VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) was founded in 1965 as a national service program to fight poverty in America. In 1993, VISTA became a part of AmeriCorps. Each VISTA member makes a year-long, full-time commitment to serve on a specific project at a nonprofit organization or public agency. 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 organizations that improve health services, foster economic development, and otherwise assist low-income communities.
The Build Albion AmeriCorps VISTA Initiative began in July and is a unique, three to five year partnership between Albion College, the City of Albion, and other local organizations.
Our purpose is to help organizations in Albion fight poverty. We are currently housed at the Albion Economic Development Corporation building on Superior Street and will be moving into the newly renovated Ludington Center at 101 N. Superior building. The Build Albion AmeriCorps VISTA Initiative has nine members who are led by Morgan Hull and supervised by Andrew French.
Our team is split into three focus areas: Economic Opportunity, Education, and Healthy Futures. Our biggest goal of the service year is to conduct a Community Needs Assessment by: 1) compiling previous needs assessments and surveys related to our focus areas; and 2) administering a community wide survey. Each team also has various projects and goals that support our overarching goal of alleviating poverty by supporting and building the capacity of local nonprofits and public agencies that fight poverty.
Our Economic Opportunity Team has three members: Alice LaLone, Danielle Nelson, and Devon Parker.
Alice focuses on neighborhood stabilization by working with the City of Albion and the Calhoun County Treasurer and Land Bank. Danielle also works with the city to support community and economic planning.
Partnering with Michigan Works!, Devon works to improve job access in Albion. Since July, this team has begun to tackle a number of projects, including facilitating town hall meetings to gather residents’ input for the City’s comprehensive plan; applying for $2.64 million in grant funding to update the City’s water/sewer system; setting up an interactive online map system for the City to gather information for grant applications and community projects; developing an energy management plan to cut costs and take proactive measures to protect the environment in Albion; and creating a community resource guide for employment related services in the area. For the guide, they are looking for organizations that provide services and resources such as workforce training, transportation, GED and adult literacy programs, professional attire and uniforms, and basic job skills training.
Healthy Futures works with organizations who tackle issues related to healthy food access and health care access. Dorothy Feltner focuses on food access and has worked to spread awareness of the Albion Farmer’s market and its SNAP capabilities. She has also done research and development for the Albion Food Hub and supported the development of the newly formed Albion Community Gardens Inc., a nonprofit group. Steven Houtschilt and Jeremiah Simon focus on access to healthcare by partnering with groups such as the Albion Health Care Alliance and Forks Senior Center. They assisted with this year’s Healthy Babies Day through volunteer recruitment, training, and management along with offering advice and finding ways to make the event easier to run moving forward.
Jeremiah and Steven are working with local groups to create an “Albion Healthcare, Wellness, and Food Access Resource Guide” that provides a basic list of healthcare and healthy living resources for Albion residents that will be distributed throughout the City and online when it is completed. The Healthy Futures team will continue to build the capacity of groups such as Neighborhood Health Visitors and support health and wellness programming in Albion.
The VISTA Education Team is working to expand and improve educational opportunities for students in kindergarten through 12th grade that live in Albion. This team has three members, Miranda Hall, Linda LaNoue, and Kameron Sibert. Due to the former Albion Public Schools’ recent annexation into Marshall Public Schools, the Education Team has the strongest working relationship with the MPS superintendent and teaching staff.
However, they have met with all seven school district superintendents that serve students from Albion and surveyed their teaching staff to better understand current classroom needs. In addition, the Education Team is working with the Diversity Committee, which helps Albion students who are transitioning to MPS, and with Starr Commonwealth to support a Resilient Communities Project that will begin in early 2017.
They are also helping to create a sustainable volunteer base to support the expansion of the Albion Recreation Department’s programming, and other after school academic support for all youth in Albion. Kameron Sibert, an Albion College alumnus, is working with the college to establish a wider volunteer network that is better connected to service opportunities in the community.
It is our pleasure and privilege to serve in Albion. You inspire us everyday. None of this work would be possible without the support of organizations and citizens of Albion. We are amazed by the work that people are doing in this City and how dedicated they are to improving lives.
The AmeriCorps emblem is an “A” that we wear on our shirts and jackets. If you see us in the community, feel free to say “Hello!” and have a conversation with us. We love hearing people’s stories, talking about the exciting work that is being done in Albion, and answering questions about our program. If you have information about any of our focus areas, are interested in volunteering opportunities, or have questions, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org