AmeriCorps VISTA Program
CDR has partnered with AmeriCorps this year through the sponsorship of their VISTA Program, and four of their staff working in the office are VISTA members. VISTA stands for Volunteers In Service To America.
This program, founded in 1965, is a federal anti-poverty national service program designed to provide resources to non-profit organizations and public agencies to address poverty and poverty-related problems in the United States. In 1993, VISTA was incorporated into the AmeriCorps' network of national service programs, housed at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
AmeriCorps VISTA support efforts to address poverty by providing opportunities to Americans 18 years of age and older, from a diverse range of backgrounds, to dedicate a year of full-time service with a sponsoring organization on a project that will create or expand programs designed to empower individuals and communities in overcoming poverty.
An AmeriCorps Vista Project refers to a set of activities, as set forth in a project application, for which a federal award of VISTA resources is made. An AmeriCorps VISTA project is operated and overseen by, and the responsibility of, the sponsor. The duration of a project varies, but they typically last three to four years. These projects are carried out by AmeriCorps VISTA members placed at selected sites.
AmeriCorps VISTA Projects
A Sponsor is a non-profit organization or government agency that applies for and receives an award to place AmeriCorps VISTA Members, and in limited cases, receives VISTA grant funds. They design, operate and direct the project, recruit and supervise the VISTA Members, and provide the necessary administrative support to achieve the goals of said project.
Sponsors develop and implement the projects, with meaningful involvement of the low-income communities to be served.
AmeriCorps VISTA Sponsors
Non-profit organizations, Native American Tribes, and State and Local government agencies are eligible to apply to be AmeriCorps VISTA Sponsors.
In regard to Non-profits, sponsorship is not limited to those designated by the IRS as 501(c)(3). Specifically, other organizations with IRS-designated 501(c) statuses that focus on anti-poverty outcomes are also eligible to apply.
Organizations that focus solely on advocacy or lobbying are not eligible.
Who is eligible to be a VISTA Sponsor?
Organizations interested in becoming a sponsor should begin by visiting NationalService.gov and reviewing VISTA 101: Understanding VISTA for more in depth information.
Interested organizations can also learn more by participating in a scheduled Webinar or listening to a previously recorded one. Prospective sponsors apply by submitting a concept paper and application through the CNCS web-based eGrants system under the FY 2021 AmeriCorps VISTA New Projects Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). Additional details, including a timeline with key dates, is available on the VISTA webpage as well.
How can organizations become a VISTA Sponsor?
AmeriCorps VISTA Members, Leaders and Summer Associates
AmeriCorps VISTA Members, including VISTA Leaders, vary in age and come from a range of diverse backgrounds and experiences. Each VISTA commits to at least one year of full-time service on a specific project operated by a sponsor. A member's service focuses on creating or expanding an organization's specific anti-poverty program and building the program's capacity, to ensure sustainability once VISTA resources are withdrawn.
The AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate Program allows members to serve through an existing VISTA project for eight, nine or ten weeks during the summer months. Summer associates may perform both direct service as well as capacity building activities.
Both VISTA members and summer associates live and serve in some of our nation's poorest areas. They receive a modest living allowance and other benefits during their service. After successfully completing a term of service, they may receive either a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award (which can be used to pay for college or student loans), or an end-of-service cash stipend. Individuals interested in serving as a VISTA should apply here.
In the year 2021, AmeriCorps VISTA supports approximately 7600 full-time VISTA members and summer associates who serve with around 920 sponsors. They leverage people, financial and material resources to develop sustainable solutions to challenges in low-income communities across the country.
Framework for VISTA Programming
Projects must be developed in accordance with AmeriCorps VISTA's core principles:
Anti-poverty focus- Community Empowerment- Sustainable Solutions- Capacity Building
The statutory purpose of AmeriCorps VISTA is to strengthen and support efforts to eliminate and alleviate poverty and poverty-related problems in the United States.
The organizations that are supported with VISTA resources, address poverty in many ways- some with projects that work with social determinants of health and well-being (such as helping improve education or access to health care, etc.), some others with an approach targeted directly at increasing a household's income and assets (housing, financial savings and asset development), and some even attempt to address larger regional systemic barriers to community development.
All VISTA service activities must be designed to support one or more specific anti-poverty projects at a site, and applications must clearly define these initiatives being created or enhanced by the organization (as opposed to focusing solely on capacity building).
The Anti-poverty initiative described in the Application Narrative must carry through to the Performance Measures and to the VISTA Assignment Description(s) created by approved sponsors as part of the recruitment process.
Prospective and current AmeriCorps VISTA project sponsors must engage people of the communities affected by the project in planning, developing, implementing, and evaluating said project. Each one of these projects must be responsive and relevant to the lives of community residents, and must tap into inherent assets, strengths and resources in it.
AmeriCorps VISTA members serve as short-term resources to build the long-term sustainability of anti-poverty efforts. VISTA projects make a lasting difference through the commitment, energy and initiative that these members bring to the community. The involvement of the sponsoring agency is in supervising the project, supporting the VISTA members, and assessing the progress towards meeting the project's goals; participation of the project's beneficiaries in all phases of its development and implementation; and making sure of the continued involvement of community members, that provide needed resources such as volunteers, material and financial resources; and in offering their expertise.
Projects must be developed with a goal to phase out their need for VISTAs, and continue without VISTA resources.
VISTAs create systems that remain, long after their term of services end. VISTA projects expand the scale, impact and resource-leveraging ability of specific anti-poverty initiatives. VISTA members strengthen sponsors' efforts by expanding community partnerships, securing long-term resources, and addressing specific local needs, with all activities focused on creating pathways out of poverty for low-income communities. VISTA members must focus on building the capacity of specific anti-poverty programs and interventions, and not on general capacity building for the sponsor or its sites.
While the VISTAs focus on capacity-building activities, they may on occasion perform limited direct service activities when deemed necessary to complete their overall assignment. These incidental activities should be written into the VISTA Assignment Description (VAD) if known at the beginning of their service.
VISTAs are not staff members or employees of the sponsoring organizations to which they are assigned. They may not engage in activities at the sponsoring organization that would displace or supplant paid staff, contractors, or existing volunteers. These prohibitions against displacement and supplantation include activities related to the application and management of other CNCS grants and programs.