By: Mikayla Riley, FRC 2020-2021
How does VISTA service fit in and does it really matter?
So you want to be a VISTA? Awesome! We are so glad you are interested in serving your community. As a VISTA, you will be partnering with nonprofits and other agencies throughout Fairbanks as you serve alongside your designated organization. Through your indirect service, you will be given the chance to see the non-profit sector through the unique lens of macro work.
Um… what is that?
Don’t worry, it sounds a lot more clinical than it really is. All non-profit work can be broken down into three levels of engagement; micro, mezzo, and macro work. You will see all of these during your time as a VISTA, but the work you are specifically focused on is called “indirect service,” which falls under the umbrella of macro work.
Picture it like a pyramid… but flipped on its head.
Macro work – what you will be doing as a VISTA – is a chance to look at the bigger picture. Macro work consists of indirect service where you review the policies of an agency, a community, or even a state and analyze how it might impact your agency’s ability to carry out its services. VISTA’s do not do much on the policy side, although, you will be given many opportunities to look over program evaluations, research, and data that is related to the work your agency is doing - another critical part of macro work. This information that you gather is often crucial to writing grants that will go towards funding your agency’s programs. Because VISTA’s are working within a community, it is important to understand the local culture surrounding your work and how it impacts the ability of your agency to do the work it does. Thus begins mezzo work…
Mezzo work is a beautiful middle ground between micro and macro work. Like macro work, mezzo work takes into account the different policies in place for a specific area. Yet, unlike macro work, mezzo work often includes direct service with larger communities such as community medical centers, the families at a specific school, and non-profits like your agency. People who work at the mezzo level are often doing direct service, just on a larger scale than you might see when you walk into a typical non-profit. But remember, just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
When you work with a non-profit that does direct service with individuals and small groups, you are working with a non-profit that is doing microwork. This work is done between a case manager and a client, a therapist and a therapeutic workgroup, or the social worker who helps cope with life transitions. Anytime you have met with someone in a helping profession in a one-on-one or group setting, you have been on the receiving end of microwork. It is happening all around us and, without it, non-profits could not reach the people that they do.
During your time as a VISTA you may experience some level of envy for the employees at your agencies who are working directly with the people that your agency is striving to serve– I know I did. Just remember, your indirect service work, in addition to others’ work of direct service, makes it possible for non-profits to achieve their goals. Without looking at the bigger picture, your site would have limited capacity to meet the needs of community members. While direct service work is the work you most often see, this does not mean the work you do not see is any less valuable. Your work as a VISTA is crucial to the long-term sustainability of your site and its programs, and your dedication to the role is greatly appreciated.
By: Mikayla Riley, FRC 2020-2021
AmeriCorps VISTA programs all focus on alleviating poverty; so why do we have a VISTA at the Fairbanks Reentry Coalition? Well… It may not seem like it, but when you look a little closer, reentry work is poverty alleviation work.
You are 35 years old and leaving prison for the first time since you were 22 years old. You are released and sent on your way. Ask yourself the following questions…
If you haven’t already made a reentry plan, what will you do? Where will you go? What if you have to stay in Fairbanks, far from your family, because you are required to complete certain programs as a condition of your parole? These are all really scary experiences that, without a reentry team, many people are forced to face alone.
Now go back to imagining yourself in this scary position of leaving incarceration. A condition of your parole is that you are employed within 60 days to pay for your electronic monitoring system. Sounds simple enough, right? Not so much. To get a job you need to have an address and an ID, and more often than not, a lot of places won’t hire someone with justice involvement. So now you have 60 days to get an address, pay for any identification paperwork you need, and find a job. Without this job you will fail to pay the fee for your electronic monitoring system and will be remanded to prison.
So, now that you understand the full picture, how is this related to poverty alleviation work?
Many companies have policies in place regarding background checks and the abilities of justice-involved people to work for them. This has led to nearly 60% of formerly incarcerated people still being unemployed a year after their release. Those who do find employment typically bring home 40% less pay annually (1). With barriers to employment and limited access to social welfare programs, individuals with justice involvement are pushed further into poverty and put at a higher risk of recidivating – returning to prison within three years of their release. Unemployment leads to poverty, poverty can lead to desperation, and desperation can lead people back to crime.
Because reentry work is designed to address these barriers and focus on reducing recidivism, reentry organizations must also be poverty alleviation organizations. Reentry work is so much more than putting a roof over someone’s head; it requires active engagement in a person’s life to see that their needs are met and that they are given the tools to overcome the barriers that have been placed before them.
By: Kenzley Defler, Shea Brenneman, & Caitlin Rampy
AmeriCorps is sometimes explained as being similar to Peace Corps but located within the United States as opposed to internationally. While this is true in many ways, there are also lots of differences in the application process, training, and service experience for AmeriCorps Members and Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs).
The goal of Peace Corps is to promote world peace and create sustainable change by helping countries meet their needs for professional training and promoting cross-cultural sharing. Peace Corps applicants can choose a specific country and work sector or apply to go wherever they are most needed. Cohorts of selected volunteers spend their first 3 months in country doing intensive language and cross cultural training. Often, this involves living with a local host family and taking language tests to track progress. After training, PCVs are placed at their permanent site where they do hands-on work focused on agriculture, education, health, the environment, community economic development, and youth development. Peace Corps terms are for 27 months, allowing volunteers time to integrate into their community and perform community needs assessments before jumping into projects.
