Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Good News

All Good Things…
By Clay Flaherty, AmeriCorps VISTA

After 14 years of serving the communities of Appalachian Ohio, the AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program at Rural Action will end in November 2009.

Rural Action’s involvement with the program began in 1994 and since then we have hosted over 350 national service members. During that time VISTA volunteers have been responsible for approximately 695,000 hours of service in the communities of Appalachian Ohio.

According to Michelle Decker, executive director of Rural Action, the decision to conclude Rural Action’s involvement with VISTA is a logical step in the organization’s evolution.

“Those who served with us started great projects and programs, and we are grateful to have been able to host a national service program for so long,” she said. “And while it’s sad to see something end, it also presents us with new opportunities.”

VISTA is a national service program which was begun specifically to fight domestic poverty in 1965. It was incorporated into the AmeriCorps network in 1993, and is currently administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

Rural Action’s long partnership with AmeriCorps has impacted many people within the organization. One of those people is Candi Withem, the human resources manager at Rural Action, who began her work as a VISTA volunteer. She now serves as the VISTA coordinator during, and has said that the past six years have been an extraordinary experience for her.

“It was my great pleasure to participate as a member when I first came to Rural Action and working with other members over the years has only strengthened my belief in the purpose of the program – to give back to local communities,” she said. “We have gained much from the extraordinary people who have served and I believe they have gained a rewarding and one-of-a-kind experience from us.”

Although the VISTA program is set to end in November 2009, current members will serve out the remainder of their terms in the region during the coming year – including a last batch of volunteers who will begin their work this month.

“I think we’re going to have a fun year working with the last group,” said Decker. “We’re going to work hard together to end the program on stable and sound footing for Rural Action.”

Decker acknowledged that this transition away from VISTA volunteers will require innovative solutions, and a heavier reliance on members and volunteers.

“We’re going to spend our last year growing our volunteer base,” she said.

She was also quick to point out that, although the VISTA program was coming to a close, Rural Action’s relationship with AmeriCorps is not ending. As part of a new service program, eight AmeriCorps volunteers will begin serving with Rural Action’s watershed restoration projects in August 2009.

“We have many friends and partners who are helping to guide us during this time of transition,” said Decker. “This is a prime example – as one national service program ends, we are being honored with another.”

Paul Schrader, an area manager for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and former VISTA volunteer, served as the director of the Ohio Office of the Corporation for National and Community Service in 1994 when VISTA volunteers were first placed at Rural Action. Schrader said that during his many visits to Rural Action, he was always been impressed by what he called the “spirit and determination” of Rural Action’s VISTA volunteers.

“What I remember most is the dedication of the staff and VISTA Volunteers to developing sustainable solutions to the many issues being addressed through citizen involvement,” he said. “I know that many of the goals of the VISTA project were accomplished over the years and many friendships were made that will endure for a lifetime.”

He also thanked Rural Action for its 14 years of exemplary service in the VISTA program, and concluded by saying that Rural Action’s VISTA program been a fruitful partnership for both CNCS and Rural Action.

“Rural Action is where it is today in part due to the contributions of VISTAs and many former VISTAs are where they are today due to their experiences with Rural Action.”

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The volunteers who have served with Rural Action through VISTA have gone on to great successes, supported by the experience and connections gained by their work with Rural Action. Here are some of our notable alumni, and that the years that they served:

  • Scott Miller (1996 – 1997): Voinovich School Consortium for Energy Economics and the Environment
  • Mark Sullivan (1994 – 1996): Athens County Commissioner
  • Jerry Iles (1997 – 1998): OSU Extension
  • Betsy Gosnell (2001 – 2004): Corporation Ohio Appalachian Development
  • Mary Ann Borch (1994 – 1995): Ohio Department of Natural Resources
  • Ronda Clark (2000 – 2003): Executive Director, Community Food Initiatives
  • Colin Donahue (1996 – 1998): Executive Director, National Network of Forest Practitioners
  • Amy Lipka (1998 – 2001): Ohio Fair Schools Campaign
  • Ben McCament (2000 – 2001): Raccoon Creek Watershed Coordinator
  • Raina Fulk (2003 – 2004): Leading Creek Watershed Coordinator

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