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VISTA Volunteers: 50 Years of Taking on Poverty

What do more than 80 United Ways and the 36th President of the United States have in common?  A not-so-secret weapon for combating poverty: the AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) program. President Lyndon B. Johnson initiated the VISTA program in 1965 as a domestic complement to the Peace Corps to combat poverty through national service.  Since then, the program has recruited and mobilized 190,000 full-time, year-long volunteers to serve with organizations on capacity-building projects addressing poverty.

On February 25th, hundreds of people will gather at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC to celebrate five decades of this federal anti-poverty program. The event will kick off a year of reflection across the nation on the AmeriCorps VISTA program’s legacy and how it can continue to respond to communities in poverty through innovation and service. The Corporation for National and Community Service, which has overseen the program since its incorporation with AmeriCorps in 1994, encourages VISTA Members, Alumni, and partner organizations to host “Community Solutions” events exploring VISTA’s past and future impact at the local level. These events will lead to four Community Summit Spotlights held on April 24th in Philadelphia, PA; June 4th in Berea, KY; in August in Salt Lake City, UT and on October 30th in St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN before culminating in a Solutions Showcase on December 3rd in the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.

For years, VISTA has powered community institutions like Head Start and Campus Compact, and United Way is one of the largest grantees of VISTA projects: 83 United Ways in 2013 collaborated with VISTA Members on community-focused strategies, from resource development to reader programs. Since then, the new, national United Way Education AmeriCorps Project has sponsored more than 33 VISTA Members to serve with 24 United Ways by recruiting volunteer readers, building parent coalitions, raising resources to support drop-out prevention programs, addressing data-sharing needs, facilitating community conversations, and more. As of 2014, these VISTAs leveraged over $3 million in cash resources, supported almost 190 organizations, and served more than 1,700 disadvantaged youth. An equal number of volunteers were engaged, too, giving more than 7,900 volunteer hours to programs these VISTAs supported.

This represents the impact of 33 VISTA Members’ service in just over a year.  Learn more about what the other 190,000 have accomplished in the past 50 years. Better yet, find out on February 25th at 1 p.m. EST during the AmeriCorps VISTA's 50th Anniversary National Solutions Summit by registering for the live-stream here. Celebrate VISTA on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram by using #VISTA50.  If you have your own VISTA story or are interested in shaping the next 50 years of VISTA’s legacy, visit www.nationalservice.gov/vista50.