AmeriCorps is similar in its goal to strengthen communities through volunteer work. Applicants can choose from the many programs including VISTA, State and National, NCCC, and FEMA Corps each of which offers service terms of varying length. While all AmeriCorps programs seek to improve lives and foster civic engagement, some programs do this through direct service work and other programs, like VISTA, perform indirect service work.
For some individual insight on Peace Corps and AmeriCrops service, check out the following words from Kenzley, Shea, and Caitlin, all of whom previously served with Peace Corps and are currently serving as AmeriCorps VISTA members in Fairbanks.
By: Tessa Holmes, FSWCD 2020-2021
The AmeriCorps VISTA project goals and tasks at FSWCD have evolved through time. Over two years ago, Melissa Sikes, the Natural Resource Education Specialist and VISTA supervisor at FSWCD began discussing a community farm project with local stakeholders. Inspired by an indoor hydroponic farm in Anchorage that employs and supports at-risk youth, Melissa sought to connect key community players who would support the creation of a hydroponic farm in the Fairbanks community. The previous VISTA (June 2019-20) recruited stakeholders and conducted research on how to viably fund the creation of a hydroponic farm. Over their service year, the previous VISTA set me up for success by finalizing a team of representatives from community organizations that include the Fairbanks Community Food Bank, Alaska 4-H, and a for-profit farm specializing in indoor growing technologies. In collaboration with these organizations, multiple grant applications were submitted and the scope of the project was adjusted slightly based on funding opportunities. A large part of the first VISTA’s work on this project was to determine the viability and scale of the project based on different funding opportunities.
As if the stars aligned with the AmeriCorps VISTA calendar, about a week before I started my service, FSWCD got word that their grant application for the USDA NIFA(4) Community Food Project was accepted. Beginning my service year in September 2020, I have been able to directly and tangibly continue the work of the VISTA before me. Beginning with our project partners, I have created contracts, organized and implemented regular project meetings, collaborated on local radio and television advertisements, and will be creating and managing a website and social media presence for the Community Farm Project. In December, we hosted a
Community Input Meeting with 33 participants and are now recruiting a community-led Advisory Council.
Thus far, the most meaningful part of my service has been telling the community about the farm project, gauging their feedback, and finding ways to infuse the project with their ideas. In order for the indoor farm to succeed and thrive, the project needs to bring value to Fairbanks community members so they accept and support it long-term. Thus, a big focus of my VISTA year is to tailor our program’s classes and workshops to reflect community input and respond to community need. The ideation, planning, and fundraising of the previous VISTA has provided me with clear direction and set me up for success in my VISTA service. Following my year, a third VISTA will support the Community Farm Project as it grows into a fully-operational farm, sustaining funding and community support along the way.
AGENCY: ACCESS ALASKA
AGENCY: ALASKA COALITION ON HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS
AGENCY: BOYS & GIRLS CLUB
AGENCY: BREAD LINE INC.
AGENCY: FBX CHILDREN'S MUSEUM
AGENCY: FBX HOUSING & HOMELESS COALITION
AGENCY: FBX NATIVE ASSOCIATION
AGENCY: FBX NORTH STAR LIBRARIES
AGENCY: FBX REENTRY COALITION
AGENCY: FBX RESCUE MISSION
AGENCY: FBX SOIL & WATER CONSERVATION DISTRICT
AGENCY: FBX WELLNESS COALITION
AGENCY: FBX YOUTH ADVOCATES
AGENCY: FOUNDATION HEALTH PARTNERS
AGENCY: INTERIOR ALASKA CENTER FOR NON-VIOLENT LIVING
AGENCY: JP JONES CENTER
AGENCY: LION'S DEN
AGENCY: LOVE INC
AGENCY: MORRIS THOMPSON CENTER
AGENCY: NORTHERN HOPE CENTER
AGENCY: NORTH STAR COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
AGENCY: RESTORE INC
AGENCY: SALVATION ARMY
AGENCY: TANANA CHIEFS CONFERENCE
AGENCY: THE DOOR
AGENCY: UNITED WAY
AUTHOR: AISHA PEREIRA
AUTHOR: ASHTON VARNER
AUTHOR: CAITLIN RAMPY
AUTHOR: HALLE GENSLER
AUTHOR: KELSEY SNYDER
AUTHOR: KENZLEY DEFLER
AUTHOR: LEAH SHAFFER
AUTHOR: MEAGAN SCHEER
AUTHOR: MIKAYLA RILEY
AUTHOR: MIKE REIDERER
AUTHOR: SHEA BRENNEMAN
AUTHOR: STEPHEN GREENLAW
AUTHOR: TARYN WILLIAMS
AUTHOR: TESSA HOLMES
AUTHOR: VICKI SLOBODYANIK
AUTHOR: ZAK MITCHELL
EVENT: COMMUNITY NEEDS DRIVE
EVENT: IN-SERVICE TRAINING
EVENT: PROJECT HOMELESS CONNECT
FAIRBANKS DAILY NEWS MINER
FRED MEYER REWARDS
IN THE NEWS
OFFICIAL CNCS STATEMENT
RADIO 970 KFBX
TOPIC: GRANT WRITING
YEAR LONG VISTA