During AmeriCorps week, March 9-17, we recognize the service of individuals working with AmeriCorps to combat poverty and encourage others to follow their lead. Nationally, more than 80,000 people currently work with AmeriCorps, a federal program maintained by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Over 700 AmeriCorps members served in South Carolina last year, including nine VISTAs who served through the United Way of the Midlands VISTA Partnership.
The VISTA Program is a yearlong term of service in which volunteers make a stipend equal to 105% of local poverty level. The meager stipend is intended to teach those who serve the true effects of poverty on an individual and community. VISTAs work full time for nonprofit host sites and are not allowed to obtain outside employment during their service.
Through the United Way of the Midlands VISTA partnership alone, three different sites with three varying goals are provided the opportunity to have a helping hand that many nonprofits are not able to afford without the service.
The motivation for individual VISTAs to serve is unique, but each VISTA is impacted by the service term and hopefully leaves the host site with valuable non-profit work experience and a new perspective on the importance of community service and poverty.
VISTAs are given many incentives to serve for a year at a poverty level stipend. Often the biggest reward noted by VISTAs as they complete the service year is the experience gained.
The purpose of AmeriCorps Week is to acknowledge and commend the service of individuals serving in any branch, and to encourage others of any age to become involved in their local community, or the larger community of national service. If you are interested in becoming an AmeriCorps member, please visit www.americorps.gov for opportunities and listings.
AmeriCorps is separated into three main branches; AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps), AmeriCorps State and National, and AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). The VISTA program is the only federally sponsored national service program singularly focused on combatting poverty. The history of the program dates back to 1963, when President Kennedy proposed a national service corps “to help provide urgently needed services in urban and rural poverty areas.” Two years later, President Johnson welcomed the first 20 VISTA volunteers. Then in 1993, after thousands of VISTAs and service projects, President Clinton signed the National Community Service Act, creating AmeriCorps.