenges and projects that they are proud of. Shannon Barr, (High Point University), Justin Brantley (Feast Down East), Meghan Engstran (Meredith College), Matthew Kauffmann (Community Empowerment Fund) and Natasha Vos (Wake Forest University) had different approaches to their presentations but each highlighted the importance of clear communication and innovation when faced with any challenges. Hearing of real experiences allowed the new members get a perspective on their year ahead and gave them the opportunity to ask questions.

Over the two days the NC Campus Compact staff led different workshop sessions that were both informative and interactive. VISTA Program Coordinator, Carolyn Byrne, led thought provoking sessions on Cultural Competency, setting goals for the year, the importance of self-reflection and revisiting the topics discussed at PSO. Chad Fogleman, NC Campus Compact Assistant Director, offered information about theories of change and logic models which led perfectly into VISTA Leader, Catherine’s session on performance measurements and the importance both numbers and narratives as they reported each month on their progress. VISTA leader, Perdita Das also led a session on project and event management on the second day to conclude the orientation. The sessions gave the VISTAs a chance to break out into their focus areas (Education, Economic Opportunity, and Healthy Futures), and have meaningful discussions and share experiences.

Workshop presenters at orientation
We were very excited to hear from an array of guest speakers over the course of the two days as well. We welcomed back three VISTA alums, Sara Acosta (2010-12), Derald Dryman (2010-13), and Mariel Steinbeiser (2010-11), to join us for lunch the first day to share their experiences. We were also excited to welcome Dr. Robert Korstad, professor of Public Policy and History at Duke University who talked about the North Carolina Fund and some statistics on the poverty in North Carolina. He was joined by Adrienne Harreveld, Program Coordinator for the Research Network on Racial and Ethnic Inequality. On August 28th, we welcomed Hudson Vaughn and George Barrett (who served as a VISTA last year) from the Marian Cheek Jackson Center in Chapel Hill, who led a fun session on creative tips and best practices of effective community partnership development. We also had Mary Morrison, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement at Elon University, lead an energetic workshop on student volunteer recruitment, management, and recognition. Hearing from those with such extensive experience in the field gave our VISTAs knowledge and confidence as they embark on their own journey of this new experience.

Apart from these thrilling workshops, the VISTAs had an opportunity to serve together as well. On the morning of the second day, the VISTAs along with the VISTA leaders and program coordinator , had the opportunity to work on a house with Habitat for Humanity of Alamance County in Burlington.  It was a beehive of activity as they shoveled around the foundation, cut boards, picked up glass and much more. Although it was only an hour and a half, the large group of volunteers helped Habitat take care of many small assignments in one day and the VISTAs learned more about Habitat, their application process, the volunteer hours needed per house and as they reflected when they returned to Elon, they wanted to "know more" and it "made them feel more together as a cohort."

The VISTAs serving with Habitat for Humanity
The two days were long, fun, full of conversations and laughter and a great start for a great year. As the members reflected upon the orientation, they shared words like "cohort," "support," "knowledge" and "inspiration." We are inspired too and cannot wait to see what this year brings. Good luck VISTAs!