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Overcoming Poverty, Building Capacity: The AmeriCorps VISTA Program at GCN

What’s a VISTA, and how are they helping Georgia nonprofits at GCN? Our VISTA program project leader has the answers.

In 1964, the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) initiative was launched to “Fight Poverty with Passion” in the U.S., utilizing a young volunteer corps eager to give back to the community while developing the leadership skills needed for their future.  Incorporated into the AmeriCorps network in 1993, VISTA recruits more than 7,000 individuals, most fresh out of college, each year for a one-year, full-time term of service working with a sponsor in the nonprofit sector, public school system, or local government agency. With over 1,000 project sponsors in the U.S., VISTAs are heavily involved in new sustainable projects centered on improving education, strengthening anti-poverty groups, and, in the case of GCN, providing vital capacity-building support.

With the help of VISTAs, we’ve improved organizational functionality, bolstered strategic partnerships, and maintained the long-term stability of various GCN projects.

With a total of 20 VISTAs, GCN leverages the program to increase their support of Georgia’s nonprofit sector, populating departments from development to communication and assisting strategic projects directly benefitting GCN members across the state. With the help of VISTAs in GCN’s Atlanta headquarters and in our satellite office on the coast, we’ve improved organizational functionality, bolstered strategic partnerships, and maintained the long-term stability of various GCN projects.

As just one example, a VISTA-led, building-wide Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service winter clothing drive pulled in more than 1,000 items over the course of a month. The GCN VISTA team spent MLK day sorting and delivering those items to Jerusalem House, The Shepherd’s Inn, Gateway Center, and Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children.

“Working at GCN provides me the opportunity to give back to the community, while enhancing the skills I need to ascend in the work force,” said Sharrod McClusky, a VISTA development coordinator at GCN. “It’s always nice to work for an organization that you believe in and be able to affect the community in which you were raised.”

Though volunteers, VISTA members benefit from a monthly stipend and school loan assistance, as well as the in-depth professional development they gain on the job. And by supporting the work of the organization, VISTAs allow GCN to serve the ongoing needs of Georgia’s nonprofit sector and enhance the lives of Georgia’s citizens.

“My experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA with GCN has been such a learning-filled adventure,” said Shameka Thomas Akinsete, GCN’s consulting and Nonprofit University coordinator. “I thought I would just be a VISTA, but it turns out I’m also able to say that I am a writer, a publisher, and certified in Nonprofit Management.”

Breauna Hagan is AmeriCorps VISTA program project leader at GCN.

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