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Answering the Call

June 16, 2017

“Why don’t we have VISTAs in West Texas?”

AmeriCorps VISTA logoPosed a couple years ago, that question led directly to the inception of the Concho Valley VISTA Placement Project at Angelo State last fall.

Funded in part by the San Angelo Health Foundation, the local project is a component of AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), a national service program dedicated to connecting volunteers with community organizations that are fighting the battle against poverty. Members are often called “VISTAs.”

Kaitlyn BroshKaitlyn Brosh“We had a couple of VISTAs in San Angelo that were placed out of the Abilene area,” said Kaitlyn Brosh, ASU’s VISTA project manager. “We were actually approached by the state office of the VISTA program. They were looking for a location in this area to host a program, and ASU ended up being the organization that was the most equipped.”

The Concho Valley VISTA Placement Project is designed to identify specific organizations or projects within the local nonprofit and social service community that need another set of hands to accomplish their goals.

“We help find those organizations, develop the projects, and then recruit VISTAs to come serve on those projects for a year,” Brosh said.

VISTAs serve full time for one year with a local community or nonprofit organization. They receive a modest living allowance, health insurance and leave benefits. Upon completion of their service, they have the option to claim a Segal Education Award.

“One of the biggest draws is the Segal Education Award,” Brosh said. “It’s equivalent to the year’s Pell Grant, which is about $5,800 right now. They can either apply it back on existing student loans, or they can hold on to it for up to seven years to complete their degree or go to grad school.”

“I think the opportunities for ASU, as well as our students specifically at ASU, are going to continue to grow as the program grows.”

Kaitlyn Brosh

The program has already caught on within the San Angelo community. This year alone, the program has 12 volunteers signed up and ready for training, exceeding the original volunteer cap within the first five months. The first three VISTAs began their service in January, March and April, with four more starting their service this month. The remaining five begin their terms in July/August.

Of those 12, five are either ASU students or alumni.

“As we grow, the program is going to provide even more hands-on developed internship opportunities for ASU students to get involved in,” Brosh said. “It gives them an opportunity as they’re graduating or right after graduation to step in and really get to the inside workings of an organization and a passion that they have and can get involved in.”

“I think the opportunities for ASU, as well as our students specifically at ASU, are going to continue to grow as the program grows.”

The organizations in which VISTAs serve receive the benefit of a committed full-time volunteer, allowing them to accomplish goals seemingly otherwise unachievable.

VISTAs in the Concho Valley (L-R): Sara Lamog, Cindy Salas, Daniel Loyer, Rachel Lisewsky, Carrie Caldwell, Miah Wagnon, Erma Brooks and Sonia Ramirez-MunozVISTAs in the Concho Valley (L-R): Sara Lamog, Cindy Salas, Daniel Loyer, Rachel Lisewsky, Carrie Caldwell, Miah Wagnon, Erma Brooks and Sonia Ramirez-Munoz Credit: Courtesy Photo“Through our program,” Brosh said, “we are giving them a full-time individual focusing on one specific side of their project. Usually, it’s something organizations wish they could do. ‘If we could prove this could work, we could do it.’ But there is the vicious funding cycle – ‘you have to prove it before you’ll be funded, but you need funding to prove it will work.’”

“VISTA gives them an opportunity to prove that.”

Moving forward, the Concho Valley VISTA Placement Project has already been awarded an additional five VISTAs to place this year, and there is a list of organizations Brosh and her team are approaching.

“There was a huge desire to have VISTAs,” she said. “That is proof as to why we needed the project in the first place.”

Meet the First VISTAs

Sara LamogSara Lamog

Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
Organization: Concho Valley Workforce Development Board and City of San Angelo Development Corporation
Project: Work Ready Communities Initiative
Service Date: March

“VISTA service is a year commitment that offers a window of time to get your feet wet enough to either decide, ‘Yeah, I want to pursue this more’ or maybe not. Go in with an open mind but back it up with passion. If it’s a cause you are pursuing, or you know you’re good at a certain skill, or even if you want to develop a certain skill, you have to have the heart, passion and openness to back that up. Then just go for it.”

Miah WagnonMiah Wagnon

Hometown: San Angelo, Texas
Organization: Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health
Project: Women’s Spanish Speaking Health Event
Service Date: January

“It (VISTA) is providing you with skills above an internship level. I feel like you get more professional job experience than internship experience. I definitely recommend it for people who have the heart to serve.”

Daniel LoyerDaniel Loyer

Hometown: Martel, Ohio
Organization: Concho Valley Community Action Agency
Project: Rural Affordable Housing
Service Date: April

“I wanted to help out. There’s a problem with poverty everywhere, and I think it’s a great organization. I really like what they’re doing to attack the poverty issue.”

  • Brittney Miller

    Brittney Miller

    Brittney Miller is a marketing specialist at Angelo State University.
    E-mail Brittney at brittney.miller@angelo.edu.

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