In the summer of 2010, I began my journey with AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) as a Health and Wellness VISTA with ACCESS in Winchester, NH. As a VISTA, I developed some amazing professional skills that propelled my career forward, but more importantly I was able to serve my state for a year and make a positive impact on the lives of people living in poverty.
Fast forward to 2017, I now work as the Manager of Volunteers and the VISTA Program at Families and Transition (FIT), a Manchester, Concord and Dover, NH-based homeless housing and services provider. The FIT VISTA Program is one of the largest networks of VISTA members living and serving throughout the Granite State. I love my job, and (though I may be biased) I truly believe that the FIT VISTA Program makes our state a better place. Here are my top four reasons why the FIT VISTA Program makes New Hampshire a more vibrant state:
1. Offers Affordable Support to NH Nonprofits & Agencies
Each year our program partners with nonprofit organizations and government agencies around the state, such as Arts in Reach, the New Hampshire Department of Education, and the United Way of Greater Nashua, to place VISTA members in roles that fight poverty and create sustainable change. These VISTA “host sites” benefit from a VISTA volunteer by receiving the support of a full-time staff member without the high cost of salary and benefits. “I always think it’s good to grow and have new ideas. Every VISTA member I’ve met has really had an eye on a mission on what they want to do with their lives, so I think they’re always great folks to have around,” says Craig Welch, Portsmouth Housing Authority Executive Director and FIT VISTA Supervisor.
2. Attracts and Retains Young People to NH
Since 2010, our program has attracted young people from 38 states to New Hampshire. In the last four years, nearly half our members have come from out of state, while the other half have been recruited here in New Hampshire, primarily right out of college. Additionally, after completing one year of service, many of our members serve a second year, or move on to other jobs or graduate programs here in the Granite State. “I moved to New Hampshire because I wanted to experience a new part of the country and was attracted to the number of recreational pursuits the state has to offer,” said Greg Lange, Program Research VISTA Leader with Families in Transition who relocated from Baltimore. “I chose to stay after finishing my first year of service because I felt like I still had more to give to the New Hampshire community.”
3. Provides Unique Professional Experiences for Recent Graduates
AmeriCorps VISTA provides a unique opportunity to create sustainable projects and learn valuable skills, which would otherwise be difficult to accomplish right out of college. FIT VISTA members serve in a variety of capacities, from marketing and community outreach, to volunteer coordination, to fundraising and event planning. Recent members’ projects have included helping to develop a community garden and access to nutritious food, increasing opportunities for at-risk youth to participate in arts education programs, and ensuring access to affordable housing. “I’ve learned so much about the programs and resources surrounding poverty: how many different ways service providers try to make help available for people in poverty and people without homes, but also how difficult it still is for people in need to access these programs,” said Lucy Hewitt, Program Coordinator VISTA with the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness.
4. Builds a Brighter Future for NH Communities
During our July 2015 – July 2016 program year, 21 FIT VISTA members served in eight low-income communities across the state in the following service areas: education, veterans’ services, economic opportunity, health, and disaster relief and prevention. Collectively, those members raised more than $540,000 in cash and grants, collected almost 170,000 in-kind donations, recruited over 2,600 volunteers, and helped nearly 2,600 people. To read more about the impact and experiences of our recent members, check out our 2015-2016 Year in Review.
Everyone wins with FIT VISTA: New Hampshire nonprofits and agencies get a passionate, full-time staff member at an affordable cost; VISTA members gain professional experience while making a difference; and communities benefit from agencies’ strengthened capacity to provide critical services to those most in need. To learn more about the 30+ opportunities to join our 2017-2018 FIT VISTA team, visit www.fitnh.org/vista.
Emily Melhorn is the Manager of Volunteers and the VISTA Program at Families in Transition (FIT), a Manchester, Concord and Dover, NH-based homeless housing and services provider. A New Hampshire-native, she recently received her Master’s in Public Administration from the University of New Hampshire. In her free-time she enjoys cooking, being outdoors and trying new things. For more information about FIT or the VISTA program, visit www.fitnh.org.