Friday, August 16, 2013

VIP Leader Reflections, Part II

2012-2013 VIP Leaders share reflections of their AmeriCorps service, including what they've learned, successes and accomplishments, challenges overcome, and advice to the next group of AmeriCorps members.

When I started as the Lead here at Jewish Family Service, I was literally wide-eyed and fresh-faced. Right out of college, I was given real and tangible responsibility, a position of great potential growth, and a chance to understand the nonprofit world from within. I cannot express my gratitude enough not only to the AmeriCorps program, but also to JFS for taking a chance on me. My responsibilities ranged from volunteer interviewing, placement, and screening. Meanwhile my professional development expanded in leaps and bounds (almost unbeknownst to me!). I got to offer support to my VIP team, participate in JFS events, and get to know my own leadership style and strengths. I have the utmost respect for my coworkers and the fellows of the VIP program here in San Diego.

If you are considering applying to this wonderful program, I would like to take a moment to encourage you to do so. If you are looking for work experience, the VIP program offers its members a chance to get nonprofit experience, work on a team, develop some serious people skills, and provide an invaluable service to the San Diego community. If you are looking to utilize your creativity and ingenuity, the VIP program provides a space for members to build infrastructure—sometimes out of nothing! If you are interested in networking in the field, VIPs not only work side-by-side with the other staff members of their host organization, but also with the many partner organizations within the VIP program. Being an AmeriCorps alum is a prestigious title, but being a VIP alum is a designation I carry closer to my heart and wear with pride.

Margot Schein, VIP Leader at Jewish Family Service of San Diego

This past year as a VIP Leader has been a gift, both personally and professionally.  Professionally, I have honed my experience in leading and facilitating meetings and trainings, learning strategies to engage both fellow VIPs and volunteers alike.  Personally, I overcame the challenge of being both a role model and a friend, learning how to create a balance between the two.  In my second year with the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, I was excited to be the lead on KOREH L.A.’s library restocking event this year, working with the administration of a partner school to manage the donation of over 1,000 brand new books to their school library.  My advice for future VIP Leaders would be just to relax and enjoy your time, because the friendships you make in AmeriCorps will be some you will treasure forever!

Kelsey Larsen, VIP Leader at the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles

Top 5 Things You Should Know About Being in AmeriCorps

5. Do not procrastinate. Even though you have 12-months, do not wait until the end of your term to finish any sustainability projects because anything and everything will come up to distract you.

4. You will have busy and slow days. You should take initiative in different projects in your organization and/or find new volunteer opportunities in the community.

3. Member Development can be fun! This is a chance for you to learn new things as well as have some fun with other AmeriCorps members. 

2. Your cohort can be a great support system. The other AmeriCorps members are probably the only people where you do not have to explain your circumstances (ex. we are the “domestic” Peace Corps).

1. You made a commitment to serve as an AmeriCorps member, and you will get things done for America and your community. There are days that might feel less eventful or meaningful, but remember that each day that you serve is a day that you made a difference.

Jobelle Duka, VIP Leader at HandsOn Central California

As I reflect on my year of service, I can't believe that a year has already come and gone. When I decided to take on the position as the VIP State Leader I immediately felt honored. Having not only the opportunity to be in AmeriCorps, but to also lead, mentor, and coach a coalition of volunteer coordinators seemed both exciting and daunting. 

The one thing I learned from this year of service is that in order to grow, either professionally or personally, individuals must be willing to push themself out of their comfort zone.  Try new things. Take risks. Accept more responsibility. Engage and listen to individuals whom you know nothing about.  These can create profound impacts in not only yourself, but also within the communities you serve.

I want to thank CalSERVES, Lauren and Sara for believing in me and allowing me the chance to take part in the VIP program. This organization will continue to do amazing work throughout California and I’m excited to see the results. 

Lastly, to the next cohort of VIP Fellows I hope your AmeriCorps year pushes you out of your comfort zone, produces positive change, conveys pride, and that you continue to uphold the ideals of service with you for a lifetime. 

