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AmeriCorps Volunteers Build Capacity at United Way of Thurston County Throughout Pandemic

AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) members go where the need is greatest: to communities facing poverty, inequity, and unemployment. VISTA members serve in a professional setting building partnerships, writing grants, and organizing volunteers. Above all, VISTA members are catalysts for change, working to advance local solutions

The Greater South Sound VISTA team serves at organizations in Pierce, Thurston, Grays Harbor, Mason, Lewis, Jefferson, and/or Clallam County. The Greater South Sound VISTA team is a program of United Way of Thurston County and is supported by a VISTA Leader, who is based out of the United Way of Thurston County office in Olympia. VISTA members participate in monthly team meetings, professional development training, days of service, and more.

Volunteers in Service of America (VISTAs) are a vital component of United Way of Thurston County’s (UWTC) relief efforts during the COVID-19 crisis. VISTAs serve in the AmeriCorps program with a mission specifically focused on poverty elimination. One of the four driving principles of VISTA service is capacity building, and in the context of COVID-19, that mindset could not be more valuable.

When schools were shutting down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was critical for organizations such as South Sound Reading Foundation (SSRF) to get books and literacy materials out to our community’s youth. Our VISTA serving at SSRF, Rebecca, was a key part of this effort to keep kids reading despite school closures. She built a book ordering form, which greatly increased the ease and efficiency with which the organization could pull books to distribute to families. With schools and libraries closed, Rebecca and the SSRF team has stepped up to meet the tremendous need for access to books. Rebecca and the critical work she is doing exemplifies VISTA’s mission and is truly an example of what it looks like to LIVE UNITED.

Jayde Rankin is a VISTA serving the Pierce County Medical Reserve Corps. Jayde has helped with recruitment and onboarding of new volunteers as well as staffing. “The crisis we’re in has sparked an interest in new members joining and longtime members volunteering,” said Jayde. She has been working on systems to help manage and train the influx of volunteers as they assist the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department with contact investigation, case investigation and concerns calls. Her work also supports drive-thru testing at the Tacoma Dome and the establishment of isolation quarters for unsheltered individuals.

Kyla Anderson is a Community Engagement Coordinator at the Mountain View Community Center.

VISTAs affiliated with food banks such as Nourish Pierce County and the St. Leo Food Connection have been making sure they have the human capacity to pack all of the boxes of food. One VISTA has been leveraging in-kind donations and was able to secure a gift of $30,000 worth of socks.

Jayde Rankin at the Orting Emergency Preparedness Fair in October 2019.

Although most of our area’s 13 VISTAs are now working remotely, many of them are seeing the impacts of their work more immediately during the COVID-19 crisis. Lindsay Fujimoto is UWTC’s Volunteer Engagement Coordinator. “We’ve noticed a real buoying of our VISTAs. There’s been a nation-wide call for action for people to help one another, and the VISTAs’ work directly supports and amplifies the efforts of other individual volunteers in our communities,” Lindsay explains. “We’re excited to see what this cohort of VISTAs accomplishes, as well as the cohorts of the future.”

Applications to become a VISTA or host a VISTA are now available. Anyone over the age of 18 who wants to volunteer can apply to serve at one of 16 current openings in the Greater South Sound region. Opportunities are open at organizations such as Quixote Communities in Olympia, the Thurston County Food Bank, and right here at UWTC! Learn about all Greater South Sound VISTA opportunities and submit your application here.

If your organization has a project focused on poverty elimination in our community and you work in one of VISTA’s focus areas of veterans and military families, economic opportunity, healthy futures or education and you currently lack the funding or staff to execute it, you may be eligible to host a VISTA. Apply today!