Tahlequah Daily Press

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March 20, 2014

Volunteers in Service to America

TAHLEQUAH — Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) was authorized in 1964 by the Economic Opportunity Act to provide full-time volunteers to support the efforts of nonprofit organizations and public agencies working to fight poverty in low-income communities.

It was the idea of President John F Kennedy.

More than 180,000 individuals have served in VISTA on thousands of local projects in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

It was incorporated into the AmeriCorps in 1993 according to the organizations' website www.nationalservice.gov.

More than ever VISTA volunteers are needed to help the 46 million Americans who are living in poverty. Volunteers use their knowledge and experience through AmeriCorps VISTA to make a difference while achieving goals of personal and professional growth. Through a 10-week summer program or a year-long full-time commitment, volunteers work to assist communities and individuals out of poverty. They can work at a nonprofit organization or public agency building organizational, administrative, and financial aspects toward improving economic development, health services and literacy common in low-income communities.

Rather than providing direct services like tutoring, VISTA can create an adult literacy awareness campaign and recruit volunteer tutors, and mentors for children of incarcerated parents, help establish transitional housing and programs to help homeless turn their lives around, organize a shelter and seek job opportunities for victims of disasters and help low-income families obtain affordable health insurance.

Other volunteer programs under the umbrella include the Foster Grandparent Program, Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), and the Senior Companion Program, Senior Corps, Learn and Serve, and AmeriCorps.

AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs with more than 70,000 Americans involved. In 1994, VISTA joined this network and became AmeriCorps VISTA.

The purpose of VISTA, as authorized in the Domestic Volunteer Service Act (DVSA) of 1973, as amended, is to strengthen and supplement efforts to eliminate and alleviate poverty in the United States by encouraging and enabling persons from all walks of life, all geographic areas, and all age groups, including low-income individuals to perform meaningful and constructive volunteer service in agencies, institutions, and situations where the application of human talent and dedication may assist in the solution of poverty and poverty related problems.

People 18 and older are eligible to serve as AmeriCorps VISTA,  who are U.S. citizens, nationals, or lawful permanent resident aliens.

A modest living allowance is received and health coverage and childcare for those who serve for a year. A living allowance covers the cost of food, housing, and other basic necessities during service. Amounts are low because volunteers are expected to live at approximately the same economic level as the people they are serving

 Members who successfully complete a term of service can receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or post-service stipend.

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