The University of Georgia 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 passionate 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.
The UGA VISTA Network presently concentrates on alleviating food insecurity through VISTAs working at the UGArden (student-run demonstration organic farm), the Senior Hunger Coalition/Athens Community Council on Aging, and the Campus Kitchen at UGA, a food recovery and redistribution program. The UGA VISTA Network VISTAs also coordinate educational gardens and sustainability programs in Clarke County public schools, as well as building the capacity school for district mentoring programs through UGA’s Center for Leadership and Service and supporting statewide community leadership initiatives via UGA’s JW Fanning Institute for Leadership Development. See the Staff page for current VISTAs and their bio statements and contact information. See a recent article about the 2014 VISTAs at UGA.
Current VISTA positions include:
- Campus Kitchen VISTA: This VISTA member will focus 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 will strengthen volunteer recruitment and training procedures and sustain partnerships with UGA service-learning courses, UGA student organizations, and local service agencies. The VISTA will improve or expand “beyond the meal” efforts of the Campus Kitchen at UGA by researching community needs and assets and evaluating current outreach efforts.
- Senior Hunger Coalition VISTA: This VISTA member is placed at the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA) and works with the various partners to build capacity within the Senior Hunger Coalition (SHC) efforts. Specifically, the VISTA will be a central communicator between Campus Kitchen, The Food Bank, and ACCA in order to expand meal distribution to better meet the needs of current clients and to reach more under-served seniors in the area. The VISTA will help secure resources for SHC by raising awareness of senior hunger in the Athens area, writing grants, and organizing fundraisers. The VISTA will also help strengthen existing beyond-meal initiatives including Senior SNAP Outreach, Lunch Buddy, and a senior transportation effort, all of which target the root causes of senior hunger.
- School Gardens VISTAs: These VISTAs will recruit and train volunteers to assist with school gardens, develop and implement garden, nutrition, and sustainability programs at local middle schools, support food waste reduction and promote increased use of fresh produce in the school cafeteria, collaborate with others in school garden network, track/evaluate efforts, and build capacity for program sustainability.