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 service 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 service sites work together to create sustainable programs that better the New Hampshire community. In turn, both VISTAs and their service sites receive the invaluable benefit of personal and organizational growth.
Ellyn Goncer is serving as the Volunteer Engagement &
Outreach Coordinator VISTA at Families in Transition in Manchester, NH.
Why did you choose to become a VISTA? Why did you choose to serve in New Hampshire?
I chose to become a VISTA because I have always had a passion for service and volunteerism. I had learned about VISTA a few years back and loved the idea of sustainable service and really getting into the organization and seeing how it functions. I chose NH because, why not?!
What is your role at your service site? What does a typical day or week look like for you?
As the Volunteer Engagement and Outreach Coordinator VISTA at Families in Transition (FIT), I do not have a typical week or even a typical day. With my role, I am lucky to wear a few different hats. I do volunteer research, large event assistance, holiday events, collecting and transporting donations, and of course, working with volunteers.
How do you feel that the work you are doing has impacted the community you are serving in?
The work that I have been doing not only has been impacting FIT, but also the community. At FIT I have been able to figure out retention data and how to keep volunteers, which impacts FIT and the volunteer numbers and money saved. I also love getting to hand deliver donations to families during the holidays. I work closely with the FIT Wish program, where children can ask for gifts and the community purchases the gifts for them. I am the “behind the scenes” person. I contact the families to get the wishes, work with the donors and the lists, and then get the gifts to the families and it is so rewarding to just see parents crying out of joy because if they weren’t in our program, they wouldn’t be able to get their children anything to make the holidays special for them.
What has been your favorite part about being a VISTA?
Everything. I love the people I work with, the work that I do, and getting to be a part of the FIT family! Today I got to play with a small baby at our emergency shelter, and it’s simple moments like that, that make this whole experience the greatest.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a VISTA?
Just go for it! You won’t regret it.
Shannon McCullough is serving as the Community Engagement Coordinator VISTA at Spark NH / Early Learning NH in Concord, NH.
Where did you go to college/what did you major in?
I went to college in my hometown, Kalamazoo, Michigan. I studied creative writing and communications at Western Michigan University (WMU).
What drew you to your particular position and service site?
After I graduated from WMU I became the Librarian at the public school district I attended when I was school-age. I was working at the middle school level with students in the 5th-8th grade. In this position, I was able to see school wide reading levels, behavioral issues, and general attitudes about learning. It was clear that a large percentage of kids were far behind their grade level and were struggling with daily expectations. I started searching for an opportunity that would allow me to help children at an early age, to strengthen their learning experience from the start. Spark NH is the perfect fit and I feel lucky to have a service site that is providing so much support to those who need it the most and spreading how important early intervention can be for our little ones.
Do you have any post-VISTA plans or goals? How do you think your time as a VISTA will help you achieve these goals?
My plans are still up in the air. I would like to attend grad school and I am currently looking into programs nearby. I definitely want to stay in New England for a bit longer. I think that through my VISTA service I have gained perspective on what kind of career path I would like to follow to continue helping the community I live in.
Do you have any fun hobbies or hidden talents?
My hobbies tend to be generally, pretty low-key. I enjoy reading, poetry, antiquing, tending to succulents, sipping coffee, and spending quality time with my cats, Theo and Artichoke. I also love nature photography, exploring new places and coming home with new photos to edit. I’m so excited it’s almost actually Spring so I can go hiking and get to know the North East.