The University of Georgia AmeriCorps VISTA Network was established in 2013 to support local community partners with AmeriCorps VISTA members to increase their capacity for bringing individuals and communities out of poverty in the Athens, GA area. The AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) program places qualified individuals in a year-long, full-time position to serve on a specific project at a nonprofit organization or public agency. They focus their efforts to build the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of organizations that improve health and educational services, reduce food insecurity, foster economic development, and otherwise assist low-income communities. AmeriCorps VISTAs are compensated with a small living allowance, health coverage, possible relocation allowance, and receive an end-of-term education grant or stipend. See more on the VISTA program and its requirements and benefits.
With a focus on food insecurity and waste, sustainability and educational initiatives, the UGA VISTA Network includes year-long VISTAs and/or summer associates placed at the Athens Regional Library, Athens Community Council on Aging, Athens Area Humane Society, College Factory, Clarke County Mentor Program, and on campus (Campus Kitchen-UGA, UGArden, EcoReach, and Experience UGA). UGA's VISTA Network is supported by VISTA Leaders who support the UGA VISTA Network, its AmeriCorps VISTAs, sites and stakeholders to build capacity, fight poverty and enhance connections between the University of Georgia and the Athens, GA community.
During spring/summer 2020, many VISTAs had some of their activities reoriented towards supporting anti-hunger initiatives in the local community. See for example,
Current year-long VISTA positions as of 2021 include the following. Positions currently recruiting have a link next to their description.
- Campus Kitchen AmeriCorps VISTA: This member focuses on increasing the capacity of the Campus Kitchen at UGA to collect food donations and produce and distribute meals to food-insecure seniors in Athens-Clarke County. The VISTA strengthens volunteer recruitment and training procedures and sustains partnerships with UGA service-learning courses, UGA student organizations, and local service agencies. https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?id=100342&fromSearch=false
- Senior Hunger Coalition AmeriCorps VISTA: This member is placed at the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA) and works on food security partnerships serving older adults.
- Athens-Clarke Co. Library AmeriCorps VISTA: This member works with the library's teen services and leverages volunteers and community organizations to offer a range of relevant programming for young adults at the library.
- Clarke Co. Mentor Program AmeriCorps VISTA: This member helps recruit, train, and support community and UGA mentors who are partnered with mentees in the Clarke Co. School District.
- College Factory AmeriCorps VISTA: This member builds capacity with the organization which has programs supporting college awareness and readiness for low-income and first-generation prospective college students.
- College Factory Fundraiser VISTA: This new position (beginning March 15, 2021) focuses on developing capacity for fundraising for College Factory. https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?id=108791&fromSearch=false
- UGArden AmeriCorps VISTA: One member recruits and coordinates volunteers and community outreach activities with the UGArden demonstration organic campus farm. A second "UGArden Grows It VISTA" develops and implements a gardening and nutrition education program at UGArden to train teachers, and teach P-12 students in the Athens area by recruiting and training volunteers to both develop a demonstration garden and conduct education-based tours at UGArden. https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?fromSearch=true&id=104432
- Experience UGA AmeriCorps VISTA: This member helps develop partnerships, recruit and train volunteers, and develop support materials for this partnership between UGA and the Clarke County School District, focused on campus educational visits for all CCSD students.
- Athens Area Humane Society "People-Pets-Poverty" VISTA: This member helps with identifying local needs and resources in terms of the financial impact of pet ownership on low-income families and communities, and developing partnerships to help with meeting pet food and care services. https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?id=108232&fromSearch=false
- EcoReach VISTA: This member helps mobilize and trains volunteers for improving environmental awareness and STEM knowledge with K-12 students in community and school settings.
Each summer, many of these sites also support Summer Associate (10-week, direct service) VISTAs. For 2021, here were the summer associates:
- Campus Kitchen: Two Campus Kitchen Summer Associates supported all aspects of Campus Kitchen’s summer operations, which include volunteer management, menu planning, meal preparation, meal deliveries, congregate meals, and other anti-hunger initiatives! The Summer Associates provisioned healthy meals and groceries to food-insecure households of older adults and children through direct and indirect service.
- Grow It Know It: One “Grow It Know It" Summer Associate developed and implemented the activities for 10 weeks of summer programming in Athens, GA. The summer associate led elementary and middle school students in all parts of the initiative, including hands-on gardening, harvesting, and composting; food preparation and preservation techniques; teamwork and “soft skills” development; educational components.
- Clarke Co. Mentor Program: Two Summer Associates assisted the Clarke County Mentor Program in implementing summer programming for existing mentees and mentors. The summer associate managed all aspects of the existing Pen Pals Program; assisted with the planning/launch of new programs such as a Spanish language book club, planned and executed various fundraising activities, developed relationships with key community partners, researched and helped CCMP staff to develop new programs/events for CCMP to institute in the upcoming school year.
- ACC Library: Two Summer Associates assisted the Athens Regional Library Young Adult and Children's Department Staff in implementing summer programming for children ages birth to 17. This included promoting the summer reading program, including signing up children and youth; distributing recognitions; promoting the program to community partners; and assisting library staff with summer reading programs, take-home activities, and other library programs, as well as with special projects and community outreach.
- Athens Community Council on Aging: The Summer Associate supported the efforts of ACCA’s Meals on Wheels and Senior Hunger Coalition food distribution programs, Take-Out Tuesday, Mobile Food Pantry, Emergency Food Pantry by participating in day-to-day activities such as unloading and loading food boxes and bags, loading volunteers’ vehicles, coolers, regularly driving routes to deliver meals to clients, assisting in coordinating and managing volunteers when needed. They also managed the community garden, coordinated with ACCA staff and other VISTAs to recruit volunteers to work in the garden and to plan garden work days, manage day-to-day garden activities. Overall, the Summer Associate contributes to efforts related to senior hunger program data collection, assessments, volunteer information gathering, and program impacts, and assist with client education outreach.
- College Factory: A Summer Associate supported College Factory’s mission of providing postsecondary educational planning resources to youth and families. Virtual programming has allowed College Factory to contemplate offering postsecondary education preparation to students outside of Clarke County. The AmeriCorps VISTA summer associate surveyed counties surrounding Clarke to gather information regarding existing high school and community based postsecondary education preparation support services for students. This information will help the College Factory board determine whether there is a need for its programs in neighboring counties and what gaps might be filled through virtual offerings. Future partnerships between College Factory and surrounding counties would strengthen the postsecondary educational landscape in Northeast Georgia.
- UGArden: Two Summer Associates provided support to the UGArden's summer garden production (weeding, harvesting, watering, planting, etc.), which provides produce for anti-hunger programs in the Athens, GA. They also collaborated with the AmeriCorps VISTAs at these sites, assist with volunteer recruitment and supervision, and support summer outreach efforts to increase purchase and consumption of fresh produce by families in need.
To learn more about the VISTA Network, contact UGA AmeriCorps VISTA Leader Marcus Merme (Marcus.Merme@uga.edu).