Volunteers in Service to America

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Have you ever met someone at a non-profit agency that was introduced as “our VISTA,” and wondered what that meant? I think many of us have been in that position, but never had the opportunity or time to ask the question. Luckily, we have AmeriCorps VISTA’s serving here at United Way of the Bluegrass, so we know first-hand how important these volunteers are.
For those who are not familiar, AmeriCorps VISTA is a national service program designed to fight poverty. The program was created under Lyndon Johnson’ Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 as a domestic version of the Peace Corps.   The program is designed to provide volunteers with employment opportunities to assist with creating and expanding programs that will bring individuals and communities out of poverty. VISTA’s have played a key role in establishing many of the best-known anti-poverty programs, including Head Start, Upward Bound, and the credit union system.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a VISTA pre-service orientation as a supervisor.  I watched individuals of all ages and backgrounds take a pledge to live in poverty for a year in service to their country. They only will receive a living stipend calculated at 105% of the poverty line, child care benefits, and a basic health care, while providing full-time employment to a non-profit organization or local government agency. People might wonder, why would someone take this pledge? Many of the college graduates I spoke with were looking to gain experience in order to locate a full-time entry level job and experienced adults were looking to apply skills and knowledge to serious social problems. The one underlying reason was to serve their county for a cause they can be proud of.
So the next time you meet a “VISTA,” keep in mind that they are volunteers looking to make major changes to the economic well-being of your community.  At UWBG, I am proud to announce our VISTA’s for 2012-2013: Cynthia Louis, VISTA for financial literacy and Bank On Bluegrass, along with junior VISTA, Trixie; and Aaron McKibben, VISTA for financial stability and the Central Kentucky Economic Empowerment Project (CKEEP). 

 “Your pay will be low; the conditions of your labor often will be difficult. But you will have the satisfaction of leading a great national effort and you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their fellow man.” ~ President Lyndon B. Johnson


Tracy Thurston

Manager, Financial Stability