Cody Cibart, VIP State Leader at CalSERVES

Monday, August 12, 2013

VIP Leader Reflections, Part I

2012-2013 VIP Leaders share reflections of their AmeriCorps service, including what they've learned, successes and accomplishments, challenges overcome, and advice to the next group of AmeriCorps members.

I think that one of the things I am most proud of from my year as a VIP Leader is the strength and camaraderie of our AmeriCorps team. I have worked hard to provide fun activities for each meeting, celebrate birthdays, plan get-togethers outside of work, and to create a sense of comfort and support. Each AmeriCorps knows that they can talk about their issues, whether it is work related or personal, to both me and their team. I think this has created a strong bond amongst our members, but it has also allowed us to catch and solve issues as they arise and before they are too late. This is the first year that HandsOn Inland Empire has had, that we have not lost a single VIP. While I can’t take all of the credit for that, I do think that the safe haven and open door policy I have created has definitely helped some of the AmeriCorps through their year. My suggestion to future VIP Leaders is to ensure that you are not only managing the AmeriCorps, but that you are also supporting them. This year is not easy. For many it can be a first real job. And with the low pay and stress of the job, it can be tough. But working through it as a team, can give them the support they need to continue their year successfully. 

Erin Weaver, VIP Leader at Inland Empire United Way

As I finish my third term with AmeriCorps and get ready to move onto other areas of life, I am proud of having accomplished many things I set out to do this year, not only professionally, but personally. I wanted to take on the role as leader of a crew to challenge myself to be able to meet deadlines, encourage others and tackle my arch-nemesis: Paperwork.  I can successfully say I have not only accomplished these goals, but have also grown in my abilities to communicate and interact in many challenging situations. If I could impart any advice to an AmeriCorps member, no matter if you are brand-spanking new or an old hand at this: remember to approach every situation with an open heart and a mirror. The open heart allows you to be impacted by those around you, not just impart “wisdom” to those whom you think need to hear it; and the mirror allows for you to see yourself and the ways in which you can grow and change. I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of AmeriCorps and this year’s Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County AmeriCorps crew. 

Jennifer Harman, VIP Leader at the Santa Cruz Volunteer Center

HARD WORK!!! Is the first thing I think of when it comes to being a VIP lead. It has been a very fast, busy year for me! I truly have loved every minute of the experience, every conversation filled with laughter and love I’ve been able to give and receive. I’ve made friends in my fellow VIP members that will last me a lifetime of memories. I’ve learned to trust myself more than I ever have before. I’ve learned that it really is the smaller things in life that keep your heart whole. My advice to anyone coming in would be stay committed to the journey you are about to go on, enjoy the relationships you will build in the process, and allow your heart to grow with every experience! Best of Wishes!

Airika Narcisse, VIP Leader at City of Duarte

Today is my last day, and looking back over all of the challenges, successes, failures, relationships, volunteers, team meetings, and everything else that has happened throughout the course of the year, knocks me off my feet a little bit. To see the growth of all of the VIP Fellows serving with CalSERVES, and those serving around the state, is something we should all take a moment to reflect on and be proud of. 

Together we have achieved the goals set out for us at the beginning of the year. We have recruited thousands of volunteers, who have served hundreds of thousands of hours, to support the communities we serve. But perhaps more importantly is the intangible achievement that we see everyday as volunteer managers. We got our organizations to improve their services at the giving hands of volunteers. We got things done for America in the truest sense of the phrase. 

I'm thankful to Sara Sitch and Lauren Serpa  for achieving a vision they had for VIP that provided all of us the opportunity to serve communities throughout California this year. their tireless leadership is an inspiration, and shows how much positive change can happen if you have a vision, determination, and are willing to put in extraordinary effort. 

Alex Rowan, VIP Leader at CalSERVES

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Healthy You & Me!

By Julianna Whittaker, VIP Leader at St. Joseph Health 

One of the big success stories from this year has to be our Healthy You & Me event. The whole VIP team here at St. Joseph Health came together and helped plan, from the ground up, a health based, educational, free community wide event! We spent hours of planning with weekly meetings full of prep-work that included finding sponsors, recruiting volunteers, locating a venue, and much more! We recruited volunteers to present topics such as healthy relationships with your partner, biometric health screening (worth over $200!), stress and relaxation tips, how to eat healthy on a budget, tobacco prevention awareness for parents and children, and many more. 
Volunteers helping families register.

