VISTA Success Stories
The Families in Transition VISTA Program is one of the largest networks of AmeriCorps VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America) living and serving throughout the State of New Hampshire. Families in Transition’s Coordinator of Volunteers and VISTA Program recruits dedicated volunteers and host sites to join the VISTA team, with the goal of improving the quality of life for the most disadvantaged members of our community.
Families in Transition VISTAs and host sites work together to create sustainable programs that better the New Hampshire community. In turn, both VISTAs and their host sites receive the invaluable benefit of personal and organizational growth. Here are some of their stories.
Heather Rogers, VISTA
Heather Rogers is serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA at Spark NH. Heather has a degree in Public Health from the University of Maryland in Baltimore, Maryland.
Spark NH is the Granite State’s governor-appointed early childhood advisory council. With a mission to provide leadership that promotes a comprehensive, coordinated, sustainable early childhood system that achieves positive outcomes for young children and families, investing in a solid future for the Granite state, Spark NH has done a great deal to improve the lives of young children and families living in New Hampshire.
The 23-member Council, 7 committees, and 1 task force that are made up of over 150 volunteers from both public and private organizations across the fields of education, health, and family support work on behalf of parents and children birth through grade 3 and their families living in New Hampshire. Since it convened in 2011, Spark NH has completed a number of projects that contribute to strengthening the early childhood system. For example, the New Hampshire Comprehensive Strategic Plan for Early Childhood (NH EC Plan) released in November 2013 is providing the state with a roadmap to improve the early childhood system; the Communications and Public Awareness Committee created a comprehensive toolkit that includes carefully framed presentations, handouts, and large 6-foot banners that the public can use to convey the importance of the early years; and the Workforce and Professional Development Committee has created an online PORTAL (Professional development Opportunities, Resources, Trainings, And Links) to help support the early childhood workforce in finding new jobs and professional development opportunities.
These examples are just a snapshot of the work that Spark NH has completed thus far. Using the NH EC Plan as a guide, Spark NH will continue working to ensure that all New Hampshire children and their families are healthy, learning, and thriving now and in the future.
Jenny Reid is serving as the Hunger Solutions Outreach Coordinator at New Hampshire Kids Count. Jenny has a degree in Clinical Nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, PA.
Why did you become a VISTA?
I joined AmeriCorps VISTA to gain valuable and rewarding experience in public policy and public health.
What is your job at NH Kids Count?
As the Hunger Solutions Outreach Coordinator for NH Kids Count, I raise awareness about childhood hunger in New Hampshire and advocate for solutions. Particularly, I perform outreach to improve participation in the School Breakfast Program across the Granite State so every child can begin the day nourished.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day includes meetings with School Breakfast partners, conference calls with contacts throughout the state to discuss hunger initiatives, as well as independent research and coordination of outreach.
What has been your most rewarding experience at NH Kids Count?
In October of 2013, NH Kids Count and our School Breakfast partners launched a statewide challenge calling on schools to increase their breakfast participation by 25% over the next two years. It was quite rewarding to see the faces of the children for whom we work so hard and to be a part of something with such expansive benefits.
What is the most challenging thing about being a VISTA?
When we imagine new projects and engage in long term efforts, we must remember the year-long scope of our service. We must make sure our efforts can be continued once we have completed our service.
What goals do you have for your life after VISTA?
I am currently applying to medical school with the intention of practicing pediatric primary care in underserved communities.
What advice would you share with new VISTAs?
I would advise new VISTAs to nurture their creativity and continuously imagine innovative approaches to tasks. We have a unique opportunity to challenge the
status quo during our service year and make positive changes.
How has VISTA changed your outlook on poverty?
My VISTA experience has brought to light the importance of both local and larger scale efforts in alleviating poverty. It is critical to address both unique obstacles in a community and overarching issues on the national level.
Lauren Paradis is serving as the Marketing and Outreach Specialist at More Than Wheels. Lauren has a degree in Business Administration from Southern New Hampshire University.
I think it is very admirable to give back to your own community. What are your thoughts on serving in the community where you grew up?
I think it is great to be serving in the community where I grew up! I have really enjoyed the opportunity to learn about the many different local organizations that are serving people in the area. I learn more and more about Manchester and my community every day. I am excited to be able to look back and know I made a difference.
Where did you go to college, what did you study, and why did you choose to become a VISTA?
I graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 2012. After college, I worked for some time in the corporate world. Every day just didn’t feel right. When I first came across the advertisement to join AmeriCorps, I was eager to find out more. It seemed like an amazing opportunity. When the position was offered to me, I didn’t think twice. I knew this was the perfect fit for me, and I was right. I am so glad I joined such an amazing team and community of people!
What is your role at More Than Wheels? What does a typical day look like for you?
More Than Wheels is a nonprofit vehicle purchasing program. We help individuals in the community get a worry-free, reliable vehicle. My job as the Marketing and Outreach Specialist is to do whatever is needed online and in our community to make people aware of our organization. A typical day consists of creating social media posts, creating blog posts with previous market research, attending events to spread the word about what we do, networking, and content creation. I love what I do, and I think More Than Wheels is a great program for the individuals who need the services we provide.
What has been the most rewarding part of your experience as a VISTA? What has been the most challenging?
The most rewarding part of my year of service has been the opportunity to be involved with such a great group of people! Meeting like-minded individuals and being able to form strong relationships is very important to me. AmeriCorps has been a great experience, and I am so glad I got to meet so many different people from different organizations! Also, to be able to work for an organization in my own community has been extremely rewarding. I am disappointed that I had not heard of More Than Wheels before I started working here, but it is great to know that this resource is available in my community. I think working for a small organization has been the most challenging part of my VISTA year. As stated previously, I spent some time working in the corporate world before VISTA, and this is a lot different! I have always worked with a lot of people and in the nonprofit world that is often quite different. I work alone a lot, and that has definitely been the biggest adjustment.
Has serving as a VISTA changed how you view poverty? What experiences have contributed to this outlook?
Yes. Although I am serving in the community where I grew up, my personal perspective has changed a lot. As a VISTA, I have located to a different part of Manchester, and I see a lot more poverty than I did before. I know there is poverty everywhere around the world, but I wish there was more I could do about it. Now that I am serving as a VISTA, I see that there are many different organizations working hard to solve these problems! My outlook is a lot more positive because I know there are people out there doing what they can to make the world a better place to live in.
What are your post-VISTA plans or goals? How do you think your time as a VISTA will help you achieve these goals?
My post-service plans are not yet set in stone. I am going to apply to City Year, but also to other places outside of AmeriCorps. I absolutely love serving my community and would love to do it again. However, if something changes and I can no longer serve, I will take the things I have learned this year with me wherever I go. I know any time spent doing service is impactful and again, I am so happy I did it!
Do you have any fun hobbies or secret talents?
I love the marketing world, so I do a lot of blogging, market research, and social media in my spare time. I am also interested in fitness and nutrition. I work out 4-5 days a week and I am a certified Holistic Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I could read Healthy Living Blogs all day long! I love to teach others about nutrition and cook healthy meals for my friends and family!