Impact Icons Spotlight: AmeriCorps VISTA Builds Capacity for Change

May 15, 2024

The Points of Light Impact Icons series celebrates organizations that are creating measurable change within their communities. This month we are shining a light on the AmeriCorps VISTA program, a national service initiative that strengthens communities by addressing issues related to poverty.

Partners for Campus Community Engagement is dedicated to fostering vibrant collaborations between higher education institutions and the communities they serve. One way they achieve this is by hosting and supporting AmeriCorps VISTA members in the region. We spoke with Lucio Perez, AmeriCorps VISTA Program Director at PCCE, who shares his perspective on the program’s transformative power.

What makes your organization an Impact Icon?

For the past 30 years, we have led the charge to advance equitable, place-based community engagement, provided grant support for campuses and developed innovative professional development for members in the region. That ensured New York and Pennsylvania colleges and universities would graduate students who not only become future leaders in their chosen fields but also civically engaged leaders in their communities.

Further, throughout PCCE’s inception, we’ve fostered the AmeriCorps VISTA Program for over two decades as an area of civic engagement, collaborative impact and commitment to our communities. We believe that fostering sustainable change for people, organizations and the climate is at the core of what we do. We seek to deepen learning, enrich intellectual humility and catalyze civic innovation.

Tell us about a project or initiative you’re working on right now that’s making a big impact on your community.

Currently, PCCE is leveraging the AmeriCorps VISTA program to expand the resources and capacity of member campuses in addressing co-identified priorities and systemic barriers to poverty. AmeriCorps VISTA members are being placed among college campuses and nonprofit community organizations across the regions of New York and Pennsylvania. VISTAs will be instrumental in building the capacity within their community, while simultaneously addressing issues of poverty through the four AmeriCorps priority focus areas: Education, Environmental Stewardship, Healthy Futures, Economic Mobility and Opioid Epidemic.

As full-time members over 12 months (service term), PCCE VISTA’s service will take many forms: tutoring program development (both middle school and high school), college access and success, youth development, literacy, ESL, community-school partnerships, migrant and refugee resource development, mentoring initiatives, efforts to tackle the digital divide via campus/community development and civic engagement, cross-sector approach for employment workforce, strengthening county government to address re-entry, recovery, individual and community resilience of the opioid pandemic, nutritious food access and education, and access to health care initiatives.

For the 22-23 fiscal year, PCCE placed 20 full-time (365 days) VISTA members and 14 summer associate members (10-week long program) across host sites composed of higher education institutions and nonprofit organizations. In 2022-2023 the PCCE VISTA program reported 220 community organizations were made more efficient, effective and/or increased their program outreach.

In regard to resource development, the PCCE VISTA program generated $7,786,782 of cash resources and in-kind resources during the program term. In total, the PCCE VISTA program recruited and managed 1,146 of both on-and-off campus volunteers with a combined total of 18,178 service hours during the project period. Additionally, a reported average of 3,859 youth received services provided by our VISTA-supported partners in all focus areas; 40 veterans, active duty and family members received services in all focus areas; 50 individuals received services in substance abuse programming; and 95 youth and adults experiencing homelessness received services in all of our VISTA focus areas.

“I’ve been a [PCCE] VISTA supervisor for 15 years with over 8 VISTA programs at my institution. Before being a VISTA supervisor, I was a VISTA with the PA Campus Compact (now PCCE) in 2005-2007. This organization mirrors my philosophy of mentorship, partnership and action. It is one of the few professional organizations I can say has had a tremendous recognizable impact on the communities in which they work. It is powerful to see young professionals grow and thrive as a VISTA into amazing colleagues. It’s equally amazing to see the longevity of anti-poverty programs initiated through the campus community partnerships supported through the organization and college campuses.”

— Meghan Boone Valkenburg, PCCE Partner & AmeriCorps Alumni

Do you have an upcoming special event or milestone that your organization is celebrating? Tell us about it!

PCCE is pleased to announce the release of $15,000 for our Civic Imagination Grants, which are available to partners (nonprofits and higher ed institutions) for up to $3000 each. PCCE’s Civic Imagination Grant program is designed to support community-based organizations and higher ed institutions working together in New York & Pennsylvania whether by proximity or interest in similar topics to address common issues. These grants may focus on one of these types: Partnership and Co-Sponsorship. Funds are drawn from an internal grant and have been approved by PCCE’s Board.

The Civic Imagination Grants build on partners’ capacity to cultivate civic imagination, deepen civic and community engagement, and strengthen PCCE’s regional communities. This year, we are especially interested in supporting efforts that focus on racial healing, democratic engagement and climate justice/change. However, we will consider applications with robust ideas that may not directly focus on these three topics. For more information, please email Danelle Wagner at [email protected].

What role does volunteerism play in your organization’s overall mission and objectives?

PCCE has a strong partnership with AmeriCorps VISTA Program. Over two decades, we’ve mobilized VISTA members, as well as community volunteers and stakeholders to the center of sustainable programming and implementation of robust services that meet the needs of the community and tackle poverty-induced barriers at the same time.

How are you recognizing and thanking volunteers for their contributions?

PCCE is a proud organization that is certified each year to award the prestigious President’s Volunteer Service Award to our volunteers and VISTAs for their ongoing dedication and impact on uplifting our partners and community resources. PCCE hosts an annual in-person retreat for our VISTAs to gather, reflect and celebrate their accomplishments together! PCCE host’s a celebratory dinner to recognize the VISTAs impact on their work/community and ensure to share these great stories with the Mid-Atlantic VISTA office.

In addition to volunteering, describe other elements of the Points of Light Civic Circle®️ that your work involves. How has the Civic Circle become central to your approach?

PCCE’s approach to ongoing collaboration, equity, leadership, service and transformation closely aligns with Civic Circle’s focus. Our foundation is crucial as we listen and learn from our partners and their respective communities to ensure we work together to tackle the root of the problem.

Additionally, these elements ensure that PCCE places priority on supporting our partner’s capacity to cultivate partner engagement which leads to the public good; professional and skill development opportunities; venues for disseminating exemplary practices in campus-community partnerships; and leveraging, advocating and educating at the national, state and local levels for issues related to civic and community engagement.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone who’s looking to get more involved in their community through civic engagement?

Don’t be afraid – and step out of your comfort zone! There are a plethora of resources, organizations and passionate people who are eager to point you in the right direction and hear your voice.

Points of Light

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