We spent the weeks prior to the event canvassing neighborhoods, schools and local businesses trying to get the word out about the free services being offered. We talked to current volunteers and asked them to help out with the outreach as well as volunteering for the day of the event. We were able to contact local high-schools which ended up being an amazing resource for recruiting volunteers. The day of the event went smoothly, even though we really didn’t know what to expect given that  it was the first time holding the event! We had plenty of volunteers that showed up on time and ready to help out. Due to the fact that this was our first time holding this event in our community, we didn’t get as much of a response as we had hoped for, however the volunteers turned out to be more than what we expected. They ended up staying after their shifts and turned into participants! We were able to have our classes full, mixed with volunteers as well as community members.
After our last session of Zumba, which really got everyone moving, (kids and parents alike!) we had a prizes raffle for those that had turned in evaluation forms. One volunteer in particular really stood out. She had attended the orientation that was planned a few days before the event, and was ready to help out in any way that she could. She was able to pass out lunches to the participants that attend. She also ended up receiving a biometric screening for herself, a yoga session, a Zumba workout, and to top it all off, she won a prize in our raffle. One of our VIP Fellows, Julie McGinty was sitting next to her at the end of the day.  Our volunteer shared with her that this had been the best day she had had in a while. She explained that her situation had been unfortunate lately, but her experience at our event made her feel like things could turn around. She was so overwhelmed with gratitude, that she began to cry.
The St. Joseph Health VIP Team.

As a whole team, we didn’t know what to expect going into this event. We planned for just about everything, but at the last minute things can and seem to always change and go a different direction! Being around positive people really made a difference throughout the day. Knowing that you are making a positive impact on a person’s life is a big reason why I believe AmeriCorps VIP works, and why Healthy You and Me will hopefully become a tradition in the future with St. Joseph Health.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Involving Youth in the Community

By Maya Smith, VIP Leader at Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley, partner site of the Volunteer Center of the East Bay

The Volunteer Center of the East Bay has been helping non-profits in the East Bay fulfill their volunteer needs since 1955. Its core purpose is to encourage and support local volunteerism to benefit volunteers, nonprofit and public organizations, and society as a whole. In addition to hosting the AmeriCorps VIP program, they also coordinate the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). RSVP connects caring seniors age 55 and older with non-profit agencies that recognize senior volunteers provide invaluable service by sharing their lifetime of skills, talents and knowledge.

VIP Fellows volunteering during Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

While the Volunteer Center of the East Bay focuses on connecting seniors, VIP Fellow Maya Smith is looking to better incorporate youth with Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley. Although Habitat is a highly recognizable name, most people don’t know that they do a lot more than build houses. Habitat for Humanity’s vision is that “every person should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live.” They have realized that building new homes in a blighted neighborhood is a good start but in order for families to truly feel secure, changes need to be made on a macro level. Three years ago, Habitat launched their Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, a program designed to transform neighborhoods using a holistic approach. 

 Local youth joined Habitat on a Saturday to survey the 
neighborhood and help assess community needs.

Habitat coordinates with community residents, non-profits, faith communities, businesses and local governments to create and implement a shared vision of revitalization. Using this model, Habitat has been able to serve significantly more families and work with more volunteers. Neighborhood revitalization has proven to be a great way to involve youth volunteers. Because most of Habitat’s work takes place on a construction site, volunteer opportunities for youth under 16 are limited. Neighborhood revitalization events such as these have provided great opportunities for younger volunteers. Maya hopes to coordinate current Habitat clubs with these neighborhood revitalization events and connect youth from different communities across the territory that Habitat serves.

Habitat led elementary students to build an outdoor reading area next to their school library.

Among their revitalization projects, Habitat has partnered with an elementary school to create an outdoor reading area, cleaned neighborhood roadways as part of the Caltrans adopt-a-road program, and removed over 550 gallons of waste out of a local creek. Together, Habitat East Bay/Silicon Valley, neighborhood residents and local partners are changing the face of neighborhoods and enhancing the quality of life for all the families who live there.