Thursday, September 12, 2013

Community Partners share their Stories of Impact

Last week we posted Stories of Impact from our 2012-2013 VISTA cohort. We shared stories told in the VISTAs' own voices about how their work impacted their campus, their community, and themselves. This week we look at service from the other side of the coin: the community partner.

One of our project's goals is to increase the organizational capacity of community partners or community-based projects. To learn if we're succeeding, we surveyed community partner representatives in March and July of 2013. A total of sixteen individual community partner organizations responded to the survey, and the results were very positive.
A Virginia Tech student at the MLK DayCare Facelift

Let's talk numbers: When asked about the VISTA's overall impact on their project or organization, 87.5% of respondents indicated the impact was "significant" or "very significant." Over 68% of respondents said VISTA efforts led to "significant" or "very significant" increase in the resources available to the partner organization. Eighty-seven percent of partners agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "As a result of the VISTA member's work, my organization is now able to offer clients new or more effective services," and 68% agreed that their "organization is now able to operate more effectively or efficiently." Clearly, community partners were satisfied with the VISTA members' contributions to their projects and organizations. VISTAs make a difference!

Several community partner respondents shared reflections on their experience with the VISTA this year. Many gave the VISTAs high praise for their commitment and hard work. For example, Homeward Bound staffer Emily Ball declared, "Jacqui [Trillo] added critical capacity to a new project of ours, which works on getting furniture & housewares into the apartments of people we're moving out of homelessness and into housing of their own. Jacqui helped us create so many new systems for our Welcome Home project!"

Eric Howard, a social worker at William Randolph High School, described VISTA Sara Brown as "not only an outstanding ambassador for the program, she was also a mentor, a leader, and very supportive of all students and staff. We had the most applications and acceptance to college, largely because of the work of Ms. Sara Brown."

Rebecca Oats, Executive Director at the Lyon Park Community Center, described VISTA Jeri Beckens as "innovative." She continues, saying Jeri "works well with others who look to her for guidance, direction, and attention. She is an excellent writer and speaker. She has good moral values and a love for family, which has played out in her life of giving back and always looking for opportunities to help individuals. She has looked for ways that she could help to make this community better. She embraced her work with enthusiasm."

Anne Faris of the New River Valley Head Start program had similar praise for Wyatt Taylor, VISTA at Virginia Tech, and his work:
"Head start now has more partnerships with VT staff and students. With Wyatt's direct contact with the VT campus, he has been able to formulate volunteer databases of the students; provided recruitment opportunities for staff and students through campus venues; contacted professors concerning service opportunities for staff and students; he also has given student groups volunteer training information/materials. Our connections to the VT community have grown with 2 groups adopting specific centers for the upcoming year and hopefully years to come; continued focus on Head Start centers with the MLK Day of Service; and 5 contacts with specific VT staff and students for specific projects that can enhance our Head Start classrooms and centers."
Michelle Wallace of the NC Cooperative Extension office and the Briggs Avenue Community Garden. Michelle worked closely with Sally Parlier, VISTA at Durham Technical Community College. Michelle credits Sally as a "true asset to the garden" and someone who has "really made a difference in the overall success of the program" by leading volunteers to work in the plot, strengthening a relationship with Durham Tech, searching and applying for grants, and providing valuable contributions at advisory board and plot owner meetings. This spring, Sally and Michelle presented together at the NC Master Gardener Association Conference. They talked about their work and about campus-community garden collaborations.

We appreciate community partners working with VISTAs, sharing their perspectives, and giving us feedback. In 2013-2014, new and returning VISTAs will continue to develop many of these partnerships and projects.