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United Way Blog

Community Connections: United Way VISTA Project Benefits from Volunteer Advisors

Leslie Van Dyke, an AmeriCorps VISTA alum who served for a year at United Way of Story County in Ames, Iowa, offers this advice for her fellow VISTA Members still in service: Don’t make assumptions. Take time to understand the community and circumstances in which you serve. Its good advice for any volunteer and others who serve, advice that United Way heeds at the local, national and international levels.

Leslie came to United Way through the United Way’s Education AmeriCorps VISTA Project. Now in its third year, the project benefits from a special team of people who help shape our strategies to strengthen schools and their surrounding communities and to help students and families struggling with poverty. VISTAs, alumni of the program and others who work day in and day out to serve others – and who really understand their communities -- comprise the United Way VISTA Project Advisory Group. The team provides invaluable input to United Way’s efforts to create meaningful impact through volunteer service.

The 12-member group meets twice a year to review the status and direction of United Way’s federal grant that supports placing VISTAs with United Ways to expand the scale, reach, efficiency and effectiveness of volunteer engagement strategies that lead to improved student success and fight poverty. Members of the Project Advisory Group bring a wide range of skills, backgrounds, and perspectives and the ability to embrace the complexity of education issues at a national and community level.

We have already seen the benefit of the group’s collaboration and good thinking. For example, the group convened this summer to discuss the direction of the project and offer advice on assessing program effectiveness and collaborating with communities. United Way incorporated the group’s feedback into our application for continued AmeriCorps VISTA resources to support the work of VISTAs at 28 United Ways in 18 states across the U.S.

The members of the advisory group are:  Meghan Berka, Michelle Bennett, Brittany Cannon, Benjamin Curtis, Chandler Duff, Kennitha Hayes, Margaret Jenkins, Molly Pittman, Crystal Shreve, Catherine Stanley, Elaine Weiss, and Shelli Wilson. On behalf of United Way, I’d like to offer a sincere thank you to these terrific and dedicated individuals for serving on the Project Advisory Group and for all they have done and will do to advance the common good.